Nürburgring (11-15 September 2003)
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ThursdayHaving arrived well in time for the opening of the track I parked the 964 in my favourite corner of the parking lot and started reading a book. Within minutes I noticed a camera crew setting up a big tripod and camera at the approach to the roundabout near the entry. Not much later several cars from the industry pool started making appearances: a new uncamouflaged Golf V and several cars carrying more or less camouflaging. At the same time several interesting cars kept buzzing past on Döttinger Höhe, including two very yellow little Lambo's in convoy, a severely camouflaged small VW (Polo-sized), a bloody big what looked like a Mercedes, and a boxlike thing that's supposed to be a new Land Rover. Of course Porsche was there too, wih a gorgeous sounding 996.
With time to spare before the track opened, a new soundtrack was added to the proceedings: the Swedes were starting to arrive. The usual collection of 964RS's, 993RS's, GT3's, M3's and assorted other vehicles (such as a silver Mercedes C-class).
A sighting lap told me that the surface was quite slippery, something with which Johan agreed when talking to him about the state of his car. Niek made an appearance, longing to take a Smart Roadster out the following day. A quick visit to Ring Racing to say hello to Meino and Uwe saw me running into Keith and (again) Johan. If you're ever bored at the Ring (I know, strange concept), just pop over to Ring Racing to chat to some other Ringers.
Dinner at the Fuchsröhre started out as a one-man (me) affair, with more and more people showing up gradually. First on the scene were Niek's parents, back from the IAA in Frankfurt, and ready to tell me the new things they'd seen there. Not much later Niek himself appeared, followed by Charles from the USA. Niek started to describe his Smart Roadster in poetic terms, describing the big roll bar in quite some detail. This opened the door for Charles to make a tongue-in-cheek remark that that was a very nice feature on a car driven by Niek. Next subject was that Niek had gone shopping in Adenau. Naturally a Smart makes for easy parking. Not that it's a hairdresser's car, it's a car for people with no need for a hairdresser. Charles had had some issues with leaky valve guides, but Ring Racing fixed them in time for the weekend. Charles too had been to the IAA, and within no time at all a long and detailed discussion of new cars ensued. I kept relatively quiet in the company of people with nearly all-encompassing knowledge of what's going on in the car world. Particularly the encyclopedic knowledge of Charles of all things BMW was impressive.
FridayThe morning hours weren't filled with tourists, but with industry pool drivers. Most of the cars I'd seen on Friday were there again, including the Aston Martin DB9. Jaguar was out in force too.
Friday started with meeting another 'mericun: Rich. Rich drives an amazon green 928 in the states, and he'd been in email contact with me before. Naturally I took him out for a passenger lap in my amazon green 964.
Next in the passenger seat was Johan, who was having some car trouble. As he didn't have his helmet with him we took it easy, but thanks to a small error in judgment in overtaking some bikers and the safety car into Adenauer Forst I gave the spectators something to enjoy. I came into the lefthander with a touch too much speed, which resulted in the back stepping out upon turning in. Nothing major: a single correction was sufficient to continue as if nothing had happened. Among the spectators was Sir B. who had done a U-turn when he spotted Johan and going out, just to follow me and encourage me along the way. Fortunately I'm not quite as slow as I used to be, but thanks to the traffic he managed to catch up just before Adenauer Forst, giving him a front row seat. The picture below was nicked from nurburgring.net.
Kees had just collected his new Dedicated Ring Tool, a black Porsche 944 Turbo with tweaked engine, R-compounds and cup suspension. He invited me along for his inaugural laps. Even though he hadn't driven that car on the Ring yet, it was immediately clear that the car had a lot of potential. Kees tried to provoke the back to step out at Adenauer Forst, but the car kepts its wheels firmly planted, accelerating like a bat out of hell without breaking traction. Very impressive. Equally impressive was the cup suspension: it works very well on the 944. At the mini-Karussell Kees deliberately jumped out a bit early, and finally the back stepped out a bit. Which was easily controlled by Kees. All in all two enjoyable laps that make me look forward to future laps.
