What really happened at Orvis Sandanona . . .

Remember when Kirsten Alana and I went for an adventure with the Land Rover Experience at Orvis Sandanona?  Well, the first video I cut, did tell the whole story of what happened.  

What really happened?  We went off-roading, then I learned to shoot sporting clays with the experts at Orvis.  Watch and see how it all went down . . .

Behind the Wheel at the BMW Driving Experience

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This year I’m a driving instructor for the 2014 BMW Ultimate Driving Experience (UDE) tour.  Our fourth stop on the tour was a nine-day event in the San Francisco region, at the old Alameda Naval Base Airstrip.

On the first day of the San Francisco event, little did I know, Rupen Patel from eBay was one of my students on the 535i & 535d autocross course. Rupen has been a BMW fan ever since he visited the BMW Welt (their exhibition facility in Munich, Germany) and immediately signed up when he got the invite to the BMW UDE. “I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of a 2-Series and get some tips from a pro driver.“ Rupen not only got behind the wheel, he took the 228i, 535i and 535d on an autocross course, then a 335d on a street drive.

As instructors, we always try to make the event fun for everyone, but I was curious to hear what Rupen thought of the Ultimate Driving Experience from a consumer perspective. I asked Rupen a series of questions to see what his experience was like, and this is what he had to say . . .

VM: What did you expect from the Ultimate Driving Experience? 

RP: Initially when I signed up I only expected to have the opportunity to do one hot lap in the car and drive one model of the car, surprisingly with the 5-Series Autocross you get to drive a diesel and a gas model.

VM: Out of the cars you drove, which were your favorite(s) and why?

RP: 535d and 228i were my favorites. I was thoroughly impressed by the torque and stability control of the 535d. The 228i was just fun! The car is very precise and it performed well on the track. The styling of the 2-Series is just sharp, and the interior is quite spacious.

VM: What was your favorite part about the Ultimate Driving Experience?

RP: The selection of street drive cars was great, they have everything from an X5, Z4, 335d, 650 Gran Coupes, and a BMW i3. The autocross was the highlight. Being able to feel the performance of the car on the track makes you love BMW driving dynamics that much more. The cars handled the track perfectly and the instructors do a great job of giving you just enough pointers to improve while in the car.

VM: Did you have fun?

RP: Yes! For most of the attendees, like me, it was the first time we have had the opportunity to autocross and push a car to its limits. It was exhilarating!  Being a car enthusiast, this was also a great opportunity to meet other gearheads and BMW owners to talk cars. It’s great for all ages!

I’ve been an Instructor for BMW since 2006, and the Ultimate Driving Experience is my favorite!  It’s a rare opportunity that I get to spend time sharing my passion, teaching proper driving techniques and giving everyday drivers a little taste of adrenaline behind the wheel (yes, there’s a timed competition!).  The theme of this year’s tour is “Driving is Believing”, and if you’re wondering if it’s true, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

So far the BMW Ultimate Driving Experience tour has stopped in Boston, New Jersey, and San Francisco.  Next up is Los Angeles from September 6 – 21st.   Followed by New York City, Houston and Miami.

It’s open to the public, and you sign up for an autocross session (228i, 535i & 535d), street drives, dynamic experiences, and teen school (4-hour course), all for free!  An all-day Car Control Clinic (in M3’s & M235i’s) is also available for $650.

Register at: ude.bmwusa.com

Hope to drive with all of you in Los Angeles (September 6 – 21) and New York City (October 4- 12)!

Winter Adventure with Range Rover Sport

Earlier this year I got together with my Travel Junkie friend, Kirsten Alana, to go on an adventure with the Land Rover Experience Driving School, at the Equinox Resort in Vermont. Neither of us had driven a Range Rover before and we were excited to get behind the wheel and drive off-road. We had no idea what the weather was going to be like when we set the date. New England’s long winter brought a mid-march snowstorm, which left us with an 80-acre course of snow & ice covered ascents, descents, and side tilts. Luckily their facility is open year round, so we got to experience the 2014 Range Rover Sport’s winter off-road capabilities.

I know what you’re thinking . . . rally driver + Range Rover Sport + off-road closed course = high-speed fun. Wrong. It was learning to maneuver a high center of gravity vehicle through snow covered rocky terrain. This kind of off-road driving was new to me, and luckily Kirsten was up for the challenge too.

