This week the Genesee Valley Chapter (GVC) BMW CCA first banned late model cars with automatic driver aids that they claimed could become a hindrance on the track, then renounced the ban after disagreement from both BMW CCA national and BMW of North America. This opens an embarrassing can of worms for BMW CCA. The club has a long history of enabling and encouraging their members to enjoy their BMWs at their excellent high performance driving school events. Yet GVC clearly had reasons for announcing the ban in the first place. Were those reasons warranted? Did BMW NA and BMW CCA national educate the concerned members of GVC that these systems would not cause the problems on track that concerned them? Or did they pressure GVC into backing down to sweep this issue under the carpet?
On Sunday, April 9, the Genesee Valley Chapter BMW CCA announced that “GVC have decided to ban all vehicles equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking and/or Lane Keeping Assistance systems (or their equivalent) for use in our HPDE events, even if these systems may be disabled by the driver.” The reason given was that “cars with ‘automatic emergency braking’ and/or ‘lane keeping assistance’ systems may behave in unpredictable and undesirable ways on a racetrack.” Naturally there was an uproar, particularly as this news spread like wildfire throughout the enthusiast community. BMWs, once known as “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” were now The Ultimate Machine That Drives For You And Makes Bad Decisions On The Track.
Two days later, on Tuesday the 11th, BMW of North America and the BMW CCA national office made their own announcement, calling GVC’s decision an “unauthorized policy,” and saying that “The national BMW CCA office does not share their opinion and is discussing the issue with the chapter.” They also clarified that the systems in question can be adjusted or turned off entirely so that they will not impair the car’s capabilities in the relatively unusual and special situation of driving on a race track.
Today, Wednesday the 12th, GVC announced “Unfortunately, this premature statement was made public before our discussions and research had been concluded,” and echoed BMW NA and BMW CCA’s proclamation that “BMW CCA continues to work with BMW NA to educate and develop a nationwide procedure for including BMWs with drivers aids in HPDE schools.” The ban is lifted, and all BMWs (and other makes), new and old, are welcome to participate in their HPDE events, no matter what driving aids they do or don’t have.
Why This Matters
BMWs are extremely popular enthusiast vehicles. Much of the Right Foot Down staff currently owns a BMW, or, like me, has owned one in the past. Some lament the recent perceived watering down of the BMW brand, of becoming luxury cars for the masses rather than the great driving enthusiast vehicles they once were. But that isn’t relevant to this discussion. What is relevant is that electronic driver aids are more and more common in today’s cars, regardless of brand, and they’re here to stay. BMW may let you turn them off, but other brands don’t. It’s also likely that someday, like so many other safety items, they’ll be required by the government on all new cars. What happens to the enthusiast who takes their car to the track that is unable to turn these systems off?
Though GVC now claims that they made the announcement “before our discussions and research had been concluded,” they would not have announced their ban if they didn’t feel strongly about it at the time. There is good reason for concern. If you’re intentionally clipping a gentle curb on the track, the lane departure system may abruptly steer opposite the direction of the turn to prevent you from leaving your “lane” thanks to the painted line at the edge of the track. These lines may also cause lane departure systems to “stay in your lane” rather than take the proper racing line through a turn. You may enter the turn at a speed appropriate for the racing line but that you won’t be able to hold if you keep it between the lines at the outside of the turn, resulting in an off track excursion or a sudden meeting with a wall.