Thermal joint private racing with luxury villas
The thermal track is a members-only premium scheme that offers on-site luxury living for the seriously affluent. We cross with velvet rope
Heat doesn't seem to be the obvious place for one of the most exclusive clubs. The desertscape of the Coachella Valley is just as tough as it gets in this part of California. The surrounding mountain ranges hold back the clouds, turning this one-time calculation into an unforgiving furnace for the railroad workers, with temperatures known to be in excess of 50deg C. Locals say it gets so overbearing that in the summer people tend to work for two or three months at a time hospitable towns and cities around us.
The drive from Palm Springs is warm, the mood changes. Immaculately presented properties and grand, closed private estates give way to inconspicuous, modest homes that look poorly maintained. A resident of the area tells me that thermal is a known methamphetamine problem.
Rolling down the highway, a thermal highway appears like a mirage in the desert, but this luxury residential resort for car addicts is no trick of the light. The plot, fenced off from the outside world, covers about 400 hectares. Across the street is a private airport. Most of them come to heat not to drive; they land their private jet or helicopter next door. That is why the owners behind the thermal club decide right now which private jet to buy.
Those owners are Tim Rogers and his wife, Twanna. The thermal track was not their idea, they were some of the early investors, but thought the project was not going in the right direction and approval from the Riverside County authorities was taking too long to materialize. So they pulled out, waited for permission, and then bought back the project, buying back the property, which was given away to raise funds and repay loans with interest. They have now rolled off £135m of their own money. Tim says it's been profitable for the past six years and doesn't have a dime of debt. But why did he risk so much on the untested?
“The main reason is we belonged to several country clubs, and they are beautiful, with a golf course around you, beautiful houses, and common interests with people near you,” says Rogers. “But we have maybe 125 of them in Coachella Valley, and not all golf courses. We love cars and thought there are a lot of other people who do too.”
The couple made their first purchases of luck and fuel supplies at 7-Eleven stores and gas stations around us. The trick is to buy low, sell high like a trader, and make sure the organization covering an area the size of America goes well.
After that, they bought up in stores and gas stations. Then there were cars. A couple of what are known in these parts as reducers. “We always kept a collection of 12 cars,” Rogers says. “Now we have a lot more…”
The profitability of the thermal club came from changing the concept to a more ambitious one. It was originally conceived as a separate racing track for members, much like the Ascari races at the resort in Malaga, Spain, the Monticello Motor Club of New York or the Apex Motor Club in Arizona. For an annual fee you show up, drive cars, be fed and watered, hang out with like-minded gears and then go home.
Rogers changed the business plan to complement the membership model with a focus on building luxury villas. Some see it as a risky strategy, others have speculated that in Fortune 500 territory and only hours away from Los Angeles - a city where a mansion can cost up to £75m - Money isn't an issue if the experience was special enough.
You cannot be a member without a villa, or vice versa. The club takes care of everything by supplying an architect and contractors. Properties can even be provided ready to move in, with food in the fridge, coffee making facilities and sun loungers on the terrace.
Two subscription types are available: family or corporate. The former is $85,000 (£65,000) and, as the name suggests, allows the user to have as many families as they wish. Plus, at $200,000 (£150,000) the corporate membership can be split among up to four non-relatives, a bit like a timeshare. Both include a 70% deposit you must leave the thermal club. The $1200 (£920) monthly fee applies to family membership, and each person who is part of a corporate membership must also pay $1200 per month.
There are three racing tracks and 70 residential buildings. BMWs and Minis are regular tenants from the West Coast Performance Center, driving experience holding on to it and solving thousands of brands each year. Additional land for the fourth track has been purchased, and track designer Alan Wilson thermal – husband of Desiree Wilson, a race car driver – is a visit when I spend the day.
“The typical customer,” says Wilson, “is the GT3 Driver's Cup. I have seen more McLarens here than anywhere else in the world. So you'll have to design it for those clients, style it in a way that gives the impression of speed without the actual speed."
Wilson says it happens, so it's better to control the speed of the car and make the track flow and feel faster than it actually is: “You want someone like that to be able to play with their car, push it up limit. He never limits the car because the car is much better than 90% of the drivers.”
Of course, after tackling two of the three tracks in John Cooper's mini-fellow works, I'm impressed how wonderful it feels at corner speeds away from those modern Grand Prix circuits. There are tight sequences, places where you can run on sidewalks, faster sweepers, technical sections that require patience and even some elevation changes. The territory's runoff is generous and smooth - so you won't damage your car if you do a hash of things - and every month all three schemes seem to give five lap miles.
Rogers explains that the water aquifer 10 feet below ground level presented technical and financial challenges to the landscaping circuits. It takes more dirt to show up in, which is costly and difficult to calculate because it shrinks when compacted and watered into place. Equally challenging was the need to relocate 14,000 palm trees.
What an impressive presentation of the circuit. The surface is excellent, resulting in an 82-page asphalt specification to handle extreme summer temperatures. Roger Penske helped here. The pit area is in the shade, the sofas allow you to relax in the shade and the bank of motorsport telemetry and video streams, providing the services of an instructor to review your own through each braking point, turn-in area of the apex and exit near each track.
Wired circuits to receive HD cameras. C. Rogers says they're in the process of selecting cameras to install so your laps can be filmed outside too, and video into the pits or if you like, keep other club members warm. This age equivalent app challenges me.
