Nürburgring (25 June 2005)
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Despite the crappy weather forecast (or more accurately, the excellent forecast of slightly crappy weather), I set my alarm clock for some stupidly early time to allow me to leave home at 06.00 hours. As this was the first visit in the successor of the SquealMobile valued a quiet track more than sleep or perfect conditions. I haven't settled on a nickname for the car yet, but I'm sure some Ringer will come up with something appropriate.
The early start had an interesting side effect: my usual petrol station (the last before the Dutch/German border) was still closed. I never thought I'd be able to get out of bed and drive to the border before a petrol station opened. Luckily they have "night service" (two lies for the price of one, that), giving the Ibiza a much-needed top-up of diesel. Yes, it's a diesel. It's a company car, and the company requires the car to run either on diesel or LPG. After the lease copmanies no longer lease Alfa Romeos on LPG, it was either something slow and cheap on LPG, something slow and expensive on diesel, or something a bit quicker and a bit more expensive on diesel. Naturally I settled on the "bit quicker" option.
The weather was reasonably clear on the way to the Ring, and I went straight out for the car's maiden lap at approximately 08.15. Not surprisingly the carpark was still mostly empty at that time. The track was nice and quiet, though a bit on the damp side. For some reason the thought "Soren" went through my mind when decided to leave the ESP switched on for now. Not that it had any grounds to activate: the suspension is very nice and seemed to provide quite a bit of grip, even in the wet bits. Which is when the thought "Keith" flashed by. Better keep the pace to pussyfooting around for a bit. Especially when it started raining a bit more, and in more sections. During the third lap I sometimes had to switch the wipers on continuously.
First impressions after doing three laps:
Just for the record my Top 4 of slippery spots of that morning:
Back at the carpark I put the Ibiza in my usual spot and did a quick walk round the carpark.
Ed had texted me that he'd be trying out his new DRT this morning, so I kept an eye out for him. Within a few minutes I noticed him going onto the track. And no, he didn't get an M3, a boik, or a 964RS ;-)
On a 964 forum I'd pointed out that there was a rather large sign in the carpark that spelled out the rules of conduct at the Nordschleife. Naturally I couldn't find a picture of it anywhere. If the theme ever crops up again, I'll be prepared with a picture now.
As it was still only 9.00 hours, the carpark wasn't very busy yet.
I figured it would be fun to compare Ed's newly acquired 944 Turbo and my Ibiza Turbodiesel. Part one of the comparison was duly executed by flagging Ed down before the barrier and hopping in. It still surprised me how low you sit in a 944. Ed certainly managed to find a nice specimen.
Traffic was picking up a bit already. From the low vantagepoint in the 944 a Mitsubishi Evo looks huge, by the way.
Ed shared my impression that Breidscheid was very tricky earlier in the day: he'd seen some sideways action there. I on the other hand had just slid wide a meter or two. Not surprising, given the very different characters of our respective cars.
Up Kesselchen we made room for two E36s who seemed to be traveling in convoy. Apart from them the track was pretty quiet.
The Turbo was getting a decent workout as Ed was getting the measure of the car and its capabilities. The tall gears took some getting used to, just like the very soft suspension. I can see some modifications in that department in the future. Maybe some of those wonderful M030 anti-rollbars and a nice H&R set of springs and matching dampers? With a bit of luck that'll also cure the tyre rub when carrying a passenger of my weight.
Steilstrecken seems to be en vogue for parking cars these days. This time and older BMW had reverse-parked there. One of the boik-marshalls was already there to take care of the situation. Ed tried to get the rear end to step out a bit, which worked nicely, but the car seemed more interested in getting it back in line than in letting the tail hang out round the entire corner. In fact, despite the soft suspension the car felt very well balanced. With the variable track conditions most of the boikers had decided to stay in the carpark. Hohe Acht was still quite slippery, as one boiker had found out the hard way. The next little group of traffic was encountered at Eiskurve. One of the cars was a Dutch Alfa (no tow hook though) who indicated right vigurously, but didn't really show through is driving that his indicating was a response to having noticed us in his rearview mirrors. As there was still some fuel left in the tank at the end of the lap, we went straight out for another lap. Ed had had a friendly tussle with a red 964RS earlier that morning. We spotted the same RS on this lap while going up Kesselchen. This time he started indicating right as soon as we appeared. In Pflanzgarten the seriously quick Italian Exige came past. The rest of that lap, and the following lap, was spent chatting a bit about 944s, Ibizas, cars, and the track. Part 2 of the Turbo comparison was abandonded when I learned that Ed was running out of time.
