Well that was an *eventful* Ring trip. I’m back at home, staring at a blank blog post with a feeling of shell-shock. Half the fleet was taken out of action.. One car dead, two more broken and a fourth one injured. What happened?
The signs were there from the start. When the Fiestarossa developed a fault merely days before launch, I could’ve taken that as a sign. But no, not me – I like to err on the side of optimism – so when custodian Ben managed to source a new coil pack locally and get it fitted with a day to spare, I naively thought the auguries were on our side. I even suggested to Ben that maybe this trip was going to be a trouble-free one, thus of course attracting the attention of Fate, who promptly vomited in my picnic basket.
I travelled in blissful mindless optimism from Fleet all the way to exotic Leatherhead in the Fiestarossa, a heady 2% into its scheduled mileage, at which point it declared it was feeling a bit funny and needed a lie down. Specifically, whenever I tried to do anything ambitious like applying throttle, it coughed and spluttered and suggested maybe I would rather wait a moment and have a nice slice of cake and a muffin instead of making anything approaching acceptable progress. On the M25 on a weekday morning.
Well I like a good muffin as much as the next man, but I do have a ferry to catch and rather a lot of mileage to cover after that. Will you compromise and let me take you back to base camp and get the backup car? Fiestarossa seemed to accept this suggestion, as it gave me some forward momentum and limped ostentatiously along its new route like a schoolboy who really can’t go to school honest mum cos my tummy really really hurts and it’s nothing to do with it being cross country today and ow oooo it soooo hurts ow can’t go on any more well maybe a little ice cream I’ll force it down I’ll be OK when I get back to Teddington just leave me here I’ll be fine.
I know your game Fiestarossa. But I have no choice. I’ll take the Mitsubishi instead. Bloody glad I built in plenty of contingency in the itinerary.
DAYS INTO TRIP: 0
CARS BROKEN: 1
Regular readers will be familiar with the Mitsubishi. It’s an Evo VI, a special edition of which there were only ever five made. I didn’t want to take it this week because the forecast is sunshine, but it does have some unfinished business at the Ring. Last time I took it, a couple of years ago, it was absolutely FLYING. Until the second lap when it blew up. The time before that, it did a lap with 4 people in the car, encountering several yellow flags including an incident that required us to stop dead for a while, and STILL sneaked in under ten minutes. I *need* to know what it’ll do on a clean lap. It’s a Man Thing.
We’re doing two “track days” on this trip – the first is a day and a half with Bookatrack, the second is a day and a half with Destination Nurburgring. Being track days rather than Touristenfahrten, we have the track to ourselves and we don’t have to deal with bikes, chavmobiles and buses. On a track day we’re not allowed to do any in-car timing, but we *are* allowed video cameras, so we can check our lap times afterwards in the safety of the welcoming and excellent value Pension Muehlenhardt where we are staying.
For the Bookatrack event, I’m in the Mitsubishi, which is a very easy car to do a couple of relatively high speed sighting laps in, to reacquaint myself with the familiar old tarmac snake. Everything’s where I left it, which is nice, and there are some improvements around Metzgesfeld – its two nasty washboard braking zones having been replaced with smooth, grippy, easy-to-commit-on black stuff.
With only 100 cars booked on, the track’s practically deserted, and I’m soon pressing on. I’m chipping off ten seconds every time I finish a lap and after half a dozen or so, I remark to Mike, “that’s as fast as I can go.” It turns out to be a 9m04 (Bridge to Gantry) which, had I known it at the time, would’ve been a bitter disappointment, beginning as it did with a farty fat 9 instead of a super sexy 8. (It is at these moments that I choose to ignore the fact that any half-decent racing driver could get a slightly surreal 7 out of the same car. Racing drivers are cheating. They’ve had their fear glands removed and they’re made of magnesium.)
So 9m04 is as fast as I can go. Except it isn’t. I don’t do anything different over the next two laps, but familiarity and confidence join my team and without any extra effort on my part, ten-second chunks continue to drop away. The next lap is 8m54. The one after that is 8m44. And then the fucking thing blows up again.
Oh cocking poopypants. Whatever happens now I’m facing costs of many thousands of pounds. I may as well tell you what happened while I’m waiting for the Truck Of Shame.
Do you know which bit Schwedenkreuz is? It’s the one that, if you’re trying really hard, makes your sphincter suck back in the little bit of poo that came out while you were approaching it.
When I was hurtling towards it, the speedo was nibbling on the 150mph mark. It’s the quickest point of the track, even quicker than the long straight because it’s downhill. Schwedenkreuz is the very fast left at the end of the quick section, and to be honest I’ve always been a bit of a pussy through it, because there’s no such thing as a Small Accident At Schwedenkreuz. Last time we were here a GT3 pinballed off the armco here and closed the track while the marshals swept up the pieces of it with a dustpan.
In my melodramatic head, my shandy-drinking pussitude saved my life today, because when I hit the brake pedal on the approach, it felt like someone had jammed their head under it. Automatic neural pathways kicked in and I squished that noggin like it was a melon in a vice, and the contingency bought by my pussiness meant I was able to manhandle the car around the scary corner and continue braking towards the tight right-hander of Aremberg.
