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Return to Hell

Nurburgring Nordschleife July 2005.  Since my first trip to the Nurburgring Nordschleife in June 2004 I had been looking forward to another trip.  While I had enjoyed that trip immensely, all of the laps I had done were in convoy with some test driver friends.  What I wanted to achieve this time was to drive the whole track by myself and to always know where I was and what was coming up over the next blind brow.  With just 9 laps under my belt the track was still not etched into my mind despite many laps on a console simulator as well!  The problem was that the games just didn't look the same as real life.  The gradients were often wrong, you could see through corners you couldn't see through in real life, the virtual cars could corner faster than their real-life counterparts and of course it didn't matter when you crashed!

As in the previous year this was a SEiGHT mailing list outing.  The trip was organised by William, test driver for a major car manufacturer who spends half his life driving the 'ring (1700 laps and counting).  We would be joined by Jos von As and Carsten Meyer from Germany.  Jos is currently between jobs as head of chassis dynamics at Audi and soon to start a similar role at BMW.   From England we had myself, Graham Smith and Kevin Knight (plus friend Paul) in V8 Westies and my brother Keith Crocker in a V8 Ginetta G33, Julian in a Porsche 911 and Jon Twidale in a Porsche 944.  Jon owns a SEiGHT too, but his car was in bits after an engine blow-up on a track day.  We'll excuse him even though the engine let go a whole 10 months ago!

After an uneventful trip down the E40, E42 and B410 we arrived at our hotel, La Lanterna, in Mullenbach 5 1/2 hours later.  Uneventful that is apart from Jon trying to gas everybody to death in his 944 when they were behind him.  He had had some engine work carried out by a garage a few weeks previously and they had forgotten to fit new valve stem oil seals... 5 1/2 hours wasn't bad for the trip as Graham and Kevin were trailering their cars so we didn't go much over 70mph and couldn't often overtake either.  La Lanterna is a great hotel, like a chalet with no staff present except at breakfast.  The rooms were superb and it operates an honour bar from a large fridge in the dining room at just 1 euro per beer.  It is owned by La Lanterna Italian restaurant a few miles away.  While Jos and William took their cars to a local workshop to change the oil and put on some A032Rs the rest of us headed out to the 'ring for a look see.  We did a quick recce lap in Graham's Mercedes ML diesel tow car which was funny - the ML was squealing and leaning through every corner but was still being passed all over the place on what was a very busy tourist traffic day.  It also brought home just how steep the track is from Ex-Muhle to Hohe Acht with the car barely able to accelerate at 45mph on the steepest part.  In a fast road car you don't really notice this.  We then headed out to Pflantzgarten with William and Jos to watch the public cars, some of which were driving very hard indeed.

On the Monday the 'ring would open to the public at 1pm and remain open until 7.30pm.  The morning was spent at the hotel unloading the trailered cars, checking fluids, washing cars, fuelling up and buying 'ring tickets which had gone up in price from last year, now 80 euros for a six lap ticket.  We also had to fix a puncture on Graham's car.  It is illegal to repair punctures and nowhere could supply an A048R at a few hours notice.  Fortunately Keith had a DIY puncture repair kit from the States and we have used this several times before on competition cars so we knew it would be suitable.  There were a few members of the group though who thought that it was unwise to rely on this tyre for constant high speed lapping but Graham didn't have much choice.  In an effort to minimise the risk the tyre was moved from the rear to the front (if air came out the resulting understeer would be much safer than oversteer which could suddenly become unstable).  Oh, and Jon had to go and buy some oil - he had already used 2 litres since leaving the UK!

DIY puncture repair should be good for 150mph!

Keith chatting with Jos

At 12:30 we headed off to the 'ring car park in order to try and grab a shady area to park.  It was a very hot day, 35-40C in the sun.  Carsten was already waiting for us, having driven the 170km from his home that morning.  As soon as the track opened Jos lead some of us out for a slow convoy lap to familiarise ourselves with the place.  The previous year I had not timed many laps but this year I wanted to go under 9 minutes and put a watch on most laps.  At 9m 23s this first lap was already 14s faster than my fastest that I had timed the previous year and I returned with a smile on my face.  A short while later Graham and I followed William in his bright yellow Westie.  Now the previous year William had driven the corners quickly but not used much speed on the straights.  However this time we regularly saw over 120mph on the straights and we came back in 8m 58s.  Not bad, goal achieved but it felt like cheating really, following somebody else!  After each of these laps we were carefully checking Graham's repaired tyre to make sure that the pressure was equal with the other front tyre.

