Breidscheid Revisited - April 2001 Trip

I was under the impression that my previous trip report would be the most depressing I'd have to write. Oh, how wrong I was. Anyway, let's start at the beginning...

Since the GP circuit was once joined to the Nordschleife on Easter Monday in 1998 (or was it '99), the Easter weekend seems to have become The Time of year to visit the Nürburgring for the members of the Ringers List. Not wanting to be left out, I managed to cajole my flatmate (Mr. Paul Marcroft) and an old friend of his (Mr. Trev Moyle) into coming along for the jolly. Paul and I booked into Blau Ecke in Adenau from the Friday night right through to Monday night; Trev elected to arrive very late on Friday and leave during the day on Monday.

My car had been in the garage for the better part of a year following the reasonably unsuccessful fitting of a replacement (not new) engine. Running-in had consisted mostly of a week of driving it around London. Bright and early on the Friday morning, Paul and I set off from Limehouse for Dover, where we had to get the 12:15 Sea France ferry. Discovering quickly that we'd started far, far too early, we stopped at a service station only to come across a large bunch of ScoobyNet people who were all heading toward exactly the same destination. We said hello and then tried to kill time by eating our (seven quid) bacon and eggs unusually slowly.

We continued to Dover at a reasonably sedate pace and checked in for the ferry. Finding ourselves still with a good hour to kill, I suggested that we transfer the new rear tyres on my car onto the front. The later 16v Integrales have a rear-bias in the 4WD whilst the 8v models have a front bias - I had been keen to switch my 8v to rear bias but discovered that it was going to be prohibitively expensive. I decided a much more cost-effective option would be to put new tyres on the front. What I'd conveniently forgotten, though, was quite how rusty the car was. Whilst jacking up the rear of the car, the jack-mounting-point decided that enough was enough and bent at a 45-degree angle, dropping the car conveniently a couple of inches. Second try, we managed to find a slightly stronger chunk of metal and eventually got the wheel changed. Over to the other side of the car, and this time with an almighty bang (a woman in the car next-door in the ferry queue actually screamed) the jack disappeared completely into the bottom of the car. With Mr. Marcroft and myself sitting giggling, the ferry started boarding and in a panic we just managed to find a solid bit of floorpan, lift the car up on it and put on the space-saver spare. Something to do in France.

Whilst faffing around trying to change tyres, we'd spotted Ben's car in an adjacent boarding queue but with nobody in it. Not a great surprise as we'd arranged to rendezvous at the ferry terminal anyway. I tried ringing him but there was no answer. Once we were on board, I tried again and then resorted to sending a few text messages reading things like "where d'you want to meet up" and "let me know which bit of the boat you're in and we'll pop over". I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the person whose mobile phone number is only one digit away from Ben Lovejoy's. I feel like I know you, having sent you a number of text messages and then spoken briefly to you twice. More briefly the second time, I might add.

Mac (who was with Ben) rang my phone a couple of times but mid-ocean reception wasn't up to much and eventually Paul and I headed to the bar. Just as we were about to be served an announcement came over the tanoi requesting any members of the group "reeeeengerrrzz" to report to the information desk, which we duly did. My jack-through-the-floor incident was slightly appeased in the knowledge that Mac had already dropped his motorbike. Some boring car chat ensued, and France appeared.

We made what you'd expect to be the reasonably simple agreement to meet in the car park just after disembarking. However, it was only once we were on acres of motorway that Paul and I realised we may have driven straight past the place. After one more extremely brief chat with the chap whose mobile phone number is only one digit away from Ben Lovejoy's, we stopped in a rest area and swapped the space-saver spare off my car. Ben phoned and we established that both Paul and I were mentally incapable of following instructions and that we'd proceed slowly down the motorway with the intention of meeting them a bit later on. This we duly did.

After 40 minutes of sitting at 60mph, we decided that there was no way they were ever going to catch us up and that we may as well just go on ahead and stop later to meet them. We bumbled up to 90mph (rather above my normal motorway speed) only to be rapidly caught up ten minutes later by Messrs Lovejoy and... err... Mac (What IS that man's name? I wonder if HE knows). Off we all went at warp factor ten. Stopping in a filling station in Belgium we met the same ScoobyNet convoy that Paul and I had bumped into in England. Some hellos were exchanged and rather due to a breakdown in communication, we both left while everyone else was just assembling to chat. We did eventually wonder where they'd gone.

