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SMACS TO THE NURBURGRING

sept/oct 2006

By Chris Wilkinson (cw42)

In 2005, with a massive group of other petrolheads in an assortment of cars, I did a European tour, taking in the French vineyards, the Swiss Alps, the German Autobahns and the mighty Nurburgring as our final destination. The tour was over 2500 miles of driving on some of the finest roads that part of the world has to offer, with the Nurburgring thrown in for good measure. The only problem with such an awesome trip was that I was knackered by the time we got there, and didn't fully appreciate the track. So, I vowed to return, as soon as I could, to better learn the circuit, and appreciate better the "Nordschleife ".

The opportunity arose early this year, when my partner informed me that the family holiday was a no-go this year, due to a rather large and important operation she was to undergo, and so a plan was hatched to get to Nurburg. Plans started small at first, looking firstly into the logistics and cost of the trip itself, hotels, fuel and the like were all taken into account, to give a base figure to work on. Next came the date, if I was going for a few days, I'd want some good time on the track, so the diary here: http://www.ringhaus.com/calendar/month.php?date=20060301 was consulted, and the best date of Saturday 30th September for travelling, and Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for driving the ring, with the return trip on the Wednesday 4th October. All this info was published to Amita, and the names of attendees started to trickle in. Eventually, after some drop-outs, we had 10 people coming in 7 cars. They were, from left to right below: Howard, Jamie, Justin, Ash, Adam, Pete, Dai, Chris, Martin and Andy.

 

After some debate on our start time, to be at Dover for 11am on the Saturday morning, we eventually agreed, well, told, Dai, that we'd be heading off at 5am! So, an early start it was, and what a start, with an early morning foggy run along the excellent Buxton to Chesterfield A road to set the scene for the week ahead. Everyone was in high spirits, and the radios were crackling with excited conversation, not least off Howard, who was doing an excellent job as our resident train announcer, no-one could understand a word you were saying! With my tank virtually empty, and the others a little way behind, we eventually arrived in Dover, quickly refuelled and headed for the ferry.

I had decided to book the journey from Dover to Dunkerque, as on paper at least, it meant a slightly longer break on the boat, and a shorter trip through the boring roads of France and into Belgium. It turned out to be a good idea. The boat trip was excellent, with us all having a massive meal to keep us going for the rest of the day, even Justin, who was threatening sea sickness until he tucked into a huge plate of babies head and mash!

Once landed in Dunkerque, it barely seemed like 10 mins later, and we were in Belgium, with everyone's sat-nav giving different directions to Nurburg. I'd printed out the instructions from Ben Lovejoys site here: http://nurburgring.org.uk/ and also a similar route from the Northloop site here: http://s8.invisionfree.com/Northloop/ then given them to Pete and Adam, who were together (not in that way, don't get any funny ideas!) and were supposed to guide us. This was working well, until somehow, they ended up at the back of the convoy, radioing directions to the front! With only Dais' broken headlamp on the way through Belgium to worry about, we made steady progress towards our hotel, but not as quick as when we came back!

Finally, we'd arrived, at 9pm, 540+ miles later, dark, wet, thunder storming and lightning and split up :) A well deserved beer was ordered for myself and Dai, being the first into the hotel (good old sat-nav had seen me right) The others turned up not long after, rooms were allocated, bags were dumped, more beer was ordered,

WE WERE HERE!

Looking around the table that night, as we finished our late meal, and supped yet another beer, I had a feeling of satisfaction with the realisation that we'd all made it through without too much drama, and in one piece, but the best was yet to come. And so to bed.

SUNDAY

Misty mornings are commonplace in the Nurburgring region, check out the webcam on a daily basis here: http://nurburgring.org.uk/webcams.html and you'll see for yourself. This morning was no exception. I was up early, as usual, and down eating a typical German breakfast of bread, butter, jam, cereal and meat! There wasn't a peep from the others, so I headed for the ring, and by opening time at 9am, had my 15 lap ticket, and was readying my car in preparation for my first lap in over a year, excited, you bet! Luckily, I'd brought a makeshift pair of driving gloves, actually my full finger cycling ones, which stopped my sweaty hands slipping on the wheel. Here we go then, upto the barriers, ticket in, pull it out, barrier lifted........................and we're off.

