Ring trip March 2012 – the run home

Coming home from a Ring trip is not the most exciting of days.  Depending on your route, you might get a brief blast of derestricted Autobahn, but there tends to be Other People on it (bah) and you’re in a convoy, so you can’t exactly disappear into the distance.  Besides, Mike’s Skoda is the quickest car in our group in a straight line … and it would be embarrassing to be dropped by someone listening in air-conditioned comfort to Russell Watson who doesn’t even realise he’s in a race …

So instead let’s use this time to reflect on the glorious days we’ve enjoyed.  We’ve only really murmured about lap times so far, why is that?  We’re on a race track, surely that kind of stuff is important, isn’t it?

Well, you’re not allowed to time your laps on a track day, as it invalidates the track day organiser’s insurance.  However, you’re allowed to stick a camera in the car and find out your lap times afterwards, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 2 days.  So I’ll jump forward a bit and tell you what the footage is like.

It’s humbling to watch back the videos of your first few laps – those pant-jeopardising moments where the bravado was nowhere to be found.  They look so slow now, and that’s because they were so slow.  Where it seemed like I was pushing the envelope at the time, it now looks like I’m on a sighting lap.  I’m being passed by mildew.

You soon learn at the Ring not to judge your performance by what overtakes you.  I love to tell the story from a prior trip of the Vauxhall Meriva course car that steamed past me on a wet track, stopped to deal with an incident, then passed me AGAIN on its way back to the pits … you can only laugh  :D   When you consider that the famous lap on Top Gear that Sabine did in that Transit was considerably quicker than I’m doing in the MX5 … hmmm … it brings both her skill and my own ineptitude into sharp focus …

So let’s bring the numbers out in the open.  None of us will ever be the next Walter Röhrl.  We’re all driving our own cars.  We all have a healthy imagination and have seen enough mangled wrecks to appreciate that a balls-out attack of the Nordschleife is not really in our best interests.

But that’s all excuses.  That’s what we drivers do.  We can’t help it.  We try not to do it, but then it just comes out more excusey then ever.  Right.  So here’s where we are.  Numbers on the table.  No more procrastinating.

The MX5.  Oh my god, I can hardly say it.  The MX5′s BEST recorded lap of the VLN circuit, in my hands, was a 12m58.  Holy shit, 13 minutes?  Really?  There have been faster ice ages than that.  The next lap, admittedly, was 7 seconds up by Wipperman, but the camera battery died at that point so it doesn’t count.  And it still wouldn’t have been quick.

Having analysed the lap of the proper racers that I posted before we went, I reckon you can multiply your bridge-to-gantry lap by 1.21 to get your VLN lap (i.e. 21% more in lap time).  I might revise that up or down once I’ve done the same calculation with our own laps, but nevertheless that’s a reasonable rule of thumb.  So, the MX5′s 12m58 VLN translates to 10m43 bridge-to-gantry.  Hardly stellar.

In the Elise the times were slightly better, but still not particularly ego-massaging.  I had the Roadhawk in the Elise the whole time, so I have accurate timings of every lap, so let’s see where we are … I have an 11m40 with Nigel in the car, and an 11m41 with David, with fairly light levels of traffic on both.  By my previous rule, that makes about 9m38 bridge-to-gantry.  Meh.  I guess that’s acceptable with only 120bhp, but it still doesn’t sound very quick.  It feels a LOT quicker than that at the time.

The lap where David and I were absolutely-not-racing, we were 11 seconds quicker than that by the red flag at Eiskurve, but again, that doesn’t count, because we didn’t get to finish the lap.

So, as usual, measuring your own lap times at the place where the headline times are set by the best drivers that have ever lived, is a folly.  I feel kind of flat now, despite everything.  So I’m going to pick myself up by reliving some of the little moments that made my trip special.

Bliss number 1: Hitting the rev limiter in fourth gear in the Elise.  I’d never done that before, ever.  The Elise runs out of puff completely when it hits the ton.  Fifth gear is for fuel economy only, so you never use it on track, but it was only the second or third lap on this trip where I hit the limiter in fourth after Flugplatz and had to slot it into Cruise.  And then it happened again down Döttinger-Höhe if I got a good exit from Galgenkopf.  And then when I eventually grew a proper set of bojangles, I started hitting it down the Foxhole too.  I didn’t go any faster when I changed up to fifth, so I may as well have left it in fourth, but it just feels wrong bouncing off the limiter.  I don’t have much mechanical sympathy, but even I have limits.

