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 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.