Breidscheid Revisited - September 2004 Trip
If you're here for the photographs, scroll down a bit.
Off again. A few takers this time - along with Messrs Paul Marcroft (old Cooper S), Trev Moyle (passenger), Fred de Slimfast de Marylebone (Elise), Fred's girlfriend Kerry and myself (Impreza, erm, Shooting Brake) we had the pleasure of Luke Hudson (1972 911) and Dave Potts' (E30 M3, erm, cabriolet) company. I persuaded Dave it was a good idea while he was working at a desk behind me in London - in between me persuading him of this and us all actually going he moved to the US. Credit where credit's due though, he dutifully flew back for it, having convinced Munich Legends they should store his car for a while.
Was a fairly uneventful trip out, punctuated by various fuel stops to top up Marcroft's cola-bottle fuel tank. We got there at about 1730, with plenty of time for a few laps before the close at 1930. Tickets bought, we hit the track in convoy for the customary bonkers-slow first lap (Dave decided to come with me rather than following). As we came into Adenauer Forst, Luke slowed to a crawl. I slowed down a bit but, well, there is such a thing as going TOO slowly, and I opted to leave him behind. As we came down into Esbach, my mobile phone rang. I wasn't entirely in a great position to answer it but Dave informed me that it was Luke, who had "had to leave the track". It looked rather as if Something Bad had happened and Mr Hudson had joined the hallowed ignominy of the "only ever done half a lap of the ring" club.
Back at the car park, Dave and I had a somewhat garbled conversation with Luke. He had experienced some sort of mechanical problem, which he was not entirely sure wasn't due to his (oh, the shame) having run out of petrol. What we couldn't quite understand was where on the track it had happened, and how on earth he'd managed to exit at Adenau. After directing him to the petrol station in Adenau, we sat with crossed fingers hoping that the diagnosis was correct.
Luke turned up at the Nordschleife entrance, all smiles, about twenty minutes later. "Oh yes," he said, "it sort of began to falter heading up a hill somewhere... crawled to the top and then just coasted down and came off at some exit". "But there's only one exit," quoth I. "Oh," says Luke. It would appear that Lucky Hudson actually ran out of petrol coming around Metzgesfeldt and, completely unaware of where the track went, coasted through Kalenhard and Werseifen hairpin (he did breezily mention that he wondered coming out of the hairpin how far he was really going to get) and down the hill to Breidscheid. As the engine cut out completely, he had found a handy turn off and coasted to a stop at the exit.
As the track wasn't open on Saturday morning we had a few beers on Friday night. Up again at... hmm... 1130ish on Saturday and we went up to Breidscheid to watch the race that was going on. Somebody had explained at one point to me what the race format was, but I'd forgotten it. Seemed to be involving setting various timed laps rather than a conventional race. As the track had been very busy on the Friday night, we headed around to Brunnchen to watch the circuit opening rather than queuing with the masses - it certainly looked extremely busy. Huge clods (what is the collective noun for bikes?) of motorcycles running around together, all merged in with fast and slow cars, and the usual selection of buses.
After an hour or so we got itchy feet, and headed over to the start. I have never queued to get into the car park before, and we had to wait for twenty minutes. Once we were onto the track, it was the same story to get back into the car park. I'm sure it is all because of people (of all nationalities) who seem to be pathologically averse to parking anywhere other than in the two bottom paved car parks. There is a ton of room in the car park at the back, you just have to walk for another twenty seconds. The huge queue for everyone to do a circuit of the bottom car parks was exacerbated by the fact that everyone seems to be taking to parking anywhere they fancy, not in spaces at all. Sure, you're only blocking in all your mates, but you're also stopping two-way traffic around the car park, which stops anyone getting onto the track, not least getting from Adenau to Nürburg. There is not a parking space directly out of the exit to the toilets. There is not a parking space on the left as you drive into the car park from the track. There is not a parking space on the roundabout (!). There are lots of lovely ones in the field at the back. Mmm, the field. Mmm.
I only drove one lap on Saturday - it was just too busy and the parking jam was just a bit too frenetic. I passengered twice with Mr Potts (I maintain that I manfully grunted, rather than shrieked "don't lift, don't lift" around Galgenkopf) but apart from that it was a slightly disappointing day. Nice weather though.
Over a couple of more civillised beers in the Pistenklaus (despite what seemed to be a rather noisy Swedish 80th birthday party going on at the next table), we decided that our plan of attack was to arrive at the circuit for the open (0830) next morning. I've never actually been there for circuit open, but we thought it was pretty much our only option for finding the circuit anything other than mobbed.
