We arrive in Cape Town, South Africa, on the third and final practice day for the drivers of a BMWStories internet video called The Epic Driftmob feat. BMW M235i. We are immediately whisked to a large, empty parking lot on the outskirts of Cape Town, where tires are squealing and chunks of rubber are flying as five red BMW M235i coupes churn up more smoke than a California wildfire. And the smell – it smells like heated metal, the kind of thing rev limiters are made for. Times five.
All this, for one minute and 47 seconds of action-packed footage with no official plot.
A couple dozen locals have lined up along a chain link fence, lured like moths to a flame by the sounds and scents and plumes of smoke emanating from the site. Each has their camera ready for the moment stunt coordinator Riley Harper says, "Action!"
This event – and Autoblog's involvement in it, specifically – was more or less an experiment on BMW's part to see if there is a story to be told from video production and photo shoots, normally marketing endeavors and something PR folks keep independent documentarians like us a long way away from. We were the only US media outlet invited, and we weren't there to drive a new product, just to take in one of its current (and in our opinion, one of its best) cars, the M235i coupe, do amazing things at the hands of some of the world's best drifters.
First, consider a few stats from the weekend-long shoot. Molten tires: 80; early production, non-salable M235i coupes: 5; spare cars: 0; Hollywood-style cameras, with crew: 7, film helicopter: 1; pretty actresses: 1. Oh yeah, and a big-time director, one of the world's best stunt coordinators and five of world's best drivers. BMW wouldn't tell us anything about the size of the budget, but needless to say, it couldn't have been cheap to hire all those guys, along with 160 crew, and then close down one of Africa's grandest traffic circles – the Coen Steytler Roundabout – for two full days of filming. All for a one minute and 47 seconds of action-packed footage with no official plot.
That's right. No plot. "There is no official plotline as in normal commercials," said Lisa SteinHauer, marketing manager for 1- through 4 Series models at BMW AG. "But it is about five talented international stunt drivers/drift champions that 'conquer' the city center to do awesome stunts with five M235i coupes." The flattering portrayal of the M235i is intended to carry a larger message of the nimbleness of BMWs in general, said Steinhauer.
The flattering portrayal of the M235i is intended to carry a larger message of the nimbleness of BMWs in general.
The mini-film essentially starts off with a beautiful woman dressed as a police officer hopping out of the passenger seat of red BMW M235i and holding up one entry of a large traffic circle. Construction workers appear to close off other inlets just as four more identical M235s appear. With a tire-screeching pirouette, one starts driving around the circle (in the wrong direction, by the way, since South Africa is a right-hand drive country), picking up the rest of the group one by one, then the dance begins, and after about a half-dozen or so stunts, they disappear, with the last of the group picking up the hot cop before drifting – literally – away.
The way we see it, The Epic Driftmob is also the equivalent of hurling five sleek red middle fingers at Audi and Mercedes-Benz, neither of which offer a proper rear-drive car in this segment and thus, couldn't make drifting video quite like with their latest near-luxury entries, the front-wheel-drive A3 and CLA-Class sedans, respectively. Budget hooligans of the Teutonic persuasion, take heed.
This is just another day at the office for race/stunt drivers Rhys Millen, Rich Rubishaw, Samuel Hübinette, Dai Yoshihara and Conrad Grunewald. Here's a group of guys with peerless driving credentials, especially in the area of drifting, hand-picked by Rubishaw at the request of stunt coordinator Riley Harper. Some have been, or in some cases, still are, rivals on the track, but you'd never know it by the teamwork they were exhibiting on set.
Some have been rivals on the track, but you'd never know it by the teamwork they were exhibiting on set.
"Rich basically hand-picked all of them," said Harper. "I just said, 'Rich, whoever you think are the best guys who can drive these cars for this many days and learn the stuff quick... whoever you think.' And these are definitely some of the best in the world."
"We're all equal here in our skill set," said Millen. "Several of us have more experience in the film industry, so understanding camera, understanding what lanes need to be used, understanding what the frame is, it enables you to envision what the shot is, so and then those of us who have the experience are taking the guys who have the equal talent in terms of driving and just exposing a different way of thinking."
Best of all, at the end of the day, everyone seemed to be having fun. Grunewald summed it up best in the Making of: The Epic Driftmob feat. BMW M235i (just below): "We've done lots of shoots on public roads, and it's always a blast to lay some fresh rubber down."
The Stunt Work
Cape Town wasn't the first choice for this video shoot. The planners had initially selected a roundabout in Santiago, Chile, before a massive earthquake nearby on April 1, 2014, forced a last-minute relocation. Still, the idea of roundabout shenanigans started forming in Santiago. "We went and scouted in Santiago and we talked about the locations and where we'd be and [BMW] loved the roundabout scenario and they wanted to see some ideas," said Harper, "so I just came up with some random things that I knew were fairly possible considering that we didn't know how the car was going to be, so kind of safe things that were pretty doable."