Just the two cars remaining, we ambled reasonably uneventfully through the rest of the journey and turned up in Adenau just in time for dinner and pub. Trev turned up slightly later waving around the impressive selection of U-turns that had made his GPS into an expensive etch-a-sketch. A few civilised beers and a pizza later, we all turned in anticipating a day of entertainment on Friday. Oh, how wrong.

We arrived reasonably promptly at the Nordschleife on Friday and sorted out our various tickets. Next we drove a reasonably slow lap with Paul and Trev following myself (the track was still reasonably quiet). I drove a fairly quick lap with Paul in my car and was really quite pleased with the results. The garage had spent some time (and a reasonable amount of my money) working on suspension setup and it was much better than it had been on tracks in the UK. The only slight problem was that the engine blew up completely coming into Schwalbenschwanz. At the time of writing I have no diagnosis but it's the bottom end - that classic "marbles in the crank above 2000rpm" noise. I'm pretty sure it happened because of oil starvation... current suspension means that the car can corner a lot harder than it's supposed to and I don't have a baffled sump. I was deliberately not red-lining it but it didn't seem to help. Unfortunately, I hadn't checked the oil since we left the UK either and I've no doubt now that it was probably lowish. We live and learn, I suppose. Lancia back in the car-park, I sulked for a bit.

Mr. Marcroft (with the benefit of hindsight, rather foolishly) offered me a shot around in his. I drove gingerly around once alone and then a little quicker with Paul in the car. Paul and Trev then both went back to Adenau to pursue their primary hobbies in the pub, leaving me with [atmospheric suspense-type music] Paul's car keys. I hitched a few passenger rides and then offered to drive Niek Stortboom around in Paul's car. Oops.

Bear with me here, as this is something of a painful experience. I also have no doubt that this is where most people are going to start reading, morbid lot that you are. Go on, get back to the beginning and read the whole story. Go on. I know who you are.

Skipping to the gory bit, it started snowing not long after we went onto the circuit. I told Niek that I'd go pretty slowly which, to be honest, I did. As ever with car accidents it's very difficult to work out exactly what happened, but I think that coming into Kallenhard I was caught out by its tightening exit (probably by apexing it prematurely). The hefty Saab 9000 understeered and in a fit of gross incompetence I leapt off the accelerator pedal, thereby beginning my first and last ballet dance with a fat Swede. We left Kallenhard pretty much in the centre of the track but pointing 90 degrees too far to the right. We continued in this vein for a while as I turned the wheel left in an attempt to get things back into shape. Finally the rear caught, the front swung round and I had committed Schoolboy Error Number Two. We were now pointing forwards, but I had directed the front wheels full lock to the left and there was no way I was going to be able to turn back in time. With a new burst of speed, we slammed straight into the Armco forwards and the rear revolved to meet us as we slid backwards down the runoff. I uttered an expletive or two and Niek started to giggle.

Sitting on the banking on the other side of the track, I decided that there was never a particularly "right time" to tell your flatmate that you'd destroyed his automobile and that now might as well do. Mr. Marcroft asked me if I'd managed to get any video (to add insult to injury, I hadn't) and said he'd head back to the circuit with Trev to meet the remainder of the car. This we duly did, and filled in all the necessary forms. Most of the afternoon (and all of the cars) spent, the pub seemed the best option.

What I'd forgotten was that that evening, we were meeting somewhere between thirty and fifty people from the Ringers List at the Pistenklaus for dinner. Although most of them didn't know who I was, I had a strange, sinking feeling that by that evening they may do.

I believe (and Mr. Marcroft , far right, agrees) that if I had to smash up his pride and joy, there would be few situations in which it would have quite the same entertainment value. Although a couple of other British drivers had had accidents on Friday, they had the sense not to turn up and face the music. I sat (well, stood at a lot of points) through an unending torrent of admittedly hilarious abuse from... well... 7pm until somewhere around 1am.

A rather drunken message was posted to the ringers list which I'm not publishing here as it included a lot of rude words. The photograph on the right shows (start at the left, clockwise) Messrs. Trev Moyle, Paul Marcroft, Niek Stortboom, Mac... erm... Mac, Michael Oliver, Ben Lovejoy, Euan Hendry, Robin Iddon, Robin Lord and Pete... erm... Pete demonstrating how to properly treat someone who's mistreated someone else's car.