By this time traffic was getting quite thick, resulting in three long closures. This gave me the time to meet some more people, including Joel (yet another 'mericun). He showed me his car, which was not as impressive as some of the others I've seen him drive: a Volvo S60 automatic. Despite the car he'd already had some fun laps. The closure also gave me the opportunity to hook up Charles with Joel: I happened to know when Joel would fly back, and Charles was looking for a lift to the same airport. After introducing them to each other things were sorted in no time at all in true Ringers fashion.
Later in the afternoon traffic started to thin out a bit, allowing me to take Charles out. There was quite a bit of traffic, but it was a pretty decent lap in terms of taking the line I intended to take. Hohe Acht confirmed the niggling suspicion that it is a bit more slippery: the back gave a twitch that was slightly bigger than the usual twitches you get in a 964. I've heard more peope remark that the appoach to Hohe Acht is slightly less grippy than last year.
To round off the day I went on some passenger laps. Charles was the first to graciously offer me his passenger seat. Despite a busy track we had a very smooth lap. Charles obviously knows his car very well. He also knows how to drive it quick. By then I'd found out that one of the "slight modifications" to his car consisted of replacing the original engine with an M3 engine.
My next driver was Niek. He'd taken his dad round first, and we did a quickish passenger swap in the Ringtaxi parking area. Of course I bumped my head into the big rollbar, but that's the price you pay for safety, right? Things looked pretty smart inside the little Smart. The two things that disappointed most were the near total lack of engine and the dog-slow gearbox. It took its own sweet time changing gears; much slower than my Alfa 156 Selespeed used to do when driven properly. It also tried to outsmart the driver by upshifting automatically when approaching the rev-limit. Apart from those two minor complaints, the car handled very well. Not surprising, given that it sits very low, is very light, and has 4 big low-profile tyres for stick. Needless to say that Niek made the most of the available grip, resulting in us staying close to some faster cars in Hatzenbach. Kesselchen gave us the opportunity to catch up on lots of things. From Hohe Acht on, Niek and the Roadster were in their element again, keeping momentum and cornerspeeds up. During the entire lap it was interesting to see where Niek takes a different line than I do. Most notable were Schwedenkreuz, Adenauer Forst and Wehrseifen, where Niek takes the racing line and I'm more on the Scuderia line.
The evening entertainment consisted of two parts. First an appetiser in the shape of beer and Coke with a large part of the Danish contingent. Naturally a discussion on the pros and cons of various phones and other gadgets cropped up. Jepp ein particular is very creative in using his phone. To be a little more specific, battery life is, shall we say, variable depending on who's on the other end of the connection.
A short walk later we entered the Fuchsröhre. To be more precise, the leading element of our formation entered. The tail end had some trouble fitting in. To be even more precise, even the lead element had trouble fitting in. It was kind of full. Fortunately some more chairs were found and squeezed in. Which left only the slight problem of lack of tablespace for some of our party. It was therefore a blessing in disguise that Jeppe's steak didn't come immediately. I'm glad to say that my pizza did, because I was getting quite hungry by then. Jeppe was at least equally hungry, and was getting a little annoyed. Fifteen minutes later he'd told us how to use the bureaucratic system in Copenhagen to obtain a free parking permit. After another 15 minutes there was still no steak. Jeppe then made quite sure that the Fuchsröhre staff were aware of the missing steak. Which was good. Slightly less good was that the steak was still running around as part of a cow somewhere. After nearly 90 minutes, Sabine herself brought the steak. At least Guido made sure it was a big one.
SaturdaySaturday started early. I tried my usual "find a fast car, park next to it, hope that some of its speed will rub off" trick by parking next to Ulf. It was a pity that his new car wasn't ready in time for him to collect and use this weekend. It would also have saved him some burning (literally) brakes by the end of the weekend.
