The power of driving vs driving power

Sep 08, 2007

BMW car and motorbike compete in a speed contest against golf balls.

The intense golfing rivalries between Europe and the United States were to be set a new challenge during the 2007 BMW Championship with an unusual contest between a golf ball, a car and a motorbike.

At the BMW Championship Stewart Cink, four-time winner on the PGA TOUR and three-time President's Cup team player, launched golf balls with various clubs while a BMW M5 car and a BMW K1200R motorbike roared off from a standing start. The object: to see if the car and the motorbike can match or beat the pace of the golf ball. This replicated a similar contest conducted last year in Munich, Germany in the lead-up to the BMW International Open. British pro golfer and 2004 Ryder Cup player Ian Poulter along with TV presenter and passionate amateur golfer Sonja Zietlow went up against racing driver Hans-Joachim Stuck and world motorcycle stunt champion Chris Pfeiffer.

In Chicago, Cink pitted his skills against two motorsport personalities - Graham Rahal and Nate Kern. Graham Rahal is a Champ Car World Series driver as well as the son of former open-wheel driver and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. Graham Rahal, 18, is the youngest ever podium finisher in Champ Car history following a second place finish in only his third race of the 2007 season. Nate Kern is a reserve rider for the factor BMW Motorrad Motorsport teams and has been selected as reserve rider for the forthcoming World Endurance Championship event at Oschersleben.

The physics of propelling a 1.5-ounce golf ball are very different from accelerating a 4,000lb BMW M5, or a 522lb BMW K1200R motorbike. The golf ball achieves its highest speed as it leaves the face of the club (up to 190 miles an hour with a driver) and then slows as its travels through the air. The 507 horsepower BMW M5 can rocket from a standing start to 62mph (100km/h) in just 4.7 seconds, while the 163 horsepower BMW K1200R motorbike needs just 2.8 seconds to reach this speed. Unlike the slowing golf ball, the car and the bike keep accelerating under the thrust of their powerful engines.

But, is it enough to outpace a golf ball? When this intriguing experiment was conducted in Germany last year, Poulter and Zietlow used a sand wedge, a 6-iron and a driver. The high, relatively short flight of the sand wedge saw the motorbike beat the golf ball against both players. Poulter's shot went 113 yards against the bike's 153 yards, while Zietlow's ball flew 101 yards against the bike's 174 yards. The car achieved 98 yards against Poulter's shot and 50 yards against Zietlow's.

When the golfers selected their 6-irons, Poulter's shot went 187 yards and Zietlow's 124 yards. The BMW K1200R came close to Poulter at 185 yards and easily outran Zietlow's shot at 204 yards. The BMW M5 made 109 yards against Poulter and 97 yards against Zietlow.

Similar outcomes were achieved when the players hauled the drivers out of their bags. Poulter's drive of 279 yards was nearly matched by the motorbike at 271 yards, while the car reached the 133-yard mark. Zietlow's drive went 209 yards to the BMW M5's 122 yards, while the BMW K1200R sped to 251 yards.

"It was really impressive to watch how the BMW M5 and the BMW motorbike battled it out with my golf ball," said Poulter. "I was almost certain that no vehicle could keep pace with a golf ball in flight."

When Cink, Rahal and Kern were put to the test in Chicago, Cink's drive of the golf ball was able to outpace the BMW M5 and BMW motorbike for each of three runs. During the first run, Cink led the trio, winning by approximately 30 feet with Kern coming in a close second followed by Rahal. During each of the next two challenges, the golf ball also came away the winner, finishing ahead of Kern by approximately 15 feet on the second run and approximately 20 on the third run.