Already figuratively wiping my brow and wondering what on earth was going on with the brakes, I turned into the corner.
Except I didn’t.
I tugged on the wheel. The wheel resisted.
Instantly my brain recalculated my new trajectory and all possibilities ended with an Evo shaped dent in the wall. Shitty death.
I summoned what little strength existed in my flimsy shoulders and the wheel finally turned and I made it round without leaving the track – oh I *GET IT* now … the engine’s died so I have no power assistance! The engine light has come on and poking the throttle doesn’t make any noise … ah crap …
There’s a marshal’s post just after the bridge on the right, so I roll onto the grass by that and contemplate my next move. The engine turns over but won’t start. I have the recovery number in my pocket, I guess I’d better call them then. But as I’m getting my phone out, one of Bookatrack’s roving marshals arrives on the scene and takes control of the situation. We send Mike back to the bridge to wave the yellow flag for oncoming traffic and the recovery truck arrives within minutes. In the meantime I see the water pipe to the radiator is bubbling periodically and the fluid in the reservoir is visibly boiling. Never seen it do that before. Eep.
By the time the car had been recovered back to the car park, all the water had boiled away. The friendly Bookatrack mechanic tried to limp it back to their paddock for a compression test, but that just caused it to make a loud and painful noise exactly like a spanner in a waste disposal unit. Call in the priest. This is an ex-Evo.
DAYS INTO TRIP: 1
CARS BROKEN: 2
Day 2 and I don’t really feel like driving today, given my running car-death average of one car per day so far. I’ve watched the video of yesterday’s failure and it doesn’t look *nearly* as exciting as my recollection of it, but hey, don’t tell anyone, it sounds dramatic the way I tell it.
Mike takes the Integra out and enjoys the only day of track driving in which none of us came to grief, and he’s comfortably into the 9s despite not quite having the whole track memorised yet. Well done Mike.
Days 3 and 4 are the intermission – the track is open for everybody and his monkey (Touristenfahrten) but we have more than enough track time booked, so we take the opportunity to explore a little of the local area for a change. Here were are at Remagen, site of a famous wartime bridge capture, with guest Richard’s beautiful Maserati MC Stradale.
Day 5 rolls around and we haven’t killed a car in *days*! It’s Destination Nurburgring’s event now and they’ve booked more than double the number of cars on as Bookatrack did, so it’s nearly as busy as a public day. I’m in the Porsche, which has only been on track once so far, at my birthday track day at Blyton, and I’m not comfortable with what it does under load yet. I didn’t want to bring this car here either, but Mike was designated driver for this one, and he suffers from the heat so he needed aircon. Which, of course, packed up on the Autobahn on the way over. Can you see the trend of this trip yet?
We only have three hours of track time today, and I spend it all tootling around trying to dial myself into the teutonic titan. It’s not really working and, to be honest, it feels like a bit of a wobbly old bus. I know that’s because I don’t know how to drive it yet, but I can’t help but be dismayed when the footage shows all the laps are between 9m20 and 9m30. I can nearly do that in the Fiestarossa, for feck’s sake.
But at least we’re coming away unscathed today, so we … ummm … no wait … hang on just a second. Why is Ben scowling like a pigeon has just shat in his ice cream…?
Ah. It’s because the corner of the Integra is looking a bit … erm … caved in. Somebody has had a Less Than Ideal Situation.
The video camera tells the whole story. One of Rent4Ring’s Suzuki Swifts was holding up a quick Caterham, and Ben behind that. The Swift indicated and pulled clearly over between the Pflanzgartens, but presumably didn’t realise there were two cars passing, because after the Caterham passed, at the exact moment Ben came alongside, he swerved the whole width of the track and smacked into Ben. Flaming arseburgers.
DAYS INTO TRIP: 5
CARS BROKEN: 3
Well, at least the Teg’s still drivable. Chris worked his magic and patched up the corner, so it has all the legal components and doesn’t look too bad any more. Somebody get me a beer.
Right. Final day of track action. We have a full day today and the Porsche has something to prove. It does a few solid laps which feel quicker but aren’t. Then finally something clicks and we discover the pace – enough pace to dip into the 8s again. Well, it would’ve been, had the PISSING CAR NOT POPPED A TWATTING CYLINDER!
Yes, I’m not making this up, the Porsche broke as well. Entering the newly-named Bellof S, there was a pop from behind my head and the computer announced “Check Engine! Drive to workshop!” while slipping the car into limp-home mode. Unable to believe this run of mechanical calamities, I hit the hazards and cruised slowly in, with the engine doing its best Massey Ferguson impression behind me. For the love of all that smells of petrol! What *is* going on?!?!?!
DAYS INTO TRIP: 6
CARS BROKEN: 4
This is what the Porsche sounded like when I left it at RSR for analysis:
RIGHT! That’s IT! I’m throwing a Basil Fawlty and I’m not driving any more. Everything I touch turns to scrap. I’m going off in a huff.
Of all the cars on the trip, only Chris’s Alfa Spider survived drama-free, and even that developed a transmission disease on the way home. It’s time to find a new hobby, one that isn’t so expensive. Something like space exploration maybe…