I was so eager to get to the Nürburgring with my newly setup car that I booked the first available track day at the ‘Ring for 2015. The track time was organised by a British company called Destination Nurburgring, or Ring Weekenders, and it is also sometimes affiliated with Circuit Days. The organiser is Darren. He’s a top bloke and his events are always run well.
This was the first time I had done a ‘Ring track day that was not only the Nordschleife but also included the GP circuit, so it was effectively the full VLN layout as depicted on the legendary stickers rather than just the North Loop. I was very excited as I had never even seen the GP circuit before. This is because my normal timetable of events on a visit to the Nürburgring usually comprises: driving all day to get there in the evening; waking early the following day and being out on track all day; enjoying an evening at the excellent Pistenklause; then repeating the following day before travelling through the night to get home.
Good as this routine is, it has meant that there are actually quite a lot of things I have never seen, despite being a ‘Ring veteran! Some people go just for the social side whereas I have always just wanted to be out on the circuit and subsequently hadn’t done any further exploration. So I had high hopes for this trip. The event was called Destination Nürburgring 11 because it was the eleventh event the company has held there ; usually it’s an annual trip but this year the company had three two-day events and if you booked all three you got a nice discount as well as a returning customer discount. It worked out that I pretty much got a whole track day for free, which was a result.
I usually try and go with a group of my UK track buddies and car enthusiasts, as it is an experience everyone should enjoy, and for this trip there was my E92 M3 and four of my mates in two E46 M3s. None of them had driven on the Nürburgring before, but all were keen to have a go on the tourist sessions after the track days. We all set off from the UK meeting and caught the Eurotunnel over to the Continent. It’s a steady five-hour drive with a few stop-offs on the way for fuel and lunch. I decided to take the route past the Spa Circuit, as it is a more scenic route.
On the way there we hit a four-lane autobahn section that looked to go on forever. Being derestricted I dropped back with a smile next to the other cars and gave them a little wave and then nailed it towards the horizon, with the others in hot pursuit. My car topped-out at an indicated 170mph (some way past the often quoted 155mph figure that BMW is supposed to adhere to) before it hit the speed limiter. I pulled away from the E46s who reportedly hit an indicated 155 and 164mph respectively. The E92 was pulling away the whole time so I can only assume the indicated 170 was more than 155, but I have yet to get the top speed GPS verified. All I know is that it does more than 155mph because I exceeded this speed on the Nordschliefe on my GPS lap timer. Why is it so much more than BMW quotes? Who knows – perhaps the E92 has a higher limiter, as other friends with these cars have also reported the same 170mph indicated top speed.
We arrived sometime in the afternoon, checked into the Hotel am Tiergarten, which is Sabine Schmitz’s family hotel and sits above and around the famous Pistenklause restaurant. We quickly threw all our luggage etc in the rooms, freshened up and went down to the Pistenklause for some food. You can’t go to the Nürburgring without coming here and eating the famous steak on a stone – it’s a tradition that has to be combined with a large weissbier. After a couple of weissbiers and some lovely food we turned in for an early night as you don’t want to be up all night and then try and tackle the Nordschleife if you’re not 100 per cent (as I and many others have found out); it can be tricky in the best of conditions so you need to have your wits about you, and then some.
About 4am I got up for some water and for some reason I could see it was very bright outside even though the curtains were drawn. So I looked out of the window and it was my worst nightmare – a complete whiteout (as in four-inches of the dreaded snow). I went back to sleep as best I could and at 7am when I awoke, it wasn’t a dream (or should I say a nightmare); it was still the same. We went for breakfast and by then it was starting to melt slightly. Darren emailed everyone saying not to rush as the ‘Ring was covered in snow and that we would have a slightly later start than usual. I still finished breakfast and headed down to the circuit at about 8:30am as this time we were starting from the GP pits rather than the regular tourist entrance or the old T13 pits that I had always started from on previous visits.
The GP pits were grim – lots of cars parked up and not a lot happening – so we sat there until midday before the track conditions were acceptable enough for cars to be let out on the circuit. So eager was I to have some laps that I went straight out and it was pretty slippery to say the least. There was still a lot of snow everywhere and the track was very wet. Suffice to say no records were broken. I hoped for a better start the following day.