We brought some cameras, planned on 4-days of exploration in 3 cities, and winged it. This is the first of three episodes of our Land Rover Experience. Come along and join us on our adventure!

My 1st time at the WRC - 2013 Rallye de France

Going to a WRC (World Rally Championship) race has been on my bucket list for a long time.  So last year I checked that off when I headed to Alsace for the WRC Rally de France in October 3-6.  This was the first rally I was a spectator, and didn't drive.  An experience that I will always remember.

Excited to start my adventure, taking the inaugural Emirates flight from JFK to Milan

Excited to start my adventure, taking the inaugural Emirates flight from JFK to Milan

I experienced a lot of "firsts" on this trip.  My adventure began on my flight out of New York.  I took the inaugural Emirates flight from JFK to Milan.  It was my first time flying Emirates and my first time to Milan.

When I got to Milan I drove through the Swiss Alps to Strasbourg, France.  It was my first time really getting to see this part of Europe.  It was incredibly beautiful and I was amazed at how easy it was to cross over from Italy to Switzerland, and then to France.  I loved that all the drivers were completely aware of the traffic around them, and courteous to other drivers, unlike the US.  Everything just flowed, even when there was traffic.  I got really used traffic circles, aka rotaries, since they're everywhere and surprisingly effective because the drivers are courteous.  Even though it was my first time driving in Europe it made for relaxing road trip .  I was also really impressed by the selection of Haribo gummy everything (yum!), and the meat & cheese selections at the rest stops, which made the drive that much more enjoyable. 

Strasbourg

I was so excited to arrive in Strasbourg for Rallye de France!  I could feel the excitement in the air . . . maybe it was just me, but it was amazing!  Luckily, I learned a bit of French on my iPad prior to getting there, and was surprised that I understood enough to read street signs and buy the correct train tickets to the race. 

It was Thursday - day 1 of Rallye de France and it was the spectator stage.  The fence around the course was lined with people anxiously awaiting to see the cars race by.  I squeezed myself into a spot, and this is what I saw . . . the Volkswagen Motorsport WRC Polo zoom by.  

You could feel the crowd on pins and needles, because that was the stage that Volkswagen Motorsport drivers, Sebastain Ogier & Julien Ingrassia needed to win, to take the 2013 WRC Championship on day 1 of Rallye de France.  They did it! AMAZING!!

Photo by AUSmotive.com

I spent the next few days at the Zenith service park in Strasbourg, where the team's operations, hospitality,  & service were based.  Volkswagen Motorsport Director, Jost Capito, introduced me to the team, and I could observe and ask questions while I learned how a rally team operates at the highest level.  

Volkswagen Motorsport mission control at Rallye de France

They explained the various functions and roles of the team members.  I was in awe every second and truly honored to be there as part of their team that weekend.  

I met all of their drivers, Sebastian Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen as they arrived first thing in the morning.  They were all very nice, and I was admittedly speechless upon meeting them.  I listened how they made their tire choices based on the conditions that day . . . rain in the forecast.  Everything on this team were well thought out down to the last detail, and I wasn't surprised.  

I was mesmerized by each service.  I carefully watched to see how all the mechanics worked in sync.  Even when there was 15 seconds left in service, no one was rushing. 

While I was observing and absorbing everything, the one thing that really stood out, was the way Jost lead the team.  He joked, and laughed with the team, and was well respected at the same time.  When it was time to get down to business, everyone was there to accomplish the same goal.  What I loved about this team, was the team dynamic.  Everyone was strategically there to do what they did best, but they enjoyed it and took pride in their team.  It's undoubtedly a big part of why they're winning, and continuing to do so.  To me, that feeling is very Volkswagen.  Of all the auto manufacturer's I've worked with, Volkswagen always seems to have the most fun while achieving their goal.  I think that it's just part of the company's culture, which gives their brand that special flair that sets them apart.

Waiting to go on stage with the Volkswagen Motorsport team

Waiting to go on stage with the Volkswagen Motorsport team

By the end of the weekend, Sebastian Ogier & Julien Ingrassia not only became the 2013 WRC Champions, but they also won the Rallye de France! 

The team took me along the parade march to the arena, where they were going to be introduced on the stage.  I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just followed along . . .