Another quick look round the carpark yielded no familiar faces. With a mostly dry track I decided to do some more laps in the Ibiza. By now the fuel gauge was starting to descend to "empty" quite quickly. Small wonder, with a 45 liter tank. Fuel economy is excellent when cruising at constant speeds in 6th gear, but is a tad worse when going round the Ring. Before Tiergarten something strange happened: I'd downshifted into 3rd, but when I got back onto the gas nothing much happened for about two seconds. Weird. The rest of the lap this didn't happen. I did have some fun with some Scoobies though. One obviously didn't know the track yet, but he was still accelerating hard on the bits with decent visibility. The blind turns at Hocheichen and Quiddelbacher Höhe were enough to get past though. The Ibiza is a lot of fun with its firm suspension. It feels much more settled than the SquealMobile when coming over the crest before Schwedenkreuz. Finding the turn-in point was no problem: the sign itself might have been nicked, but the metal frame it used to be in is still in the same position.
Going down Fuchsröhre I spotted another Scooby. His driving radiated the same "uh, where are we now?" message, making me keep a bit of distance. As expected he was making the best of his 4-wheel drive system in the dirt at Adenauer Forst when I came out of Fuchsröhre.
On the second lap I had a similar hesitation at the end of Tiergarten as on the first lap. Figuring that it might be a problem with the fuel pickup I decided to exit at Breidscheid and fill the tank. The Turbodiesel torque made getting on again quite a bit easier than in the no-torque SquealMobile. On the next lap however, I again experienced the hesitation. Until then I'd kept the ESP switched on. As it hadn't activated yet, apart from some traction control to keep the inner front wheel from spinning too much, I decided to switch it off to see if that had anything to do with the very annoying occasional hesitation.
Going up Fuchsröhre I found out that it didn't. I went through the compression in 6th (at about 185km/h after a comfort lift), braked, and downshifted into 5th with the intention of powering through the lefthander. Of course the "occasional" hesitation picked this occasion to hesitate. I can tell you that it doesn't feel very comfortable if you want to put load on the rear wheels by putting the power down in 5th, and instead of that you get something that feels like idle power at turn-in. I'd already noticed that the short wheelbase combined with the setup of the car made for an entertaining and somewhat lively ride: lifting in corners had a much bigger impact than in the 147. Braking in corners can be done, but you'd better be very gentle and ready to apply a bit of opposite lock. So at least I was ready when the back started to go when I turned in. After the usual 2 seconds of hesitation the power kicked in again. Even without that I'd have been OK, but it certainly doesn't feel right.
In short: it's not a problem with fuel surge as it happens on a full tank too; it's not a problem with the ESP as it also happens when the ESP is switched off (unless it isn't switched off fully; haven't figured that out yet). Time to call the dealer next week...
With the track nearly empty I did another 2 laps. Naturally the hesitation reared its ugly head in the same places a few times. It seems as if it happens after a stretch of full throttle followed by serious braking and some downshifting. On one occasion the blip of the throttle to match revs while downshifting produced exactly 0 additional rpm. Once this problem is solved, the Ibiza should make a fine Ring-car though.
While going round at slightly reduced speeds I was getting used to a completely new set of gear selections. With the 6-speed gearbox it's mostly 4-5-6, and 3rd for the really slow corners. Turn-in was very good: much better than the 147. It does suffer from understeer, but not nearly as much as the SquealMobile. Cornerspeeds were already faster, even though I'd done less than 10 laps in the car.
Some notable occurences during these laps:
I spotted Ben and Birgit near the ticket office, and couldn't resist greeting them with a "Good afternoon". It was a little after 11 by now, and having been up for 6 hours I figured that a "good afternoon" could be justified. Thanks to the hot and muggy weather the night before I hadn't exactly slept very well anyway, and decided to bugger off home before lunch anyway. But not before taking Ben and Birgit for a lap or two in the Ibiza. Birgit again proved her flexibility by finding a spot on the tiny rear seat. She didn't even have to move Garfield out of the way. Then again, if you can sit in the back of a 964 that has a full-size VCR and assorted paraphernalia on the rear seats, an Ibiza shouldn't be too much of a challenge.
Lap 1 was interrupted at Hatzenbach by a downed biker. I pulled off onto the grass on the inside of the turn and Ben went up the track to warn traffic. Meanwhile Birgit and I had a chat with the biker to make sure he was OK and that his boik was still capable of moving under its own power. This seemed to be the case, and a little while later Ben hopped in again and we completed the lap. Not being too familiar with the car yet, let alone know how it handles additional weight (I know, Birgit doesn't weigh anything, but still) I took it nice and easy. Still the tyres let out some little squeals of happyness here and there.
The second lap was pretty decent, though there were quite a few accidents and yellow flag situations (Eiskurve, Schwalbenschwanz to name just two). A downed boiker at Pflanzgarten 3 was receiving medical attention, and the track was closed when we came back. With the weather looking dodgy I dropped Ben and Birgit off in the carpark and went straight home.