Well, we arrived on Sunday for 0830 but so did a pretty good number of other people (bottom car parks full), and disappointingly the circuit didn't actually open until somewhere around a quarter past nine. It had rained in the night and we were all a bit nervous about getting on the track, particularly Luke, who had taken the precaution of putting fuel in his car and was eager to get a whole lap in this time. He said that as he got out of his '70s 911 a gentleman in a GT3 had said to him "you're either very brave, or very stupid". Had I been there I might have seen it as a good opportunity to mention Luke's petrol accounting skills, but sadly I wasn't.
I drove one slightly damp and very slow lap, then passengered with Dave (M3) for a couple. He claims these were among his favourites, but I must admit I didn't enjoy them much. I'm very uncomfortable in the wet, and particularly so in rwd cars. Smooth though certainly, and it was great not having the bikes around. After an hour or so the track dried up, but the bikers were still taking their time to filter over. Had a couple more laps, and I think these were my favourites - not least because I put another 0.25psi into the tyres, which really tightened up the steering. I had one fast lap with Dave (who was becoming a permanent fixture in the passenger seat) and one quite smooth one I was pleased with in the company of Fred, Luke and a nice gentleman Fred had picked up from the Lotus club who may have been called Andy. It's surprising how much more the car lolls around with four people in it.
I really felt now that I was enjoying the whole business again. The track became busier in the afternoon, but, as is always the way, once you have picked up a little pace yourself not quite so many people are needing past you. I got in another few enjoyable laps, and squeezed in a couple more passenger laps with Dave, who was beginning to nicely piece together the constituent parts of the circuit and hitting the turning points better than I do. It's very interesting to passenger now and again just to have a bit more time to peer for the turning points you know must be in there somewhere - spotted the Hohe Acht ones for the first time in my life, which naturally turned out to be nowhere near where I normally went. We had a bit of a wobble at the bottom of Kalenhard, any continuation of which would be particularly embarassing to me as my "showing Dave where the track went" might have been unjustly linked to the fact I crashed Marcroft's car at the same corner in 2000. Whilst collecting passenger laps I also went around with Fred (who I nervously expected to drive like a lunatic, but actually was very prudent and effective) and Marcroft. I've been for quite a few laps with Marcroft, and I won't be going for any more until he buys a set of tyres with some tread on them. I thought he was much smoother than I've seen him before, and also much quicker, though it may have been the slightly dicky tyres. it was all going nicely until Wipperman, where Paul and I were discussing the fact that neither of us knew a line that took you through the Wipperman S even vaguely sensibly. As if to demonstrate, Marcroft entered it on a line that can only be described as "idiosyncratic". As I wondered whether I could get the door open and the seatbelt off before impact, Paul tentatively prodded the brakes, to see if that would produce any useful change of direction. Sadly only the rear of the car changed direction, which caused Mr Marcroft to stamp energetically on the brakes, perhaps to get some final use out of the pads before the car was scrapped. I was pretty sure that the trees to the right were going to be my final resting place, and that I could at least comfort myself with the fact that I'd hit Paul first on my way out. And suddenly there we were, zooming down towards Esbach, with Marcroft giggling like a girl. Hmm.
I enjoyed that afternoon, sullied only slightly by the fact that my strut brace (okay, it says "dog guard" on it) adopted a jaunty angle on T13 and detached itself completely on the Karussel. Having found nowhere to actually carry the thing, I had the ignominy of having to re-fit it for the rest of the afternoon. The Impreza is a breathtakingly competent car really - it has that wonderful mix of feeling like a normal car (it rolls, it screeches) at the same time as hustling you around at enough of a pace to make things entertaining, even if you're hopeless. Good clean fun.
And so back to Blighty - after the dullish motorway drive through the continent, the ferry back was a little exciting, mostly because of the force eight wind, the waves crashing over the deck and the sleeping room being interrupted at full volume by Marcroft's unique ring tone.
Overall I must say this was one of my favourite trips. I didn't do that many laps - ten, I think. The track was the busiest I've ever seen it on Saturday, and the car park was worse - I'm wondering whether next time I might prefer travelling during Saturday instead of Friday, and then staying for the Monday afternoon session. I always look at the calendar to try and maximise the amount of time the track is open, but I think what I really want is the largest amount of time I can have fun on it, which isn't necessarily the same thing. One quiet afternoon with clear weather is worth five Saturdays with a queue to get to the roundabout on the main road. The evenings were great fun - I always get a warm glow when I've dragged out people who haven't been before. Although these days I'm really just going once a year, I can't help but feel that the circuit is getting busier and busier - Mr Clarkson's report from this weekend and the fact that Gran Turismo 4 will feature the ring is sadly only going to make this worse. Is it wrong to want fewer people to know about something fun?
Click on the photographs for an enlarged version.