The important thing was that the Driftmob shenanigans would appear to be one seamless action sequence in the final product, and as you can see in the video, they do. But the action actually had to be broken into several specific stunts, some of which were refined once the drivers arrived in Cape Town themselves, some on a table using a schematic diagram and toy BMWs – yes, they get paid to play with toy cars, too – while other refinement simply took place on the asphalt.
"We have about eight setups or seven setups. We had a lot of options at first, but the more time we have to rehearse everything, the more ideas you come up with. Especially with having them, it's just endless ideas. And if it's something that's doable, they'll either make it better or easier or usually cooler."
Driving At 75 Percent
It's risky business, of course, especially considering BMW brought no spare cars. "Any time you're sliding a car; any time you're in close proximity to a car, you never know what can happen. One little mistake and you'll stack all of us up in a bag pretty easily," said Rubishaw.
Hence, they're driving at roughly 75 percent of their abilities, according Millen. "You're saving 25 percent if something happens to the car in front of you, or beside you... you have to really have heads up, but drive with the reserve that you can countermove if something comes out of nowhere."
The important thing was that the Driftmob shenanigans would appear to be one seamless action sequence in the final product.
"You have to have that confidence in yourself, confidence in the equipment and confidence in your partners and you are constantly going to be taking in so many factors," Millen continued. "You're listening to the engine, listening to your partners' engines, and in that situation when you're sliding a car, there's two points in steering the car – steering with the traditional steering wheel, and steering with the throttle. So, many adjustments, and many cues with your eyes, as just a reference for placement, speed, and so on. And then, with all of that, you have to have your third ear listening to the stunt coordinator who's going to give you cues."
Hübinette was rather less humble. "This is for you like driving in a circle. For us, we're just driving in a circle, going sideways. That's what we've been doing for years. You want me to drift here, I can drift there. You just turn the car, we turn the car sideways and adjust with the throttle."
"But you don't want to be cocky," said Hübinette. "You don't want to be too comfortable ever, because if something happens, you have to react to it. If one car were to have some issue – lose power or get a fuel cut or something else you're not expecting – that'd be the concern. We're drifting five cars, and we're shooting five cars, and we don't have a spare car. There's no room for error."
Speaking of the cars, the stars of Driftmob, of course, are the five red M235i coupes. The specific units BMW brought were production-intent prototype M235i automatic coupes destined for the crusher that were mostly stock, except for elaborate handbrake contraptions that allowed for greater modulation of the electronic brake itself. Also, since none of these cars were equipped with the available limited-slip M Differential, they had welded(!) rear differentials to keep the inside rear tires from melting too quickly. The crew allegedly tried the exercises with the open diffs during the first practice days, and found there to be simply too much smoke. "We wanted to see the cars, not the smoke," said Steinhauer, with a laugh.
For their part, the drivers loved the cars. Universal praise was issued for the M235i's steering feel, balance, abundant power, outward vision, and transmission's ability to let the engine at redline without automatically upshifting. And the cars appeared to be taking the abuse heroically. "The cars have taken such a beating in the last three days," said Riley, "and they're still perfect. All we have to do is change tires."
Since none of these cars were equipped with the available limited-slip M Differential, they had welded rear diffs to keep the inside rear tires from melting too quickly.
"It's a driver's car," said Rubishaw. "You feel like you're part of the experience and it's a well-balanced car. It has a lot of steering angle for drifting, which is key. It has the power, it has everything that we want."
"I'd like to say that I've found a complaint with the car but I haven't found one. And I've been in it for three days," said Millen. "It's the ability to trust the product, and then drive around with a group of people that you're very familiar with as well, that enables us to do the maneuvers that we're doing, door-to-door.
"It's a very well balanced car," said Takahashi. "It's really easy to get sideways, but it's easy to control as well. It's just really natural. We had a hard time when we didn't have the diff locked, but other than that, it works really good."
"As soon as we got the locked differential, the car is just fantastic [as a drift car]," said Hübinette. "I like the fact that even if you slam [against the rev-limiter] in second gear, it doesn't shift to third – you do it manually. It gives the driver the opportunity to make decisions. It's a quick, little, nimble car."
Of course, given that all drivers involved were paid by BMW to be there, one needs to take such praise with at least a few grains of salt, but the performance and durability we witnessed was undeniably impressive.
So is this a story? You decide. It was certainly interesting for us. And according to the gentlemen we interviewed, it seemed to be pretty interesting for them, too. If nothing else, it made for a pretty great minute and 47 seconds of video. Wanna watch it again? Just look below.