Kees accompanied me on my first lap. This was the first time he'd been on the Ring in a 'regular' 911. Usually he hitches rides in RS's or GT3's. As it was my first lap of the day it wsan't the fastest, but it was reasonably smooth. It also showed (even at the slower pace) that regular road tyres are very different from R-compounds. Having been in lots of cars with R-compounds I'm mighty tempted to give them a try myself one day.
After another lap, one of the very few solo laps this weekend, I spotted Ed in the parking lot. I told him I'd met up with Rich the day before, confirming to Ed that Rich was present. After that it was time for some passenger laps in Ed's S3 Quattro. On the first lap we were following Keith in his 968 on R-compounds. Keith had TrRRish with him. Ed used all the grip his regular tyres provided, and sometimes a little more for fun. Through Hatzenbach he stayed on Keith's tail, losing some ground in the faster bits, but gaining back in the twisties. Going down to Breidscheid Ed remarked that the brakes were starting to feel a little iffy. Naturally I answered that that was what I had noted on the lap I ended in the kitty litter at Aremberg. We managed to finish the lap in proximity to Keith, and went out for another.
The second lap Keith let us go ahead so he could follow us. On the previous lap Ed had taken Schwedenkreuz in 5th, after a short but pronounced dab of the brakes. It felt very fast, and I'm sure we were sliding a bit. On this lap Ed tried something different: he kept it in 6th gear. And found out that a quick jab of the brakes had about the same effect as lifting a bit... It's one of those moments that you just know that it isn't going to work. And it didn't. I'm sure Keith and TrRRish behind us had a nice view of the spectacle as we went into a huge slide. Ed brought all his talent and experience to bear and corrected it, corrected the counterslide, and also caught the final slide. I had the distinct impression that even for him this was a very good save. The nose was again pointing in the direction we wanted to go, and the rears had every intention of following the fronts instead of trying to overtake them. I don't think many people would have managed to avoid having a big crash, but I'm glad Ed did.
Because of that bit of excitement Ed braked a little early for Aremberg. Only to notice that the pedal went straight to the floor, so Ed told me that the brakes were gone. After the Schwedenkreuz deja-vu, this was another double-deja-vu. So I told Ed "I've been there before". Twice, to be exact: once when driving myself, and once when in the passenger seat of Sir B.'s Blue Bus. Anyway, Ed showed me how to deal with such a problem in rally-style: just put the car sideways and scrub off speed. This got us round Aremberg, and Ed decided it might be wise to take it a little easy the rest of the lap. The number of times he said to himself "Don't get sucked in" when catching up on other cars even approached the number of times Niek said "Fuck" during his eventful lap with Euan in the 328i last year...
After all this excitement I started looking for something a bit more relaxed. Kim was kind enough to take me along on his first laps of the day. Considering the fact that he was still getting used to the BMW Z4, we went round at a very decent speed. And as I've come to expect from Kim, both laps were smooth as silk. One little incident deserves mentioning: by the time we got to Hohenrain Kim remembered that his helmet was rolling around in the trunk. As that's no way to treat a good helmet we stopped at T13 and Kim jumped out to put the helmet in a secure place before continuing.
By this time I was starting to feel decidedly hungry as I'd skipped breakfst to make it to the track at opening time. Back at Sliders my breakfast was still waiting for me on a separate plate. Thanks, Bren! Two Dutch bikers were there, and of course the conversation turned to the Ring, what it's like (they hadn't done many laps yet), which turns to beware of (most, really), and how to get to easily accessible spectating spots.
Figuring that the track would be stupidly busy anyway, I had a longish nap to compensate for some of the sleep lost somewhere between the Fuchsröhre and Sliders last night. Then it was back to the track to meet a colleague of mine and her 1979SC Targa. She'd never been to the Ring before, so we did a lap in my car for some first familiarisation. It took a long time to actually get on the track, and once we got there it was a zoo. Loads of cars and bikes everywhere, three yellow flags at fresh accident scenes, and one accident without a yellow flag but with enough people in attendance for me to continue the lap. Welcome to the Ring...