Bliss number 2: Finding the MX5 had a speed restictor!  First lap out I was gleefully pointing out to my passenger how the speedo was on the stop after Flugplatz.  Next lap I started palpitating as the engine discernibly coughed at the same point.  The last time I’d felt something like that, the Evo’s engine had just gone pop, but this time everything felt fine except for those moments when the speedo needle was bending against the little pin that the designers never expected it to touch.  What’s going on?  Eventually, after several identical occurrences and some chatting around the paddock, we discovered it was only a speed-limiter – you know, like those bonkers Mercs have, to stop millionaires crashing and suing … ooo I felt a proper charlie.  But having realised it, it became a new challenge to nudge it every time  :)

Bliss 3: The VLN circuit.  We’ve been here loads of times before, we’ve driven the Nordschleife lots and we’ve driven the GP circuit once.  The VLN circuit, which is (pretty much) both together, was, for my money, far better than either individually.  You get to do two laps of the GP circuit for each outing (see the vids), and you get to do the whole Döttinger-Höhe straight EVERY LAP.  On a normal track day at the Nordschleife, you start at the end of the long straight, so you only ever get to do the whole straight if you do two laps on the bounce.  The VLN circuit seems like the perfect layout.

Bliss 4: Everything.  It all just came together this time.  No regrets at having not had enough track time.  No mechanical failures.  No rain.  It just worked.  Carlsberg don’t do track days, and that’s probably just as well, because they’d be shite.  But if there was a god of track days, he couldn’t have done a lot better than this one.

Ah.  Happy memories.

And all that chatter has taken just long enough that we’ve now arrived at Dunkerque for the trip home.  How suspiciously convenient.

I’ve been driving the whole way with the roof off – in March – just for the hell of it.  This is what I look like after driving across Europe in March winds.  Don’t try this at home, kids.

Until the next time, happy driving.  :)

Ring trip 2012 day 4 – the afterparty

Petrolheadery done with, we’re off to a little jolly in Essen to let our hair down, courtesy of the good people at Haymarket publishing (Classic & Sports Car, Autocar, Autosport, Stuff etc.)

This little vignette in the car park amused me; a weeny little Issigonis Mini by an Audi Godzilla.  As you can see, I hadn’t even arrived at the free bar and I was already too drunk to realise that you don’t use a flash in front of a perpendicular reflective surface.  Doh.

And from there, the evening just varied in its degree of ugliness …


Christ knows what was happening here…

or here for that matter … I seem to have taken a sudden interest in soft furnishings and musical theatre …

Here I’ve a feeling I might’ve been distracted by Michelle in the background.  Easily done  :)

and this is just wrong in so many ways.

Team Moo-Moo at large.  What can you do?

Ring trip 2012 day 4

No narrative to go with this one … just some down-to-earth car porn at the Essen Techno Classica …



Ring trip March 2012 – Day 3

A second day on a track is quite rare for Team Moo-Moo.  We don’t have cash to burn, we usually do one day on track and then scurry home.  At the end of yesterday it felt to me as if we were pretty comfortable with the track and the cars, but we still hadn’t put in anything properly quick.  We all knew the forecast was totally Juney for both of our March days, so I guess we all felt we had a bit of a comfort zone yesterday.

Not so today.  You just know we’re going to see crashes today while people try to stick a mega lap in before going home.

I learned from yesterday’s experience and took the MX5 out for the first half of the day, while the track was slippery.  I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday starting with the Elise, which treats a cold track much like a giraffe treats a skating rink.  The MX5 launches into such conditions like a cat on a polished floor – it looks completely out of control, but you never see a cat crashing into the wall, do you?  It knows where it’s going and secretly it’s having the time of its life getting there.

There’s a new bit of astroturf between the Karussell and Hohe Acht that we’ve been warned about, so we’re staying well clear of that as by all accounts it’s as slippery as Alastair Campbell on Butter Bath Day.  On the other hand, Schwalbenschwanz and the right-hander before it (just before the mini-Karussell) have both been resurfaced and they’re gripping stronger than a superglued barnacle.  It feels like you can take a good 20mph more into the right-hander, which brings the entry point much further forward, and makes the blind entry to Schwalbenschwanz afterwards just a little more sphinctally challenging than it was before.  Great fun  :)

I’m setting glacial 14-minute laps but I’m still having more fun than a warehouse of monkeys on Ecstasy.  The wobbly sidewalls on the new ditchfinders on the rear have taken some getting used to, but I think I’ve just about got the measure of them now.  As I turn in, they clamp me on the shoulders and say “BOO!” but there’s actually another degree of grip left to use – I have to push through the initial scary phase to get to the ultimate limit, but then the wobbliness sends you right back into it as soon as you curb the oversteer, so their natural cornering attitude is akin to a D-Type on cross-plies – in-out, in-out, shake it all about.  You do the hokey cokey, but somehow you don’t turn around.  That’s what it’s all about.  Hoi!

