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BMW’s world record eight-hour drift was almost ruined by Bluetooth

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Walkie-talkies require a spare hand, but Bluetooth still requires luck

You might think the biggest challenges that stand in the way of setting a record like “greatest distance vehicle drift in eight hours” are the obvious ones: What if you get bored, or lose your concentration? What happens when you have to pee? And when the record-setting attempt involves the crazy idea of refueling the car mid-drift, multiple times, others abound. What if there’s a fire? What if someone gets hurt? Is this even possible?

According to the man behind the wheel, BMW driving instructor Johan Schwartz, what jeopardized the record attempt more than almost anything else was the kind of mundane problem anyone who owns or has driven a modern car knows too well. Mid-drift, his phone lost Bluetooth connection with the infotainment system, which Schwartz was relying on to talk to his team.

Schwartz and fellow BMW instructor Matt Mullins (who drove the refueling car) started out communicating with each other via walkie-talkie. But that required a spare hand to operate, and hands are sort of at a premium when it comes to setting a record like this. So, a little while into the record-setting drift, they switched to the backup plan: using their cellphones to talk hands-free.

That worked just fine — until it didn’t. At one point mid-drift, Schwartz’s phone unexplainably disconnected from BMW’s infotainment system. “So I had to, while drifting, you know, reset the whole thing, turn the phone off and back on again,” Schwartz told me earlier this year at CES. “That was pretty, pretty interesting.”

There were other challenges, of course. Working out the whole refueling situation was no cake walk, as the two cars even slammed into each other a few times during those moments. Schwartz had to juggle other things inside the cabin, too, like water bottles and snacks. About six hours in, he says, the car also switched into all-wheel drive for no apparent reason, nearly dooming the attempt.

And yes, bathroom breaks were also a problem to solve. Schwartz, an endurance racer by trade, was up-front about the solution. “I also did have a catheter. My commitment was either I do it the right way, or I don’t do it at all,” he said. “You can’t half-ass it. Not for a big deal like that.”

But the Bluetooth problem was the freshest in Schwartz’s memory when we spoke. For a guy with as much experience as him, it’s not surprising that it was probably the most unexpected and annoying problem he had to deal with while driving for eight hours straight. Aside from all the drifting, that sounds all too familiar.