Traffic queues were forming all over the place, most notably on the track before the track exit. Several people (including Sir B.) ended up with clutch problems because of that. Instead of adding to these queues we did some spectating between Mini-Karussell and Galgenkopf. There was a gathering of Porsche 928's at the parking lot across the street, and some of those ventured onto the track. Naturally, there was the usual assortment of Porsches coming past, including some Ringers.
Some more exotic vehicles came out for a lap too: a Ferrari 360 Spider, an Ultima, and a Ford Capri amongst others.
While there I spotted some more Ringers going round, including Johan chasing a 996 Turbo, a familiar blue Elise S2, a slightly modified BMW E30 with New York plates on it, Kim, the daft jocks and the C-Car.
When things looked like they were quieting down we went back to the entry to get my colleague some passenger laps (thanks Keith!). While she was out I did two more passenger laps myself. The first was with Paul in his Integra Type-R. I know from previous experience that he's very fast, and a very good driver. He proved both point again on this lap, taking miss-hit-miss the fastest I've gone, with the possible(...) exception of Ulf in the GT2. Highly impressive. Also impressive was overtaking a car before Mutkurve, entering it on a very tight line at high speed, and coming out the other end without having lost much in the way of speed. Pflanzgarten 2 was also very entertaining with the back stepping out quite a bit, resulting in a long and nicely controlled slide. I'm sure the spectators must have enjoyed that one.
Then I spotted Joerg with an empty passenger seat. My colleague really wanted a ride in an Elise, but I couldn't find her fast enoug, and (selfless as I am) I ended up in Joerg's Elise myself. Always a pleasure, going out in an Elise. Great sound, very connected to what's going on underneath the wheels, roof down, sun shining, perfect.
For once Ben hadn't organised a Ringers dinner, but Ringers being Ringers Euan had booked a table at the Pistenklause for 15 people. I don't know how many people ended up at our two tables, but it might have been slightly more than 15... A merry old time was had by all, the food didn't take long in arriving, LaRRs and Charles almost shared a steak, Kees hadn't kept the fact that it was his birthday sufficiently secret so all the Ringers present starting singing Happy Birthday, and Euan's phone switched itself back to German (it always seems to do that when it gets to Germany, must be a special Nokia feature). Ben had crashed his Palm while his computer with the backed-up data on it was stolen. I spent a few minutes beaming him my collection of Ringers phone numbers to give him a little head start.
Then it was time for the main event of the day: a pushbike tour of the Ring. Some nutters had gotten the idea that it would be a good idea to ride round the Ring on pushbikes. In the dark. Ah well, that's Ringers for you. While they went off to their assembly point the flying reporting team went to their own top secret meeting point (Quidelbacher Höhe).
I met up with Søren and Kim, and Søren gave me my PMR back. Of course I pushed the push-to-talk button, but as usual no-one answered. We barely made it to the fence before the first bikers came flying past, with Jeppe leading the way. Sorry Jeppe, you were too fast for me. Some others that I can't recognise from the pictures adjusted their pace to my picture-taking abilities in complete darkness a little better.
When the entire group had gone past, we walked back to the support vehicles (one E46 M3 and one 964C2) and raced^H^H^H^H^Hdrove sedately to the next documenting location: Breidscheid.
At Breidscheid Søren helped the bikers out a little with his flashlight (torch, for those with a UK background). Kim was figuring out how my camcorder worked, and judging by the footage he got, doing a good job.
It was very hard to recognise the bikers when they sped past in the dark, except when they were swearing loudly enough to be recognised by their voice (thanks Jeppe). Niek would have been proud. If anyone can tell me who's who in the following pics, I'll add some names to them. Birgit and Ben are in the fourth picture.
