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Road to Race: BMW M4 vs. M4 GT4

Brian Makse explores the differences between BMW’s road-going M4 to its GT4-spec counterpart…

As a modestly successful amateur racer and lover of sports cars, I’ve become curious about modern race cars, built to GT3, GT4 or TCR specifications, and the road cars from which they were derived from.

What’s similar, what’s unique, what’s special, and most importantly, how do they drive?

Samantha Tan and her Canadian-based team, ST Racing, invited me to Virginia International Raceway to test her BMW M4 GT4.

Tan, a 21-year old college student, is coming off a strong start to her Pirelli World Challenge GTS SprintX season, having led the opening round at Circuit of The Americas and finishing on the podium with co-driver Nick Wittmer.

Photo: Rick Dole

Both cars start with the same production M4 bodyshell, both use BMW’s S55 twin-turbo, three-liter in-line six-cylinder engine and the same seven-speed dual clutch gearbox.

Given that modern cars have interconnected electronics systems, the GT4 includes the M4’s familiar start/stop button, as well as an ordinary BMW key fob, which is strapped into a recess in the back of the console by some Velcro. Carbon doors and door pulls with BMW Motorsport colors add some cool factor.

While the shifter is a stock BMW M4 dual clutch piece, the steering wheel and digital dash are motorsport items, but the wheel’s shift paddles are pulled straight from the road car.

According to Bimmerworld team owner James Clay, who drives in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, BMW has created a competitive race car with many lessons learned from its successful road-going counterpart.

Photo: Brian Makse

“There’s definitely some subtle things that are pretty clever that make this thing work a little bit differently, as well,” he said. “It’s not all just, ‘Oh, it’s some shocks and brakes, and there’s your race car.’

“I think BMW did an awesome job of truly making a competitive package out of what really is primarily street car parts.

“To me, it’s pretty awesome that they can take an M4 DCT street car and that engine and transmission package is the exact same we have in our race car, and it works well.”

As it was my first time in a GT4 car, Tan offered a few tips before I jumped behind the wheel.

She reinforced the M4 GT4’s drivability, likening it to her M235i racer, simply with more power. The biggest difference, Tan said, is the brakes, which requires a huge amount of effort.

Photo: Martin Hangen/BMW

The GT4 features a pure racing seating position, nearly on the floor and a few inches back from the stock seat. The pedal box sits further back than the OEM pedal location to suit, but the biggest thing I noticed is that visibility is also that of a pure race car, with a limited view over the dash and out the rearview mirror.

The steering wheel is entirely effective. It’s certainly one of the coolest wheels in GT4, and the shift paddles are straight out of the road car.

To start the GT4, you hit BMW’s familiar start/stop switch, it fires up and sounds like an unmuffled race car, though still quieter than you’d expect given the turbos coming off the in-line six.

The familiar M4 dual clutch shifter that puts the race car into motion felt identical to the road car.

Image: Brian Makse

Steering out of the garage and onto VIR’s pit lane, I noticed the steering effort was significantly lighter than the road car, even on the M4’s lightest setting.

The throttle response was typical BMW-linear, but the brake pedal effort was something else; it felt like it demanded nearly 200 pounds of pressure for maximum braking.

As I eased up to speed, the Pirelli P-Zero slicks delivered tremendous grip, and while the steering didn’t provide much feel, the feedback from both the wheel and chassis were exceptional.

The air conditioning system, which lowers driver fatigue, was on point given the nature of the GT4 category.

A few minutes into a second session in Tan’s car, I became much more comfortable and my lap times came down. A glance to the screen saw that I was running quicker times than my fastest lap in a Dodge Viper ACR-X from a few years ago, which was startling. 

Photo: Rick Dole

While Tan suggested I take the Esses flat, the best I was able to do was slightly lift before turn-in and go flat the rest of the way up.

Tan, however, was right in that the GT4 was very easy to drive and BMW’s quality of feedback and absence of any bad manners made piloting it nearly effortless.

Overall, I think what makes this M4 GT4 so attractive is that it’s very approachable, with crystal clear feedback and a driver-focused package that eliminates much of the fatigue a driver would otherwise experience in a car at this performance level.

Like Tan and Clay, I appreciate that much of the GT4 is derived from the road car that anyone can buy at their local BMW dealer.

Brian Makse is a championship-winning racing driver, performance driving coach and auto writer and presenter. You’ll find Makse’s work in automotive publications around the world and on his YouTube channel.

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