I can only assume that Paul, Trev and I got a taxi back to Blau Ecke.

By Saturday the Nürburgring had lost something of its charm for me. However, we did troop back down to the circuit and I hitched a mass of passenger rides - many thanks to Robin L, Robin I (given the line consistency, I assume he is competing next year for Scalextric), Anders (I still have your seatbelt imprinted on my chest), Trev, Michael, Pete (I'm sorry, but I had to tell Robin what you were subjecting his car to), Ben, Laurens and a host of others. I did offer to return them all the favour next time but they went strangely quiet.

Saturday night involved a lot more eating/drinking at the Pistenklaus - Paul, Trev, Niek and I bagged a table within spitting distance of Ben, Espen and a host of others. Ben, Networker Extraordinaire, hopped between tables in an attempt to find someone who'd like to buy a lovely MX5 he knew of. Belonged to a quiet little old lady, apparently. As we were all vacating the place (not least because Niek's chat-up technique appeared to have gone down rather badly with the waitress), we reassembled downstairs and said hello to Espen. Espen is possibly the scariest person ever. Our taxi was just about to arrive but we thought we could sneak in a quick beer, so we all sat down. Our taxi arrived. Espen started saying (well, booming) things about getting the driver to wait for ten minutes - I thought he was about to go outside and beat the poor chap to death. We had an all-too brief drink - next time, Espen, we have to get some proper drinking in. I need quality time with someone who's crashed more cars than I have.

Sunday was something of a write-off. The circuit was shut so Paul, Trev, Niek and I (rapidly becoming The Usual Suspects) watched the Grand Prix, played cards, drank beer and went to a Greek restaurant in Adenau which we ought to think twice about returning to. Then we went to a darts bar in Adenau which we ought never to return to. 'Nuff said.

On Monday the track was open but the poor weather prevailed and a lot of people had gone home. Paul and I elected to try and get some video footage and still photos from around the circuit. We drove around to Brünnchen, snapped a few going past and then wandered back up past Esbach towards Wipperman. The heavy hailstorms and the fact that we were now getting rather late for lunch drove us back towards Adenau where we ate and planned the next assault. I was intent on making a pilgrimage to Kallenhard so we decided that the best bet for the afternoon was to park up at the Breidscheid exit and walk back up the side of the track. This we duly did, and got some good footage of the circuit and an excellent (if I do say so myself) panoramic photo from Wehrseifen. We went past Kallenhard (photographed my aftermath, laid some demons to rest) and all of a sudden we were rather far away from the car. A decision had to be made. Did we carry on, or walk back? Our steely eyes narrowed to the horizon. There was only one honourable solution. We would carry on.

Forward we trudged - past Metzgesfeldt and into the deep hinterland behind Adenauer Forst. As dusk fell, we were struggling on through increasingly dangerous territory. The only signs that man had been there before us were a few scattered beer cans, some Honda fairing and a supermarket trolley. The track began to slip away from us and around Fuchsrohre we seemed to be heading further and further into the forest. Hail started to fall very heavily and it got even darker. Paul and I wrote some brief words to our families on bits of the video camera. I cried a bit.

However, once the hail stopped it seemed we'd made a fairly dramatic overestimate concerning how bad the conditions were. The forest reasonably soon thinned out and after a good deal of scrabbling up a stream bank we found ourselves at the bridge near Aremberg. By this time the track was shut so there was no more chance of footage, so we headed back towards the connecting track that ran down the side of Schwedenkreuz and Flugplatz. By this point we were reasonably damp and very much into "going home" mode. An earlier exchange of text messages with Martin Plant revealed that he and Karen were dining at the Lindenhof, so we set that as our goal. By the time we got to Hocheichen it was apparent that the track was shut so we walked tentatively up it.

By T13, the Lindenhof was in sight. Spurred on by the thought of a steak and some beer, we started walking more briskly. And then it happened. There we were, just around T13, standing right on the Nordschleife, we were met with a set of headlights coming rapidly around the corner. My heart stopped. Mr. Marcroft and I simultaneously shrieked, leapt like scalded cats over the Armco and crashed to the ground.

For the benefit of those who may be caught in a similar situation, the main road runs alongside the track right up to Tiergarten.

