Nürburgring (13 & 14 November 2004)
Links marked with a * require a password.
|This weekend continued the "let's deviate from the plan" theme.
The plan was to do a quick trip on Saturday to take some pics of the
Köln-Ahrweiler, and if the GP-Strecke was open do a few laps
there. In the end the program was a bit longer.
SaturdayThe weather was looking less and less promising the further we went, but at least it stayed dry.
There was still some snow on the edges of the road.
After a bit of a delay Helen and I arrived at the Brünnchen carpark. The walk up to Eschbach was neither as muddy nor as snow-covered as I'd expected. The lack of mud was nice, the lack of snow a bit disappointing.
Helen had brought her camera too:
We were in time to see some officials cars on the track going the wrong way: today the wrong way was the right way, as the rallye participants would be driving a section of the Nordschleife in the opposite direction.
Not long after that the fun started. The track looked very slippery, and several participants found it difficult to put the power down.
To warm up a bit we went a bit further along the track. A welcome side effect of the cars going the wrong way was that most of the fencing wasn't between the lens and the track.
One of the first cars that came through after we'd moved was that of Walter Röhrl.
Wippermann in the opposite direction was interesting too: only a minority of the drivers chose to take the kerb there. I would have expected most of them to put nearly the entire car on that kerb.
With the long intervals between cars there was plenty of time to shoot sequences of each car that came by.
Walking even further yet yielded a nice view of the track snaking its way through the trees.
With an empty stomach, full CF card, and empty battery we made our way to the GP-Strecke. There were signposts that pointed to the correct entry to the Fahrerlager everywhere.
While Helen went for some warming-up coffee, I had a quick chat with Thorleif, and went out on the track. Access-control was done the old-fashioned way by a marshall who punched holes in paper tickets. Fortunately the Jahreskarte was valid too.
Apart from a handful of laps in Job's Golf a long time ago, I'd never been on the GP-Strecke, and didn't have much of a clue about which way the turns went, and what a suitable line would be. At least I remembered that the right turn at the end of the start-finish straight was kind of tight. Mostly the track was dry, but there were some spots that were still decidedly wet.
The relative absence of armco did stimulate some drivers to hang the tail out: at the exit of my third turn a grey BMW 3-series had spun, ending up in the middle of the track right in front of me. For the rest of the lap I concentrated on letting faster traffic past while starting to figure out what line to take. The entrance to the pit lane was the end of the lap; after each lap you had to go through the pit lane, which was a bit hard on the brakes.
Lap 2 I started out behind Focus C-Max who had more power but even less idea of what line to take than I. Ross didn't have such problems: he'd already done a lap or two on the track earlier that day and passed both me and the Focus with screaming tyres. This lap turned out to be one of the more traffic-filled ones, with a little convoy of Golfs and BMW 3-series overtaking me, quickly followed by Falco in his GT3.
With big clouds not only on the horizon, but also over the track I decided to go straight out for lap 3. By now I had a reasonable idea of where the track was going, allowing me to speed up a little. Compared to the Nordschleife, most of the GP-Strecke is tight, tighter, and tightening. Some of the tighter corners weren't much fun in the SquealMobile: understeer, more understeer, and still understeer through most of the corner. The uphill S-bend on the other hand was more to the SquealMobile's liking.
By the time I went through the pit lane to go out on the fourth lap the ticket guy was starting to wave me through without paying much attention to my Jahreskarte. Much more convenient than a mechanical gate, really. During this lap I had a novel experience: I was following a little stationwagon/van thingy that was actually slower than I. Not that I could get a good enough run on him to get past, but at least I'd found someone I could keep up with without pushing. Near the end of the lap he got away by overtaking an Audi TT on the wrong side (the regular Touristenfahrt no-overtaking-on-the-left was still in place), which I refused. Something I almost regretted when the TT braked before the chicane was even in sight. At that point I was braking about halfway between the 100m and 50m signs.
Lap 5 was one of the more entertaining ones: a black Leon TDI was in front of me, and he was sliding all over the place. Thanks to that I could pull back some ground in some sections, whereas he would pull away on the straightish bits.