Next came one of the highlights of the trip.  Julian, Jon, Keith and I had set off for a convoy run, Julian leading the way.  Nearly halfway through the lap I spied a BMW 3 series slowly catching us.  As we reached Kallenhard it was upon us and Julian and I moved over to let it past.  As the BMW overtook us going through the bend before Wehrseifen I saw that it was Jos taking his friend for a spin in the friend's 320d.  The car was in a beautiful oversteering drift and had smoke whisping off the tyres.  Coming out of Ex-Muhle I overtook Julian's 911, accelerated up behind the 320d and settled in to watch the master at work for the next half a lap. It was quite an opportunity to watch this for such a distance, and lots of the cars that he overtook must have been surprised to see the oil burning BMW come streaking past leaving a foul stench of overcooked brakes in its wake!

Soon Jos's Westfield had sprung a water leak in a hose and he disappeared to a local workshop to fix this.  Kevin was also having problems, with fan belt alignment, and he was having to replace his fan belt after every lap or two.  As he had an electric water pump this didn't cause much concern as the only ill effect was no battery charging.

A few laps later while following William and Graham I had dropped back a bit through a couple of corners, then got caught up in some traffic and before I knew it they were gone.  I found myself alone for 2/3 lap but, to my surprise, I could remember almost every corner of the circuit and came back in 9:07.  At that point I decided to do the rest of the laps alone as I felt I would learn the circuit faster that way.  The next couple of laps were fun resulting in 9:09 and 9:10 and my confidence growing when I returned each time without having misremembered many corners.

Westies seeking shade in the car park

Julian's 911 flanked by Graham and Ian

Jos then had another problem with his car.  Having fixed his water hose he was now getting a vibration from the rear end.  "Have you checked your wheel nuts?" asked William and Jos dismissed this saying he thought it was a driveshaft so he retired from proceedings for the rest of the day.  You can imagine the ribbing he got when he later went to put his road tyres back on and discovered that his wheel nuts were loose! And when it was apparent that he had used a taper nut on a wheel that required a square-shouldered nut it got even funnier...

By now it was around 7pm and the track was getting quite empty.  I drove out through the barrier with an Audi S4, a motorbike and a Golf GTi.  Not wanting to get caught up with them I pulled over at the side and waited for them to disappear, then when I saw another car coming through the barriers I set off, this time concentrating on getting a smooth exit from corners and using all the width of the track.  First I passed the bike, then the Golf and finally started to reel in the Audi.  At Adenauer Forst I thought he was moving over to let me past but when he then left the track on the outside it was obvious what was really going on!  As I passed under the gantry I stopped the watch on 8:56.  A very satisfying way to end the day.  In the dying moments Jon and I went out for a passenger lap in Kevin's 240HP Impreza tow car.  Never having been in an Impreza before I found it good fun.  The brakes didn't seem to cope very well and by Ex-Muhle the stench was overpowering.  Fortunately they get a long rest after that point as the track goes uphill and is almost flat out in most cars for miles.  Carsten headed off home that evening and the rest of us retired to the hotel.

As soon as we reached the hotel a thunderstorm started with torrential rain and lighting.  Excellent timing!  We had dinner that night at a Chinese restaurant in Adenau and thoughts turned to entertainment for the next day.  The track wouldn't be open until 17:45 so we had a whole day to fill.  Everybody had done the museum before and nobody really fancied a trip to Kolne or Koblenz.  There isn't really much to do at the 'ring so this left just karting or mountain biking.