Steady now, no need to what we now call, "do a higham" just nice and easy for the first few laps, try vainly to learn some of this twisting, turning, climbing, descending monster of a public toll road. PUBLIC TOLL ROAD! Oh yes, did no-one tell you, the Nurburgring is a toll road, like the FORTH BRIDGE or the M6 TOLL ROAD, open to any vehicle that is fully taxed and insured for German road rules. So my first scalp of the day was a transit van, wondered briefly if it was the hamster trying to beat Sabines time, but after his accident, I figured not. Then the big one loomed into view, my first coach! Oh yes, last time I was here, these things kept ruining my laps, meaning I only ever managed a measly 11mins 40secs, but within my first lap, I'd whooped his ass, and breezed past up the hill. It's at this point of the story you realise how little you know the ring. Anoraks, and people that live here, know the name of every corner on the place, and there are a few! So our whole time there was spent telling stories about places that we had no clue to their names, and had to describe in great detail where you were on the circuit miles before any incident took place :) Coming to the end of my first lap now, and looking in the mirror, I could see it was getting busy, how busy I was soon to learn. At the best of times, Sundays at the ring are going to be busy, but this sunday was especially busy. It seemed that everyone in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and England were there, and all queuing to get into and onto the ring. It was very very busy!

Eventually, after another steady lap, the others began emerging from the hotel up the road, great choice of hotel, as it was within walking distance of the start/finish. This came in handy later, as it was too busy to actually drive up for dinner. When we were all assembled, I offered a pax lap to anyone, and Pete, Adam and Justin jumped in, to be treated to a demonstration of steady and safe lamp by me. No point rushing, as the track was beginning to resemble the M25 at rush hour now! Time for some fuel for me, and off to the almost as famous petrol station down the road, where all and sundry come to fill up, and take a breather from the manic day over at the ring. In trying to get back, I realised how busy, I couldn't get anywhere near the circuit, and so resigned myself to turning around, and checking out some viewing spots instead:

Upon my eventual return to the start/finish, I heard of Petes' misfortune, and his altercation with the armco and his bumper, unlucky Pete :( Still, on the plus side, everyone was ok, and it was only body damage on the car. In the meantime, Andy was out trying to launch his car at Adenau Forst (see, I know one or two corners names!) which severely dented his confidence and enthusiasm for the rest of the day. Everyone else meanwhile was soaking in the atmosphere of the place, which is very easy to do. Everywhere you looked, there were cars of all makes and models, tricked out or standard, ex racing drivers or general Joes like us, all here for one thing, with one common purpose and goal, to drive the ring to the best of our abilities, some better than others obviously! :)

But what a first day. A very busy track, more Porches that you can shake a stick at, BMW M3 CSL's coming out of our ears, and a carpark full of scoobys from all corners of Europe, fantastiche!

Evening loomed large, and back to the hotel for a shower and a beer, quick change and off for tea. Now, when we drove this road the night before, it didn't seem so far, but it was probably about 2 miles from hotel to Pistenklause, which was a bit further than I thought, especially as there was a massive storm coming. No matter, my biggest worry was that I'd never had a confirmation of the booking I'd made, and the place was heaving! To my mighty relief, there was an empty table, just for our group thank god. Needless to say, the meal was gorgeous, if you go, just order the Argentinean steak, that's all you have to do, simple. The walk home after was a bit wet, as the storm had finally reached Nurburg. A few more beers in the hotel, and off to bed, for another early start on Monday.

MONDAY

Another misty start to the day, but this one with a bonus, in that the track was open in the morning from 9am instead of the scheduled 1pm. Up and about, watching the hotel maid tidy up, while I ate breakfast alone again, with Martin Joining me later on just as I was finishing. Eventually, everyone assembled, and made our way down to the track. Another busy day was developing, with the news of the extra time not being much of a secret! No matter, as the track was wet, which kept it fairly free of bikers. Andy, Jamie and Dai agreed to let me have a go of their cars, which was a big privilege, and a big thanks to them for that. I went out with Howard driving my car first, and boy can Howard drive. I'd already been sat next to him earlier in the year at Oulton Park, and had complete trust in his abilities. Even when he started chasing, and catching, a local in a Porche! My turn next in the Exige :) I had a great lap, nice and steady, as usual, but barely scratching the surface of what that car is capable of.

After a break for lunch, it was time for Dais' car to get a thrashing. I will eventually get me some AST's, as the control around the circuit was so much better in that car than my own. Andys' car would have to wait for Tuesday, as I had a passenger lap in an M3 CSL to enjoy first.

I was stood in the carpark, chatting with the guys around 4pm, when this CSL drives by slowly in the queue for the ring, I take a glance in, see no-one in the passenger seat, and tap lightly on the window, pointing to the empty seat. The waving hand to beckon me in needed no second wave, I was sat down, helmet on, car keys left with someone, before he could put his hand back on the wheel! Upto the barrier, still fairly busy on track, but not as bad as yesterday. Away from the barrier, and "do you mind if I film" I say, "ya, no problem" he says, and whoooooosh!

