Nürburgring (31 May 2008)
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|Disclaimer: this trip never happened. The rest of this page
must be a figment of my imagination, as I was never at the Ring on the
27th. You see, if my employer would loan me a Mini Cooper S with John
Cooper Works tweaks and a GP Kit, I wouldn't take it to a track. Even
though I have the sneaky suspicion that track driving is exactly what
the engineers at BMW had in mind when they drew up the mods for this
car. Anyway, I just wanted this on the record: what you read below is
what might have happened if I'd taken the car to the Nordschleife. If
I were you I'd probably stop reading now. Should you decide to do so,
some video impressions of the Mini can be found on
YouTube crap quality) and on
Vimeo (much much better quality).
I quite like the looks of the Mini. It's an interesting mix of naughty, cute, and purposeful.
Hoping that a Friday afternoon would provide a quieter track I snuck away shortly after lunch. Instead of the usual Ring approach via the B258 or B257, I'd programmed a longer, slower, but more interesting scenic route into my SatNav.
The route took me through Adenau, and I stopped off to get some bread for the weekend. Which is all well and good, but where do you put it in a Mini GP? It doesn't have rear seats. It doesn't have a glove box. It doesn't have McDonalds-compatible cupholders. It doesn't have a center armrest with lots of inbuilt storage. It does have a strut brace in the back though :-) Anyway, the bread ended up behind the driver's seat. A bit of pushing ensured it wouldn't fly out during cornering.
As I was in the neighbourhood (and the track wasn't open yet) I did a quick detour up the Wehrseifenstrasse. Sweet area to live, even if it means skipping a year (or two?) of Ringing.
Probably due to the Oldtimer Festival the entrance to the Nordschleife was busy.
The carpark itself still had a number of free spots. I left the Mini to get used to the atmosphere, and did a quick tour of the carpark to see if Tony or Clare (or any other familiar face for that matter) was around. Seeing nobody I decided to give the Mini a taste of the good stuff and headed out onto the track.
Short version: it's brilliant. Longer version: it accelerates like a bat out of hell, sounds like an industrial size vacuum cleaner, turns in crisply, has reasonably neutral handling (especially considering it's a FWD car), reacts very well to throttle variations during cornering, and it grips well. The brakes are less confidence-inspiring, but seem to stand up to serious use. Still, the Ibiza brakes better.
The roadworks weren't limited to the Autobahns today: at Breidscheid more than half the track was coned off, resulting in having to cruise down from Wehrseifen at 50km/h all the way to Ex-Mühle. I suspect Karl arranged this to have a quiet afternoon nap.
On the second lap I passed a familiar blue classic 911 with Swedish plates: Christer L. had brought his beauty. Lovely sight, seeing such a car on track. Traffic was still fairly decent, but again I didn't have room to take Fuchsröhre flat.
By now it was about 17.06.
Stelvio pulled up next to me: he'd had to get out of bed at 04.00 to come to the Nordschleife. Now there's dedication for you! Oh, and rumour has it that his boik will be swapped for a new ZX-10.
I texted Tony, but didn't get a reply before I set off to do some more laps. During the first lap I thought I saw Tony on the inside of Adenauer Forst?!? The next lap I didn't have much time to verify that, as I was having too much fun chasing down a well-driven stripped E30 325i. As he kindly made room for me on the approach to Schwedenkreuz (that Mini GP gets up to decent speeds and keeps pulling all the way to the rev limiter), I thought it'd be rude (not to mention confusing) if I'd slow down, wound down the window and started shouting at people off the track. Instead I kept it nailed down Fuchsröhre (woohoo! finally!). The Mini stayed nicely stable through the compression, carrying a handful of kilometers/hour more speed than the Cupra. Braking didn't feel as nice though: for some reason there's not that much feedback if you really stand on them. They're pretty good for "normal" use, and the ABS has been calibrated in a way that makes it easy to go quite close to wheel lockup before it kicks in. However, with the brakes heated up after a lap or so, it's not so easy to feel what's going on. Still, with the lateral grip of the Mini GP you don't need to slow down as much before turning in =:-)
Meanwhile the fuel gauge had been dropping rapidly. It's amazing how much fuel this little engine manages to burn. With about 15l of fuel left the 'puter estimated 56km of range remaining.