Since Jeppe had a clear lead on the rest of the pack by then, the support team hurried back to the support trucks (noting another support vehicle, the A4 of TrRRish, parked at the Breidscheid exit), and we sped^H^H^H^Hdrove sedately over the twisting mountain road to Brünnchen. Along the way the glass of my righthand mirror managed to work loose from the mirror assembly, and before I realised what it was and could stop it had scratched the door quite a bit. Being a midnight reporter is hard work, I guess.
At Brünnchen we hopped over the armco and admired the campfire further up the hill. We then realised that the straight between Brünnchen 1 and Brünnchen 2 might not be the best place to greet the biking crowd. Consequently we hiked to the exit of Brünnchen 2. Did I mention that being a midnight reporter is hard work? It is.
As it turned out, even Jeppe, 'tete de la cours', needed a bit of time to go from Breidscheid to Brünnchen. By this time he did have a huge lead on his pursuers. Needless to say he was so thrilled with his lead that he called us all kinds of names. While we were waiting for the 'peloton' we spotted some spare parts lying in the gravel. Unfortunately we didn't know anybody who drove a Toyota, so we left them there.
Stelvio was very kind to us. Unlike many of the other bikers he didn't ignore the support troops, he stopped to have a little chat. While chatting, several other bikers came by.
We found out that Ben and Birgit had encountered aliens just past the Breidscheid bridge, forcing them to turn back and exit the track. After all this fun I went back to Sliders, not only to get some sleep in preparation of the following morning's session, but also to hear more about a little altercation that took place at the track earlier that day. As with many stories there were two sides to this one. 'nuff said.
SundaySunday morning started with a quick stop at Ring Racing to get my mirror glass put back into the mirror assembly. While waiting for the brothers to appear, Job drove up with a mechanic and a new suspension for the C-Car. While they were waiting, the mechanic tweaked my mirror a bit, turned a bit, swore a little, tweaked a bit more, and hey presto, they glass is back where it belongs!
At the track TrRRish kindly offered me the passenger seat in her A4. Traffic volume was already increasing, and we didn't have much clear track. It was interesting to feel the Quattro system working.
I then ran into Christer, who was going out in his newly acquired Dedicated Ring Tool, a BMW 318i in race trim. Thanks to my car being parked about as far from the entry as possible thanks to the 928 meet, I almost missed my ride. At least I'm getting quite good at adjusting 4-point harnesses. Christer drove 4 consecutive laps, some which timed by me. Despite the traffic he was going round quite quickly. Not in the least if you take into account that he'd lost the back on his first lap with the car, putting the back wheels in the kitty litter at Aremberg. The passenger had the honour of being sprayed with gravel while pushing the rear wheels toward a grippier surface. The back of the car seemed quite willing to step out when accelerating out of turns, something that Christer seemed to have gotten used to very fast.
When coming back the track was open. This was too good to waste, so I did a Euan by driving straight to the gates. Where somebody started jumping up and down and screaming at me. That person turned out to be Job, who asked me to take his mechanic for a ride. A perfect way for me to thank him for putting the mirror glass back in. The mechanic is (of course) a member of the Golf GTi camp, but seemed to enjoy his ride in the 964 nevertheless. Along the way we were overtaken by a very fast and very yellow frequent lapper.
Shortly after lunch I heard that Johan had gone off right after Adenauer Forst. According to him, he had carried too much good speed to let it go to waste, but losing the back when accelerating out of the corner. The damage looked to be mostly bodywork, but the right rear wheel was pointing in the wrong direction, suggesting that the rear suspension needed more than just a re-alignment. As the track was too busy for me anyway, I went over to Ring Racing to share some of Johan's misery, hoping that that would lower his level of unhappiness some.
Back at the parking lot near the entry I heard that Anders had been involved in an accident too: an MG had driven into his passenger door in Pflanzgarten. This was the kind of accident that happens to you even if you do nothing wrong: it was purely a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Søren however was in the right place at the right time, and I snuck into his passenger seat and enjoyed a nicely driven M3-lap. Those R-compound tyres are really impressive.