This is were I ended up with the rest of the team . . . on WRC Rallye de France stage looking out to tens-of-thousands of fans cheering on the new 2013 WRC Champions.  

My view from the WRC Rallye de France Stage

All I remember when I was standing up there, was hearing the fans cheer.  Then I heard the team cheer around me.  I felt something wet splash on me from above, then smelled champagne.  I looked up and saw the Rallye de France sign through the lights shining down through the gold confetti that was falling from the sky.  I had the biggest smile on my face.  It was like a dream.  For that moment, even though I hadn't won the rally, I felt like I did, because I was part of such an awesome team that weekend.  It wasn't just Sebastian's & Julien's win, it was everyone's win.

Now I know what it feels like to stand on a WRC stage and being splashed with champagne.  I wouldn't have even dared to put that on my bucket list . . . but it's checked off anyway.

That weekend was one of my best lifetime experiences.  I hope to be part of their team again . . . maybe at a different rally, in another country.  Next time, I'm going out to the stages and see what goes on out there.  

Thanks Jost and the whole Volkswagen Motorsport WRC team for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

My first time at the NY Auto Show

My post for ebay Motors Blog!

My post for ebay Motors Blog!

I've always been curious what the NY Auto Show was like.  After all it's in New York City, where the majority of people don't own cars.  I used to love going to auto shows to see all the concept cars.  It brought the excitement of what the future may bring.  It's been years since I've been to one, and this time I went with eBay Motors.

One of the big events this year was Ford Mustang's 50th Anniversary.  Ford not only unveiled their 50th Anniversary Mustang at the NY Auto Show, they also put one on the observation deck of the Empire State Building for 2 days, just like they did in 1965, when the Mustang debuted. 

If you're wondering how they got the Mustang to the top, they cut the car into 6 pieces to fit into the small elevators at 2am, and reassembled it before the observation deck opened on the same day.  I was lucky enough to attend Ford's 50th Mustang celebration at the top of the Empire State Building and see it for myself.  It's amazing to stand next to the Mustang and think about what it was like when they did it the first time in 1965.  Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity!

I loved walking around the show with all the auto manufacturers' eye-catching displays and bright lights that made paint on the car look like it's still wet.  It's great to see the latest that manufacturers have to offer, while compiling my own "wish list".  Admittedly, there were some cars I just walked by, others I was drawn to, and others I couldn't take my eyes off of.  One of the cars I was instantly drawn to was the BMW i8.  A plug-in hybrid sports car, with the sexiness of a super car, and more.  From a driver's stand point, I honestly never wanted to own a hybrid, but suddenly the i8 was added to my list of "must have" cars, based on style alone.  This is the sexiest production car I've ever seen.  With a 1.5L twin turbo, 3-cylinder engine I could have some fun with, and with it's efficiency, I could realistically drive it everyday.  That's what I keep telling myself.  I need one. 

The other car I couldn't take my eyes off of, was the Toyota FT-1 concept.  Totally race inspired and everything my dream car would look like.  Finally, the first Toyota sports car that excites me since the Supra.  As excited as I may be about the FT-1, it's still a concept, and  I wonder what it will really look like if & when it goes into production.  For now, I'll keep my fingers crossed and see what happens.

Mazda celebrating their 25th Anniversary and showing off all the generations of the MX-5 

Mazda celebrating their 25th Anniversary and showing off all the generations of the MX-5 

One of my favorite displays was Mazda, celebrating their 25th Anniversary of the MX-5.  On display were all the generations of the MX-5 (aka Miata).  Something any car enthusiast can appreciate.  The MX-5 is not only fun to drive, but it can teach you a lot about racing.  At the show, they debuted their limited-edition 2015 25th Anniversary MX-5, with only 100 being sold in the US.  Boy, would I love to get my hands on one of those!  

NY Auto Show

I had a great time at the NY Auto Show!  The biggest thing I realized, after not having gone to an auto show in many years, is that it's no longer all about the crazy concept cars and seeing what the future may bring.  The future is now.  The once concept cars, are current production cars.  It's amazing to be able to see the evolution of autos, and it's constant innovation.  It's happening faster than ever and it's incredible being a part of it all! 

Huge thanks to eBay Motors for inviting me to the NY Auto Show!

To keep up with my adventures, follow me on Instagram & Twitter @verenamei, andFacebook.com/VerenaMeiRacing.

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