Bloody hell! Like a rat out of an aqueduct, we shoot off under the bridge and up the hill, to our first incident of the lap. Yellow flag, slow for the grandstand corners, then, whoooooosh, we're off again, left/right/left/right, the click, click of the paddle shifters the only sign that he's doing anything with his hands, and the almighty shove in my gut everytime he accelerates and the lunge forward as we brake so late into corners. I glance across from my video screen, trying at once to fathom how fast we're going, where we are, what I'm filming exactly! But it's all a blur, we hit around 240 km/h (149mph) on a bit of road I struggled to do 110mph! Blimey! We eventually make it to the final 2 corners of the circuit, and there, on the first of the two, is a bad scene indeed. A biker had come off just after mini carousel, and was lay on the grass, motionless, with a number of people in attendance. We trundle back to the pits, me sweating buckets, trying to comprehend how slow I really am around this place against what has just happened, yet still mindful of the biker behind us. A big thanks to my mystery CSL driver, that was truly the ride of my life so far, thankyou.

Unfortunately, the biker turned out to be a fatal, and the circuit was not opened after we'd got in. We headed once again for the pistenklause, walking again, for yet more Argentinean steak all round, and a few beers. We were joined this time by a lovely couple who'd followed us through Belgium on the Saturday, and also met the mad chaps who are: http://www.justgofaster.com/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx justgofaster.

TUESDAY

Our final day at the ring, the last chance to spend all those laps we'd bought. Once again, another early start, however this time, the track was quiet first thing. The very wet track had a lot to do with it, as it had only just stopped raining, so no bikers on track then. Today was a German bank holiday, and we were expecting it to be busy, but it wasn't. I set off straight away, getting a number of laps in first thing while the track was wet and quiet. Reassuringly, I was being overtaken a lot less by now, as the track clicked into place, and corners that were a complete mystery to me, became almost well known. Didn't want to get over confident though, and was still taking it easy in the damp conditions. These were drying quickly though as the day wore on, and by the time Andy let me have a go in his car, there was a definite dry line to follow. Andys' car is something else, and should have been the car I'd got back in November 2005, but I had to get a UK spec sti, not a JDM. Well, now was my chance to see what I'd been missing. The power delivery was so much more brutal than my own, and I must have posted the best lap of my time their by far, hitting a good 120 on sections where I'd struggle to hit 110 in my own. The brakes were awesome too, with just new discs to bring me down a lot closer to turn ins that I'd do in mine, great fun, and thanks again Andy. The offer to drive my car was not taken, and I don't blame him, as there'd be no point.

We were all a little tired by now, but had loads of laps to get in. So I personally went out as often as I could, without putting too much stress on the car. I got some excellent laps in, with very little traffic by the middle of the day. A break for lunch saw us regroup, and see how many laps we had left between us. I was down to none, while Andy and others had a good few laps to get rid of. I'd already bought some off Andy for fuel, and then the boys from justgofaster gave me a ticket with 5 laps on! Nice one chaps, thankyou.

By this time, I was getting tired, and heeding the guidelines from all I'd read over the preceding months, I didn't want to go out with a bang. One more lap then. So off I trot, no passengers, just me, the car and the ring, very quiet by now. A nice steady lap, I was getting really good at the racing line, and because it was quiet, no need to keep dropping off it to let cars pass. As I came to the end of the lap, I just couldn't bring myself to go right in, this was after all the last time I'd be here for a while, so against my better judgement, I went out for just one more lap. Halfway round, I realised that although not a big mistake, it wasn't going to be my best lap time that's for sure, so I just enjoyed my last lap of around 28 in total over the holiday. Back to the start/finish, helmet off, gloves off, and I'm spent! :)

A final trip back up to the hotel, a few beers, a simple hotel evening meal, and off to bed, for the monster trek back to sunny Stockport in the morning.

WEDNESDAY

We had a navigator with us today, Simon needed a lift back to Milton Keynes, and I was happy to oblige as long as he knew the way. Which he did, sort of! We only got lost once, on the Belgium equivalent of the Birmingham ring road. After our little detour, it was a blast down to Dunkerque, with just a stop off for a speeding ticket for me, and some booze from the wholesalers near the port. The crossing was again excellent, with a lovely meal to contend with, and a welcome break from driving.

We thought we'd hit bad traffic along the M25, but it wasn't too bad, and apart from losing Justin along the way, and all getting split up at one point, we made it back together to go our separate ways after heading through Buxton. I was carrying Howard's wine in my boot, so they didn't want to lose me, and we exchanged goodbyes and booze in my village around 9pm that night.

Finally home, wife and kids out at Scouts, house to myself, nice and quiet. Unpacked the car, put it away, patting it gently and thanking it for getting me there and back safe and sound. Bath time.

 

And now, weeks after the trip, what is the overriding impression of the trip? For sure the camaraderie of the group, the way we all stuck together and helped out, the piss taking of each other, the way we shared one another's motors. But overall, the ring, the best bit of tarmac in the world, surely? And the people that frequent it, the locals, the tourists, the coach loads of OAP's!

 

Here's to next year, see you soon,

Chris.

 

 

   
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