BMW and professional driving instructor Johan Schwartz entered the Guinness Book of World Records this week for drifting the furthest ever distance (232.5 miles) over an eight-hour period.
We were at CES 2018 in Las Vegas when we heard of this frankly insane new record and found out that Schwartz, along with the rest of the team that helped make the record a reality, were present at the show giving attendees drift demos in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Naturally, I had to track them down and hear first-hand what setting this record was really like for those involved.
First, some backstory. On may 11, 2013, Schwartz broke the record for the furthest distance drifted after sliding a BMW M5 for 51.3 miles around a wet skidpad at the BMW Performance Center in Greenville, North Carolina. Toyota then broke Schwartz’s record after drifting for 102.5 miles in a GT86. That gave the BMW team the idea to double back on the record, but this time they meant business
“I had the opportunity to work with Johan in 2013 when he set the first record,” said BMW digital marketing strategist Neil Moreno. “We went down and filmed it and put it on our channel. After the record had been broken by Toyota, we said ‘hey how do we do a longer drift?’ and it was actually (BMW test driver) Matt Mullins who said ‘why don’t we do this continuous drift, and we just drift with another car and refuel?’ and I thought he was kidding, honestly. I didn’t think anything of it, but the idea found its way back to the vice president of marketing ,Trudy (Hardy), who thought it was a really cool idea.”
After BMW’s marketing team gave the project the green light, they got in contact with fabrication shop Detroit Speed to make the necessary modifications to the M5 Johan would drive, and the secondary M5 that would be used to refuel it. For Johan’s car, this included putting a GT3-style refueling attachment in the vehicle, along with a secondary fuel-cell in the trunk. The refueling car, which was driven by Mullins, needed a platform in the back for the refueler to stand on, along with mount points for their safety harness. Both cars also had plenty of fire-suppression equipment, of course.
Detroit Speed put Matt Butts in charge of modifying the M5s, which was the beginning of an interesting journey for the fabrication specialist. He eventually needed to install the refueler’s standing platform, and used his personal measurements for convenience sake. This meant he was the perfect choice to refuel the vehicle.
“So we were getting far along enough in the project where we kind of needed to know who was going to do the refueling,” Butts told us. “I was building a lot of stuff for the (refeueling car), so I was trying to determine the height of the person.”
“Everybody was just kind of like, well, I guess you can do it. The platform and everything in the back of it, it ended up being all built to essentially my dimensions, so it was kind of a fluke.”
With the cars sorted, the team assembled at the BMW Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina to watch Johan do his thing. I asked the Danish driver how he was able to hold his concentration over the eight-hour period, or if he became tired, and he told us it was really no harder than driving for long hours in an endurance race – a challenge he’s all too familiar with.
“You know, it’s something I guess I’ve always done,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes I drive in endurance races and do double stints, which is up to four hours, so that requires a tremendous amount of concentration too.”
There are some other factors that come into play when you’re drifting for eight hours apart from concentration. Butts fabricated an aluminum drinks tray for Schwartz’s car, which could hold four water bottles and also had square cutouts for granola bars. Schwartz also wore a catheter during the record, which wasn’t entirely necessary as the record allows for short breaks, but Johan is nothing if not committed.
“I did go to the bathroom several times. but I did have a catheter for that,” he said.
“Because my motto was, either you do it right or you don’t do it at all. So I wanted to do it the right way. Our goal was to drift for eight hours. Now, for the record, I could have stopped and peed and gone back out, because the record is for how far you can drift in eight hours. So in a sense you could have taken breaks, right? But our goal was to drift for the whole time.”
Expectedly, the hardest part about the record was the refueling. The team refueled a total of five times, but attempted seven. Both the driver of the refueling car, Mullins, and Schwartz, had to hold the brake while drifting to match their speed. On two occasions they were forced to back out, with the two cars even making a slight contact at one point.
“One time during the fuel we had a contact, and we aborted that fuel and then started over again,” Schwartz explained. “I stayed drifting, they reset, and then they came back out again. We lined up (to refuel) I think seven times. There were two times it didn’t quite work out.”
“The initial connection was actually easier than we thought,” added Butts. “But once we were connected, it ended up that I was physically holding the two cars together. And even holding the cars together when they’re sliding it didn’t take that much force, but the hard part was knowing when we needed to bail, or when we were done fueling. So while we were connected I was trying to pay attention to what the cars were doing, and if it really seemed like they wanted to pull apart, or maybe get too close together, I’d say ‘this is enough, I’ve got to disconnect.’”
The refueling system didn’t feed into the M5’s stock fuel tank, but rather a secondary cell in the trunk. Schwartz would manually switch a fuel pump on using a switch in the center console, which would feed the fuel into the vehicle’s main tank. A fuel gauge and a light let him know when the fuel cell became empty, at which point he’d have to shut the pump off so as to not burn it out.
“You can see near where the cupholders are there is a fuel gauge and two switches. So there is two fuel pumps to transfer fuel with,” he said.
“The gauge is for the secondary fuel tank. There’s a red light too, and when that red light came on that meant I’d emptied the tank and I’d have to switch the fuel pump off, otherwise they are not transferring fuel and that burns them out.”
The M5 “liked” this torturous treatment, Schwartz told us, and it didn’t show any signs of overheating. He drifted in third gear for much of the time, but started using fourth gear toward the end in a bid to save fuel. Typically, the team would refuel with about a quarter of a tank left in the car, that way they wouldn’t’ be totally screwed if they needed to bail out. For the record, I checked out the two cars at CES, and they absolutely reeked of gas inside.
You might think this is the end of trying these records for Schwartz, but he’s open to giving it another go. While it doesn’t seem likely his record will ever be beaten, he wouldn’t simply accept defeat if it were.
“If somebody else wants to (try and break the record), great! But now they’ll have to put the same effort into it,” he said. “I was happy that my (first) record got beaten. When I started it other people wanted to try and do it, so that was fun. My old record, which was set in 2013, if that wasn’t beaten then we probably wouldn’t have gone for it again. So it was fun.”
We’re secretly hoping some particularly crazy person breaks Schwartz’s record, just so we can see him, Mullins and Butts attempt this badass stunt again. Maybe when the next M5 launches in, say, 6 years, Johan?
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