Driving is just one aspect of this country club. There are race-team standard workshops filled with cars owned by the club and partners - we see the formidable Baja buggies and race-ready GT4 Ford Mustangs and the technicians who work for them.
There is a club across the road. Much grander than any other racing resort where you could happily spend a long weekend relaxing with family or friends. The food is excellent, the bar looks richer than the Ritz and the front desk has a concierge service running from attending member requests.
Need your villa to be prepared for meeting friends? No problem. Want to have a couple of cars ready and ready when you arrive? This is being done. Would you like to land on your wedding anniversary with a difference and race his En EP cars before having fun all night? The concierge will take care of it and add the cost to your bill.
As far as villas are concerned, Thermal Club keeps a handful of ready-made specifications for properties to be bought and moved at all times. Or you can create your own and wait for it to be built.
Touring a few, obviously space is not an issue. About £2,3m buys about 7000sqm, with built-in garage that will house 15 cars - less if you make some room for a single den with sofas, a pool table, a bar and cinema, or perhaps a scene with favorite fenders and a set of amplifiers that will fight the rumble of racing cars.
The interiors are finished with marble, a dressing room and a large bed, will look like at home in The Princess and the Pea. The travel villas are built into the wall with thermal springs, a large sound barrier, and many of the living rooms and bedrooms offer views of the racing tracks. You can literally wake up, look up from your pillow, to see who's on the way and decide whether or not you want to let them run for their money. Members said that's part of the attraction - knowing who's on the road, which car, and the choice they'd like to mix it with and which cars would best complement the mix.
Villa plots are close together, beautifully finished, if not creatively and stylistically daring and come in traditional Spanish or sleek LA designs. But it's the garages that give them the real "wow" factor. Standing in the kitchen and looking through the 20-foot-long viewing window into the garage, an assortment of beautiful roads and racing cars, confirms that on a material level, at least, you did it well and really.
Rogers suggests that the minimum net worth of each member at the thermal club is $30m (£23m). Do they, I wonder, think it's a good value? I asked this question to Paul, a participant who asks for his last name not in common, but who lives only eight miles down the road.
“I only heard about it by word of mouth at the golf club, through whom I knew who knew I was racing,” says Paul. “He took me aside six or seven years ago. When I joined, a couple of golf club buddies who are car enthusiasts and have great collections tried to dissuade me, saying they didn't feel it was a good investment. But I did it for the quality of life. And now they've both joined and they're as happy as pigs in sh*t!”
Pavel says that joining a club is more enjoyable than buying the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini that can't be used anywhere near their full performance on the road: “If I had to give up my membership, the heat is the last. that I would give up. It was amazing.”
At Thermal, Paul actually built a garage for his car collection, albeit a garage that "sides 60, dinners, four and two berths." His collection is quite extensive: several BMW M3s of all eras (some races get it), a BMW M1, an Alfa Romeo GTV, a Ford RS 200, a Singer 911, an Ariel Nomad, a Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG black series and a Revology Mustang GT R - and Gordon Murray's new T50 is on its way. There are more, but you get the idea: he's got it bad.
Another member, Andy, tells me how he keeps four Ford Focus PCCs, almost every color made, boosted for track driving, in his villa and sees them as a cost-effective way to get a no-burn high—literally—through expensive cars and Parts: “One caught fire and only $10,000 in damages billed. If it was a Porsche or a Ferrari, it would be five times bigger.”
He talks about being free from work as a day trader and talks about the social side of the club being attractive.
Final word from Jeff Rodriguez, track operations manager who has been following the circuit for seven years and has years of experience to his name, working in the likes of Skip Barber's racing school: “Projects like this don't get better known for their high-profile failures than for their successes. They are usually committed by a group of people who pool their resources - all it takes is one or two people to get cold feet and it stops. Here, this is one person, he moves quickly and the standards will not slip through.
With that in mind, the second club is nearing completion. It will house two pools, tennis courts, a children's area, a Sanctuary Spa and a bungalow - because even if you live in a villa with a garage, which is more than most people have at home, guests at home did not get easier.
Race resorts - quick fun for the minted
Askari Resort: l. resort next to the city of Ronda in Spain to become a true resort race, but his vision has never been fulfilled. It remains a private track that is great for riding, but lacks the flexibility of Thermal Raceway and lacks private properties.
Motor Club Monticello: Motor Club Monticello is north of New York City and offers two tracks for private members to play on. But, again, there are currently no plans to allow members to live on the site.
Circuit Internacional Algarve: Circuit Internacional Algarve, better known as Portimão, a world-class circuit with a five-star hotel is on its doorstep. Modest apartments.
Now it's your turn
You do not have to become a member of a thermal club with the experience of driving in a thermal channel. The BMW Group had been looking for a place to drive the center for years before thermal runs appeared in the desert.
It offers a wide range of driving experiences, in everything from BMW M to John Cooper running Minis, or you can swing your leg through a BMW motorcycle. Kids can get involved, so whether you're heading to the West Coast for a business trip or planning a Blow-Out California family vacation, there's something for everyone.
Packets can be short or in-depth as you like. M Advanced Course is a two-day intensive driver coaching program that will hone your skills on the track. It costs from $4600 (£3500). One day driving school at BMW costs from $849 (£650), or you could live out your inner Michael Caine and enroll in a mini stunt course for $750 (£575).
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