Sadly the start of the second day was just the same and at one point I came over the crest at Pflanzgarten 1 and went into a complete snow blizzard with the red flags only just visible. So I left this trip thankful that we were all in one piece but still yearning for some real laps.
Before we had even left the ‘Ring I saw that Circuit Days had a single track day on the Nürburgring in just over three weeks time so I booked this thinking I would finally get some laps. Frustratingly, though, this was not to be either. I won’t go into the whole ordeal but all I can say about it is that I sat in the hotel restaurant until the afternoon and then set off home What a waste. The track never opened at all because the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than 20ft in front of you. Sad times indeed.
I came home knowing that I just had to bide my time and that soon enough, as the seasons change to better weather, a dry circuit would present itself and that I would be there lapping on the Cups and not wishing I was running on a set of full wets!
In the meantime, having been involved in Time Attack for about the past five years now (as part of a pit crew rather than driving) for a couple of big-power cars I decided that I would enter the BMW. As Snetterton was my home track and I now had fair few track days under my belt there, I thought I would have a go myself. There’s a Clubman class for cars that are not full race cars, which was split between naturally aspirated and forced induction. Naturally (excuse the pun) I entered into the NA class but when I arrived it turned out they had changed the classes to Clubman and Clubman Plus, so I was now in with two Mitsubishi Evos, a 500+bhp Mk2 Focus RS tuner car and the Eurospec Nissan GTR.
This was fine and I didn’t mind, seeing as it was my first time and I would be the underdog. I even thought that if it was dry I could still stand quite a good chance of doing well. With that in mind, I took the car down the night before and everything was good. The weather was dry and I had the car scrutineered. I had to change the harnesses but other than that all was well. Sadly, on race day it was pouring down with rain. My so-called mates took the Michael saying that I was jinxed with the weather and that they were never going to book a track day or event that I was attending, as it seemed that bad weather followed me everywhere I went.
This was doubly upsetting as I had especially purchased a set of new wheels to take advantage of a special deal for Michelin Pilot Sport Cups in 295/30/18 that Tyreleader was doing for £120 each. These wouldn’t fit on my current wheels, so I found some Japanese wheels in 10.5-inch rear and 9.5-inch front fitment in the correct offset, that would only need some spigot rings for the different hub sizes.
So stickers on, new wheels, new dryweather tyres and all scrutineering done and it was pouring down again. It was too late to back out now, so I just had to dig deep and hope that all my practice and tuition would come good. The format of Time Attack is that you have four sessions: warm-up; practice; qualifying; and the final. It’s only the final and qualifying where you win points so the first two sessions are just for fine-tuning the car and getting everything set up and ready for the quick laps in the afternoon.
It was really tough going as the car was lighting up the tyres every time I even breathed on the throttle, which was then triggering the traction control to go into a frenzy. On turn-in the front would wash out and as soon as I tried to apply the power in an attempt to bring the back end round the traction control would again kick in. In the end I found the best way was to keep the traction control on for the straights, where I could nail the throttle in a straight line and let the computer deal with finding the best traction and then turn it off as soon as I approached a corner to enable me to man-handle it and bring the power-oversteer into play to counter the understeer the best I could. It wasn’t ideal and each lap was a pretty busy affair.
Despite the weather and how hard it was to control the car in the tricky conditions, I managed to finish in third position (in front of the two Evos that are four-wheel drive and one was supposed to be running 600hp!). I also picked up a trophy for fastest ‘one-hit wonder”‘. Considering the conditions of the race, I was reasonably happy with that but at the same time I was pretty gutted it wasn’t dry, as in the dry I think the car would have performed even better. In 2016 the car will be a bit more than a Clubman car but let’s see how it fares in the club rear-wheel drive class with some proper race cars like a 500hp RX7 and twin-turbo Noble and some supercharged Lotus Exiges.
Next month I might actually get some dry laps at a track somewhere, sometime, maybe… if I’m lucky.