Next morning Jos and Julian headed off home and the rest of us headed off to the kart track to find that it wasn't open during the day.  Off to Adenau, to Breuer's bike shop, and we were soon in possession of 6 (mostly) high quality mountain bikes, a bargain at just 15 euros each per day.  However it seemed strange that the regular mountain bikers had picked the best machines and left the unfit people with the heaviest bikes fitted with suspension...  We headed off east which meant we had a very steep climb once we reached the off-road track.  It wasn't long before 3 of us couldn't ride and kept alternating between walking and riding.  The rest carried on with the bikes and we finally all met up at Steilstrecke where we watched for a while before slowly moving up to Karussell and Hohe Acht.  It was an Industry Pool day so there were plenty of very fast drivers to watch with everything from small hatchbacks to a Lamborghini Gallardo.  By mid afternoon we decided to head back to Adenau and, of course, it was all down hill now (about 4 miles).  After a mile or two we were on a fast descent over loose stone when I saw Jon's bike start to wobble and in a second or so he was down, coming off at about 25mph.  As he stood up I said "Jesus, look at your knee!".  The knee was cut open below the knee cap and was pure white but then the blood started gushing out.  Being ever-resourceful petrol heads we had a supply of cable ties with us and these were used to attach a handkerchief and tissues around his knee as a bandage.  After taking time to recover his composure Jon free wheeled the rest of the way to the road before Kevin went and got his Impreza to take him to hospital.

This was how the bike trip started...

And this was how it ended!

Keith, Graham, Paul and I went back to the 'ring.  As the sky was looking overcast we all went out for a lap as soon as the first rush of public cars was over at about 6pm.  My lap was fun.  At the start a big motorbike pulled a wheelie right next to the car all the way from the cones to the bridge.  He then pulled out 50 yards or so on the run to the first corner at which point I caught him, followed him through the next few turns then passed him at Hatzenbach.  There was another bike (Suzuki GSXR-750) a short distance ahead and the distance between us opened and closed on the straights and corners until we finished the lap together 13 miles later.

At this point we were offered passenger rides by a very experienced 'ring driver in a large V8 powered luxury saloon car. I had only ever ridden with William and Jos in their Westfields, never with a fast driver in a saloon car so this was a real experience, the big V8 engine hustling the huge car along at a ferocious pace (about the same lap time as the infamous M5 Ring Taxi), the car understeering slightly into most corners before he coaxed it into neutral steer or oversteer at alarming speeds. Several times it looked like we would run out of road on the exit of high speed corners but the car would start to oversteer and haul itself back away from the grass verge. As we passed Ferraris, a Maserati, and every superbike we saw, the other riders and drivers must have wondered what the hell this de-badged behemoth was!

Jaguar were testing

Pleased as punch!

Jon and Kevin finally reappeared back from the hospital. Jon had needed 10 stitches in his knee and bandages on various other parts of his body! Apparently the doctor had never seen a patient turn up with a cable-tied bandage before! Jon, Kevin and Keith then went out in the saloon while he followed Graham around to 'assess his lines'. During this drive the saloon would get left behind by the 350HP Westfield on the straights but at every corner the saloon would hurl into the bends, often travelling through them sideways about a cars length behind the Westie. Funnily enough Graham said he found this to be 'intimidating'!!!

The time came for one last lap.  After a repeat 'wheelie' performance by another biker the exact same sequence of events passed i.e. he was passed soon after the start.  This time I had a fairly free run and, despite some roadworks for Armco replacement, did my best time of the trip, an 8:53.  The car hit about 130mph at Hohenrain, Fuchsrohre, Klosteral and on the approach to Schwalbenschwanz with a maximum of 136mph approaching Schwedenkreuz.  There is still plenty to come from the car, especially on the high speed corners that are common on the second half of the track. 

That night we ate at La Lanterna and were given our meal on the house which was very generous of them.  Next morning Jon had to top up his oil again (5 litres for the whole trip, all of it burned, none spilled!) and we set off at 7am, and got back to Calais 5 hours later.  This was a truly fantastic trip and everybody agreed it was the best SEiGHT 'ring trip ever.

I kept a log of the costs and it worked out like this:

Ferry 90
Road fuel 112
Track fuel 50
3 nights hotel inc bar bill 77 (based on 2 sharing a room)
Meals 25 (eating out is very cheap in Germany plus we had the freebie)
Ring tickets 111 (for 12 laps)
Miscellaneous 30 (bike hire, snacks, stickers)

Total: 495

© Ian Crocker
Last updated on Jul 25th 2005