Against all the betting, it wasn’t me who crashed next.  I don’t even remember what this stoppage was for – maybe clearing up the oil dropped by a BMW whose sump puked round most of the GP circuit.  Whatever it was, we legged it over to the cafe to beat the crowds to the willywurst.  Moooooossion accomplished boys.

Back on track and Nigel is taking more and more kerb as the day went on:  Although thinking about it, that was probably Gareth driving … Gareth did like his green-laning …

and then, I’m pleased to say, I got a ride in the 458  :)

Oh my god, what an incredibly capable car that is!  There’s power and grip to spare everywhere.  Nigel wasn’t insured on the track day, so understandably he was well within the limits of the car, but even so it knocked everything else we’d brought into a cocked hat.  A full minute faster than the rest of us without even trying, I thoroughly enjoyed that lap  :)

Immediately afterwards, I took Nigel out – I’m not sure if he was disappointed or relieved that I’d retired the MX5 at that point, but he seemed happy to do a lap in the Elise so out we went.  He had a smile on his face when we came back in, with stories about “chucking it in” to corners, so I chalk that up as a success  :D

It’s the Elise for the rest of the day, and I know there’s plenty more time to find and not much more time to find it. I need to start concentrating, so I go out for a serious lap and … oh my god that’s Sabine Schmitz bending over in the pit lane …

The next few laps go down as being “in the zone”, which means I can’t actually tell you much about them, because … well, I don’t know, that’s just how it works.  Once your brain gets out of the way, it just happens.  Your hands flick at the right point, your right foot uses just the right amount of brake, your heel blips the throttle on the downshift.  You find the traction limit out of a corner and your hands stab on the perfect amount of corrective lock before your brain’s even noticed the car’s sliding.  It all just works.  And it’s bliss.

By the end of today, without thinking about it, I’d taken four corners flat that I’d never taken flat before.  Experienced ‘Ringers will scoff at this list, but that’s OK.  I’ll never be Walter Röhrl.  I just take pleasure from being better than I was the last time.

My Happy Flat List:

- Antoniusbuche – the left kink at the end of the ridiculously long straight at the end of the Nordschleife.  OK, technically I’ve taken that flat loads of times on public days when it’s at the start of the lap, but on those occasions I haven’t had my foot in the carpet for the previous two miles.  It’s quite scary turning the wheel without lifting when you’re at V-Max.  Go on, who else here has done that?  I hadn’t.

- Kesselchen – that first proper left kink after Bergwerk … you know, the one up the hill, after the turn-in-at-the-white-sign, left-left-left-constant-steering, then that last left.  Easy in a car as low-powered as mine, but I’d just never had the balls to do it before.  Once I’d taken it flat the first time it was easy afterwards, like the Lauda Links before Bergwerk was.

- Klostertal.  From Bergwerk, up the Kesselchen hill, past the now-flat left we’ve just discussed, kink right, kink right, kink left, BRAKE a little for the very fast Angstkurve left, then that nasty off-camber right before braking hard for Steilstrecke right and the Karussell.  Klostertal is the nasty off-camber right, and I could only take that flat because I was such a pussy through Angstkurve.  But oh man, that run-off area is sooooo small and we’re going sooooo fast and I’m sooooo squishy under the helmet …

- Don’t know what this one is called … after the Karussell, you go up the hill and take two left kinks before Hohe Acht, separated by the new astroturf.  Having watched a VX220 bin it at that first kink on a previous trip, I’d never taken it flat before, but now I have  :)


Feeling happy now.  I am at one with the car and the track.  I’ve gone as fast as I’m prepared to go and my Ring itch has been scratched.

Hang on, that doesn’t sound right.  Ew.  Maybe … my lust for the Ring has been satisfied.

Goddammit … I just like playing at the Ring, OK?

Aaaargh!  There must be a way to say this!  Me likey Nordschleife.  There.  That’s got to be safe.

Ah, I’m getting silly now, it must be nearly the end of the trip.

[Frank Sinatra]
And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain.
There is, of this I’m clear, more time to find, of that I’m certain.
We’ve stormed round like a bull
We’ve flown down each and every highway
But more, much more than this
We did it Oooouuuuur Waaaay
[/Frank Sinatra]

Time for one last lap then?  David thinks so.  “I’ll follow you,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “I just want to see if I can keep up.”

Hmmm.  David’s a police driving instructor.  My car should be quicker than his.  I’ve got nothing to win here.  This could go very, very wrong.

So of course I go along with it.

“Oh, Jimbo … it’s NOT A RACE!” calls David as I’m helmetting up.  Hmmm.  I wonder if I can fake a puncture…


We’re barely out of the pit lane when all that fannying has been smashed as inevitably as a priceless vase in a 70s sitcom.  Greased shit off a shovel, I believe is the phrase.