The brakes were starting to rumble a bit, but with an appointment back in the Netherlands later that day, I wanted to make the most of the tracktime available to me. Time for another lap, again, following the Leon. This lap was just as much fun as the previous one.
Lap 7 was again spent watching the Leon, but this time I could stay a little closer. Some drops of rain started to fall, but didn't develop into a proper shower. The clouds were starting to look more threatening by the minute, though. The brakes were telling me that they'd had enough, so I figured that it might be better to let them cool down a bit instead of going for one more lap.
Next on the program was a series of seriously fast passenger laps in Thorleifs M3 CSL.
Thorleif had been making the most of the available track time, and it showed. He certainly knew where to turn in, and how to make the most of the CSL's abilities.
On our second lap a 996 C4S was holding us up in most of the corners, but he refused to let us by. Power-wise the two cars were very similar. The CSL seemed to have the edge in the faster turns, but the C4S had a clear advantage accelerating out of the many slow corners.
The third lap went in much the same fashion: the C4S refusing to let us past, with us hanging off his rear bumper in the faster bits. To make sure that the point got through, "we" braked quite a bit later going into the chicane at the end of the lap. This seemed to work, as the Porsche let us by in the pit lane. The lap that followed was a bit more satisfying. The C4S wasn't too far behind at the end of the lap though.
I must admit that I don't remember much about the next lap, as Thorleif asked me in the Mercedes Arena "Do you want to try it?" This elicited the brilliant response of "What, you mean the car? Here?" Apparently that's what he meant. OK, twist my arm :-)
I retrieved my Jahreskarte from my car, we switched places, and I adjusted the seat and the mirrors, happy that I'd driven an Alfa 156 Selespeed which had a gearbox similar to the SMG in the CSL. Being able to play with the SMG was something I was really interested in, as quite a few people (Jeremy Clarkson for one) keep telling everybody that Selespeed/SMG/... is crap and a bad substitute for a clutch and gear lever. My experiences with the Selespeed were very different: if you took the trouble to read the manual and find out how to use it, it was marvellous. The default behaviour was to shift in a relaxed fashion, just as you would when you're not in a hurry. However, if you were above a certain number of revs/minute on a certain minimum amount of throttle, the gearshift would speed up. It was very well possible to keep your foot flat on the floor while upshifting, but a well-timed slight lift would smooth out the shift enormously.
So, the question was, is the SMG any better than the Selespeed? Quick answer: yes, it is. Full-throttle upshifts are still a bit jerky, but that's more the fault of the laws of nature than of the gearbox. Shifts are nice and quick, and the paddles behind the wheel are much nicer than the pushbuttons on the first-generation Selespeed. Another big advantage is that the SMG didn't upshift automatically when you reach the rev limiter: no more unwanted upshifts near the exit of a corner. Anyway, if I had a choice I'd choose the SMG over the clutch-and-gearlever; no doubt about it.
But let's get to the driving bit. Of course I'd read the rave reviews and heard the stories, so I was expecting quite a bit. Despite that, the car was even better than I thought it would be. The feedback through the seat and through the steering wheel was like nothing I'd experienced before. Note: the car was on regular street rubber, not R-compounds... Of course I really didn't want to end up in a gravel trap, but it would be a bit silly to poodle round without getting a feel for what the car was capable of.
In short, it was capable of a lot. Thanks to the great feedback it was very easy to feel the back starting to come round. After the first lap I had a better feel for the car, and started to go a bit quicker. This resulted in one or two slidey moments, but the car was very easy to gather up again. Oh, and did I mention the sound? It's great :-)
Three laps went by in a flash, but I'm still grinning when I recall them in my mind. Summary: I really need to find someone who wants to give me the keys to his GT3 so I can compare it to the CSL, but it's difficult to imagine that it's even better.
Figuring that it would be impossible to surpass this highlight I picked up a by now rather cold Helen again and tried to find the appropriate words to thank Thorleif (and failed) before heading back home.