Usual rules don't apply to BMW's novel pace car, says David Linklater.
I'm sure you've always wondered whether a two-tonne-plus off-road vehicle could be a pace car for a motorsport series.
The answer is yes, it can - when the vehicle in question is the BMW X6 M.
It's not for the shy, but Driven spent a week in this liveried monster in the midst of the company's preparations for the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing Celebrating BMW Motorsport, to be held at the Hampton Downs circuit on January 20-22 and 27-29.
That title is quite a mouthful, but jaws will have dropped permanently anyway once the X6 M leads the pack around the track, so it shouldn't be a problem.
It's a genuine M-car, but the X6 M is not the most exciting machine to drive on the road. It's too big, too loud - and, on those fat tyres, not really communicative enough to entertain on Kiwi backroads.
But it is outstanding on the track. I know this not from my X6 M experience, but from a previous drive around Hampton Downs in an X5 M (which is the same thing under the sheet metal). It's the car that was outstanding on the track, mind, not me.
The combination of a 408kW/680Nm turbocharged V8, rock-solid cornering stance on smooth surfaces and a surreal amount of grip makes the biggest-ever M-car a magic machine on a circuit. Keeping the pace at Hampton Downs should be no problem.
Those astonishing dynamic abilities do compensate for the fact that the X6 and X5 models are the most controversial machines in M-car history.
Whoever thought the M division would make an off-roader (albeit one that can't really go off-road), or a car with a conventional automatic gearbox, or one with four-wheel drive?
The fact that the company reportedly chose to invest its development dollars in this rather than a proper lightweight CSL version of the current M3 made it even more of a touchy subject among the M-car faithful. Maybe some ill-feeling will linger at the festival?
You can't argue with the facts, though: 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds will wipe that derisive smirk off your face straight away.
Even though this massive wagon struggles with rapid changes of direction, given a smooth cornering line the super-intelligent electronic systems can defy the laws of physics.
There's the clever xDrive four-wheel-drive system, which works proactively rather than reactively, Dynamic Performance Control, which distributes power side-to-side, and even an M Dynamic Mode that allows you to go a little bit wild when road space and the law allow.
What'll be behind this liveried lunacy at Hampton Downs?
The programme is very full indeed, but BMW-flavoured classes will include a Group A and Historic Touring Car Challenge, a segment dedicated to
the iconic E30 of the 1980s, and an open class spanning the history of BMW saloon-car racers in New Zealand.
Many of the marque's most famous local drivers will be on hand, including Chris Amon and Jim Richards (as featured in Driven on December 14).
Rare cars on loan from the BMW Museum include the CSL Batmobile raced by Amon and Hans Stuck, as well as an M1 Procar raced by Prince Leopold von Bayern in the 1970s.
The Prince will demonstrate the car during the second weekend of the festival.
The 2012 event will be the third festival hosted by Hampton Downs and the first to pay tribute to a brand. The first two celebrated two of New Zealand's greatest racing drivers: Bruce McLaren (2010) and Amon (2011).