Things didn't improve when I decided to do one more lap to wave at Tony, who seemed to be okay and chatting merrily to the marshall. Instead of the nice and quiet lap I had in mind I somehow did another quickish one: the track was more or less empty; why waste it?
Back in the carpark I saw several text messages from Tony, who was now on the way back to the carpark. Christer L. and Ulf T. were going out, swapping cars.
The Mini was allowed to cool down, as I felt I'd done enough laps for the day. Range was down to 35km now, which sounded sensible, having just driven about 21km :-)
The roadworks at Breidscheid (still in place during my last lap of the day) were done by now.
I spotted Steve's CSL going through the gates, and a few seconds later Ed came by, looking very much the rogue pirate with his impressive moustache. He kindly invited me along for a lap, and I jumped into his comfy passenger seat.
Should you want to have a go in this very car, have a look at NurburgRentals.com.
Apart from a suicidal boiker we had a pretty clean lap.
Said boiker did the usual point-and-squirt thing, slowing all the way down for anything that wasn't 100% straight, and nailing it flat out on the bits that were.
It was quite funny to see him check his mirror at the corner exit: you could almost hear him thinking "no worries, I'm much faster, that car right behind me will be gone in a second". And he'd be right. Except that by the time he'd start to ease up on the brakes for the next corner, he'd be holding us up again. So far so good, but slightly less smart was his behaviour out of Bergwerk. We'd finally gotten past him, and while Ed moved over to the right to let a faster boik past he went for a wrong-side overtake. Luckily Ed saw him coming, or he would have had to learn how to fly really quickly.
Back in the carpark Tony showed up, on foot. His boik (the single cylinder one) had had a bit of a malfunction while going down Fuchsröhre: the engine seized, locking the rear wheel. He managed to grab the clutch quickly and rode it almost all the way to Adenauer Forst. Not the kind of excitement you want.
To provide himself with another challenge, he'd forgotten to bring the loading ramp for the van. I got the impression that this made offloading the Aprilia a bit of a challenge. It also made me wonder how he was going to get the boiks into the van at the end of the weekend...
This train of thought was interrupted by noticing that someone had changed the traditional badge of his Porsche for something more personal. I was about to ask him "Kimi, can I have your autograph please?" when I noticed that the car was Italian rather than Finish. And that his local raceshop had run out of Iceman socks.
Meanwhile Tony just had to show off his new Nokia. Not only does it look cool, it has inbuilt GPS and accelerometers which provide it with datalogging capabilities. Very neat!
Despite a range of 34km after starting the engine I gave Tony a lift to the campsite. The site wasn't very busy, and Tony and Clare had a paddock (or whatever you call it) all to themselves. With a tent that big they could use the space. I used it too, for a handbrake turn :-P
They'd come well-prepared (apart from forgetting the loading ramp), with a modded UPS to power various gadgets.
Most of the space in the van was allocated to the most important stuff: the crates with empty bottles of beer, to be returned to the store (and exchanged for full ones, I shouldn't wonder). Something tells me that Tony likes Paulaner almost as much as he like his boik.
Dinner was at the Pistenklause, where the staff made a crucial mistake. Usually it takes half of forever to get food. (At Sabine's old place, the Fuchsröhre, it really did take forever.) However, we got 3 seats at a table under the condition that we'd be done in a little over an hour. Within 15 minutes the Steaks-am-Stein and pasta were on the table! Next time I might remind the waiter that I know for certain that they can cook food quickly :-)
The careful Pistenklause planning almost came a cropper when Clare's card was charged three times. Once for the correct amount, and twice for the wrong amount. She was handed a bunch of receipts and a fistful of euros. Which was quite handy, as it saved her a trip to the not-so-local cash machine :-)
When our time was up we made room for the Swedes who'd booked the
table from 20.30 onwards, and outside said our goodbyes.