Some highlights of the rest of the day: Charles suffered a broken engine mount and Ulf took a Cayenne-S round. During dinner at the Lindenhof I learned that some people fit bolts right through their tyres (make that 'tires') to increase grip. I also learned that some Danish people are very well capable of eating an entire Grillhaxe in less time than I need for my Schnitzel. Apart from that there were the usual interesting stories, most related to cars and driving.
Some of us didn't make the Lindenhof our last stop of the day: we went to the Fuchsröhre. The details of what happened in there are a touch hazy, but I do recall a very involved discussion of the line through Bergwerk. Most of it went over my head. The beginning wasn't too difficult to follow, as it was between Ulf, Anders and Sabine. Hence the conversation was in German or English. Or both. Then Sabine went off to deliver some beers to customers in need. Things were slightly less clear to me after that, as Anders and Ulf starting speaking Swedish. Or some such language. Fortunately they were also waving their arms a lot and scribbling things on a beermat, enabling me to catch the gist of what was going on. This was sometime around 02.00 hours.
Sabine told us that the next year's RingTaxi wouldn't be an M5 but a 545i, predicting that that would result in lots of barfing passengers thanks to the relatively soft suspension. Ulf described his laps in the Cayenne. He had to make do with the S version, but thanks to the air suspension it handled very well. Ulf also (finally) collected the big beer I owed him for the ride in the GT2 last year. On the way out I had a serious conversation with Niek about how people drive cars, both on and off the track, and why they come to the Nordschleife. I'm not sure how we got started on that topic, but we did agree :)
MondayFirst order of business was to try to affix a component of a documentary device to Jeppe's helmet. I'd come prepared with some spare sticky velcro tape, making the groundwork easy. Finetuning the position of the documentary device component was slightly more difficult: what looked right in the parking lot didn't look right on the track. But before we get to that part, we spotted something rather unusual: Anders running after Ulf in the Cayenne-S. My guess is that Anders wanted to give all his worldly possensions to Ulf because Anders was going out for a lap in the BastardWagen.
Jeppe did three laps. During the first part I adjusted the documentary device component a bit, hoping to improve it's outlook on the world. It will be interesting to see if it worked or not; I haven't seen the results yet. There was quite a bit of work going on at various places round the track. Thanks to it being a Monday afternoon traffic was much much lighter than during the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately the crashing hadn't stopped: during one of our laps we saw that a blue UK-registered sportscar had had an intimate moment with the armco at Eiskurve. I later heard that the driver had gone too fast on too tight a line to make it round.
To round the weekend off I repaid Søren for his kindness the day before by taking him for a lap in the 964. If I recall correctly it was a reasonably fast lap, and much better than one of the first times Søren came along in the 964.
To give Jeppe's Civic Type-Ring a chance to cool down a bit I invited Jeppe along for a lap shortly after getting back. I entered T13 a bit roughly, causing the back to step out a bit. By the time we came to Hatzenbach it was quite easy to feel that my regular road tyres were starting to overheat a little in the sunny weather. The rest of the lap I concentrated a bit more on being nice to the tyres than on getting outright speed. The result was an uneventful lap, except for Pflanzgarten 3, where for some mysterious reason I didn't get the line I intended. The result of this was that we were approaching the bloody high kerb on the lefthand side of the track kind of awkardly. I usually clip it or touch it slightly, but this time it looked like it wanted to disappear under the center of the car. As this is not advisable I gently eased the car to the right, away from the kerb without upsetting the balance, all the while keeping my right foot down. That solved the problem perfectly, but I wouldn't want to do it again. At least it shut Jeppe up for a bit in the same way he shut me up by putting his breadvan sideways there.
The EndAll things considered I figured that I'd driven enough laps, I'd had more than enough fun, but I had also seen more than enough crashes. Consequently I made the most of the sunny weather by saying goodbye to all those in sight and drove home.
All pics takes during the weekend are in
the usual location.