We found the Lindenhof, Martin, Karen and a couple of drinks. Spent a very pleasant evening chatting and watching a few of Martin's videos from previous visits, then headed back to Adenau via another taxi.

The journey home was pretty tortuous. My car drove quite normally until you hit 2000rpm, at which point it began to sound like a cement mixer full of spanners. As we'd established that neither of us had Europe-wide AA cover, it rather had to get us home. Off we set at 43mph (2000rpm in 5th). We managed to lose our way a bit and ended up taking the "Northern Route" home, via Eupen. This isn't a route I've used before but I did remember somebody mentioning that it had a horrendously bumpy road in it. The road was great to start with, but then - oh my god - I have never seen anything like it. I have driven on bumpy roads before but this was something else. Bear in mind that we are sitting in a ten-year-old Italian car with lowered stiffened suspension, two people and two cars' worth of luggage. We're lucky we still have any teeth.

As we got into Eupen, very ominous things started happening to the car. The knocking above 2000 rpm was now joined by a random lurching which seemed to be happening at indeterminate intervals. Paul and I looked at each other nervously. Perhaps it would... hmm... just sort of go away.

Onto the motorway, we sat wondering what on earth we were going to do if the car gave up the ghost. We'd take turns to chip in with things like "ah, well, it hasn't done it for a couple of minutes" or "I've got relatives in France" but we both knew we were more than slightly screwed if it went belly-up.

One of the interesting facets of travelling at 43mph is that you are overtaken by a lot of motorway traffic, including a large number of articulated trucks. Should you ever find yourself driving an articulated truck, the done thing is to keep going as fast as you can until you are perhaps a foot or so from the offending slow-moving item of traffic. Then flash your lights a couple of times. Now wait for an opportunity to pass. As you pass, get any passenger you have to make an appropriate gesture towards the motorist and, as you pull back into the lane, try to aaaaaaalmost clip the front of the car with the trailer of the truck. Mr. Marcroft and I sat with our fingers crossed every time this happened in the hope that we'd get clouted by an artic and be given a nice new car by the insurance company. Anyway, I was doing my best to be a polite motorist and was flashing the less offensive trucks back into lane whenever I could. We noticed that every time I flashed the lights, the engine cut out. Same with the indicators.

On stopping for food we discovered the problem - the battery connector had simply been jarrred off on the bad roads. When we flashed the lights, it would appear that the EMS lost power and cut out completely, causing the engine (and various warning lights) to go haywire. This fixed, we made it to the ferry without any further problems. We ended up back at the flat on Monday night, just in time for a couple of pints before last orders. 12hrs non-stop from Adenau at 43mph. Never again.

On our return to London (ok, quite some time after that actually) I managed to get the video we'd taken onto the computer. For your viewing enjoyment:

Since Easter, I've obviously had a bit more time to reflect on the whole business. Paul's car, we discovered, was going to cost more to repair than it was worth. As I was only insured third party, we've agreed a value on the car and I am paying him that. Clearly, I do feel a bit (well, very much) of an idiot since the accident. I wasn't driving like a lunatic but I was clearly going too fast for my own abilities and, well, there's not much I can do about it now. Paul and I haven't fallen out (this must be one of my more regular questions) but I've inconvenienced him and there's a limited amount I can do about this too. If I've learned anything from the Easter weekend, it is these three things:

  • Never drive friends' cars on the Nordschleife, whether you're insured or not. Consider the inconvenience you're going to cause them if you do have an accident (not just the repair cost) - at the very least you may ruin their weekend. Also bear in mind that, no matter whether you've driven it a few times before or not, you are not going to know how that car drives as well as you know your own.
  • This is a personal one, but I'm not driving the Nordschleife again in the rain. I have now had three car accidents, two of which were my fault and all of which were in rain or snow.
  • Video every single lap. By all means just rewind the tape at the end, but do video them. Firstly, you'll have some embarassing footage for your friends to watch if you crash. More importantly, however, you'll have some very useful evidence if someone crashes in front of you or if you're involved in an accident in which blame is contested. In fact, hell, run the video on the way to the shops.
In the end, the whole thing was (just!) worthwhile. I'll be back at the Nordschleife for lap 27 - a little older, a little wiser. Paul and Trev are both keen to return and as long as we can buy/repair cars in time, this will hopefully be this summer. See you then?