Halfway round the GP circuit past all the tight fiddly bits and I’m disappointed but not entirely surprised to see a tidy MX5 in the mirrors still within striking distance.  I thought I might have had an advantage through the fiddly bits.  The Elise is good at fiddly bits.  I glance across and wonder if I can kick Chris out for some extra power-to-weight, but it’s too late for that.  Toe down, hackles up, it’s now or never.

Out onto the Nordschleife and my experience advantage has gone – I’ve driven the GP track before this trip, whereas David hasn’t, but out here the honours are roughly even.

From my earlier passenger lap with David, I could see he was much quicker than me through the ballsy bits – Flugplatz, the bottom of the Foxhole and so on.  Consequently, I knew I had some safety margin there, and I took it.  Flugplatz came and went with zero drama (proving what a pussy I’d previously been through there) and consequently V-max arrived well before Schwedenkreuz.  I definitely held my breath through that scary corner, whilst trying to recalibrate the braking zone for Aremberg, which is now bigger than the straight now that I’m going faster … eeeeeeccchhh … oof … aaand breathe out.  Slightly later turn-in than usual to Aremberg but no time lost.  Down to the Foxhole, don’t even think about lifting until just before the compression … ooooffff that’s harsh … and just a quick hard stab on the brakes before the sequence into Adenauer-Forst.  Clinical and tidy through there and finally I have a moment to look in the mirror.  David’s coping valiantly but he’s definitely creeping away … he’s about 3 seconds behind now and far enough behind that I don’t have to worry about him arse-ending me if I balls it up.

Through the mid-section of Miss-hit-miss, Breidscheid and Bergwerk, David’s clearly more decisive through the traffic than I am, and he’s making time because of it.  Up the long hill I have a slight edge and inch away, and with my new-found confidence through my new harry-flatters corners up there, I’m far enough ahead by Hohe Acht to really enjoy the technical section.  I’m fully hooked up now and using an inch more apex on every bend – it’s definitely my quickest lap in this car.  At Brunnchen I don’t even notice the spectators, I steam past the point where the Evo died a couple of years ago … everything’s going so well …

And then, Eiskurve.  It’s about two thirds of the way round the Nordschleife and it’s called Eiskurve because it’s … well, a bit like ice.  And that’s where our track action came to a premature end.

Back in the paddock, the rest of the Moo-moo guys see the red flags coming out.  Some of them had heard David’s plan, some of them started looking at each other and fidgeting.

Four cars, the briefing guy had said.  Four cars written off.  Four guys not taking their pride and joy home.  It’s the end of the event and so far we’ve had three write-offs and now this red flag.  While David and Jimbo were Not Racing on their final flyer.

The waiting was awkward.

The pause was pregnant.

The seconds turned into minutes.

And then both of us arrived back unscathed in the pit lane.  Team Moo-moo collectively breathed out.  Yes, dear readers, I was unfairly teasing you.  Our fun was curtailed at Eiskurve by a red flag, but the red flag wasn’t for us.  An orange GT3 had played involuntary pinball at that scary corner Schwedenkreuz, and ended up mangled beyond Aremberg with a hefty armco bill to contemplate on the long truck ride home.

So we’re left with mixed feelings.  We were clearly on our quickest lap ever (definitely the quickest ever seeing as we can’t prove it ;) ) and it was red-flagged for an incident that happened several miles BEFORE us on the track.  Huh?  Couldn’t they have just let us motor in?  Bah.

Does that sound callous?  Someone totals their car and all I care about is not being able to finish my lap?  Well, yes, I guess it is.  But that’s just how it is out there.  It comes with the territory.  We all accept the risk.  People crash all the time.  You get blasé to it.  When it’s a biker, you get a sick feeling in your stomach, because that rarely has a happy ending, but when a car pinballs down the barriers, the energy’s being dissipated during the accident and the driver walks away without a scratch.  He walks away a lot poorer, but he still walks away.  I’m post-rationalising really because I’m trying to justify it, but really, that is genuinely how it is.  Nobody feels sympathy for the loss of the vehicle, as long as the people are OK.


And on that slightly anti-climactic note, our Ring tickling is done (DAMMIT!)

Nothing left to do but get our banner photo:

well, after a bit of fannying around…

aaaand one last bit of shadow-play … humour us, we’re just relieved to be still alive  ;)

Right, that’s that.  Pizza place in town tonight I think, don’t you?

Ooo … that reminds me.  I made the classic mistake when ordering pizza.  Always remember … Peperoni in German, despite what certain online dictionaries will tell you, doesn’t mean pepperoni … it means chilli …

and if anything’s worth remembering from a spicy Ring trip, it’s that…