Time for some awards. A photo / video post will be done tomorrow.
Most unreliable car
This award was won before we’d even left the country, two months before the trip. Woz was working on the car the day before we left. There was a running joke about a tow truck that almost came true. His headlights broke in Kent. He at least managed to get a lap out of it before shattering the clutch at 164mph.
Most reliable car
The two week old Clio, surely? Or the MR2 that Adam only uses as a weekend car and looks after fastidiously? No. The only car that survived the whole trip without a single issue was the ropey, slightly pink MX-5. Unless the bent sill is an issue...
Most expensive mistake
This award would have gone to Matt for making the dealer swap the standard seats for the Recaros and speccing the cup chassis. Until we saw bits of yellow Ferrari scattered around Kesselchen. Oops.
Most inappropriate car
The ridiculously tall Dutch S2000 owner wins this one. When most of your head is above the windscreen, you blatantly don’t fit the car
Best comedy moment
LOL. This word will forever give me memories of a red MX-5 performing a rather gracious pirouette around Brunnchen.
It could have been the S2000 snapping twice within a minute. But no. The sight of light reflecting off the barriers at Adenauer Forst at near midnight will haunt me for some time.
There’s not even a shortlist for this. Pistenklause. Steak. Unbeatable.
With all the fuss over a Shell, it seems odd that this award goes to Aral at Breidscheid. The Carrefour was 98RON, the ED was 98RON, even the V Power was 98RON. The 102RON at the Aral not only came with an F1 style handle on the pump and DTM endorsement, the hourly fluctuating price made it a cheap option.
Time to go home. Tanks brimmed with 102 octane and the stash of bottles we were hiding in the wardrobe stuffed into the recycling machine at Rewe and exchanged for drinks. My alarm was set for so early I can’t even remember how early. I was straight up and finishing off packing. I knew I had a task on to get everything back in the S2000. Matt opened the shutters to the sight of cars coming down the hill, the reason the track had been closed to the public for the day. I cleared out all my kit from the garage, packed everything in the boot with far too much ease and started to look for what I’d left behind. Nothing it seemed. Only the tonneau cover which was ready to be put on stayed out of the car.
We had our last breakfast at Eddy’s and I’d definitely got bored of meat and cheese. Luckily the potato cubes were tasty enough. We paid our dues to Eddy after working out what we all owed each and thanked him for yet another perferct week in his hotel before handing our keys in and heading over the road to watch half an hour of the ADAC Westfalen Trophy.
We left the hotel, the satnav showing over four hours to our destination at Dunkerque’s ferry terminal. We still had to do the UK driving on top of this! Woz’s ‘home made DSG’ got off to a good start leaving the hotel and cruising down through Adenau centre for the last time where we picked up the scenic L10 road. A few miles down the road we all turned out onto the B258 that we would follow all the way into Belgium. A couple of interesting moments came at the junctions and a temporary traffic light where Woz tried his hardest and suceeded in keeping the MR2 moving. It was a lovely flowing road, all the way through to Monschau, just as I’d read about, though I had an idea of what was to come...
As we left Monschau heading for Eupen, we entered the Eifel National Park and crossed the Belgian border. Think you know how bad Belgian roads are? Think again. They don’t call this the ‘Road to Hell’ for nothing. You could feel the cars getting a full suspension test here for next three miles. Whilst I wasn’t too uncomfortable in the S2000 I could almost hear Matt screaming at me in his Recaros.
We were soon on the motorway, driving round Liege and the weather drastically changed as we entered a cloud of fog. I’d dismissed a Shell station already as it looked too tricky to get the broken MR2 into and out of, so decided to press on for Brussels and see what the ring road had to offer on a Sunday lunchtime. It was busy, as ever, though not enough to cause any inconvenience, flowing fast enough not to hold us back. Ignoring the services on the exit, I decided to stop in the next one. It finally appeared a further 20 miles down the road and we were greeted by our favourite yellow and red sign once more. Matt ran straight for the bushes. Clearly the three non stop hour had not gone down well with him. We stopped for half an hour on a well overdue break, running well ahead of schedule.
It was business as usual all the way back to the port, arriving 15 minutes early, despite me taking the wrong exit and leading Woz through a residential area with yet more traffic lights. Sorry Woz!
The rope came out as we reached the check in desk and Adam towed Woz through customs and into the lane ready to board the ferry.
Dunkerque was cold and miserable, no surprise there, so we piled into the departure lounge for five minutes looking for shelter and wifi. Wifi was locked, but we kept warm for a moment before being asked to return to the cars and get ready to board. Woz had this planned. He kept a good distance from Adam as everyone slowly piled into the boat. This plan worked until the cars in front of me stopped and left me on the ramp up to the car deck. Disaster. The tow rope came out again and Adam dragged Woz up getting slightly sideways in the process.
The ferry crossing was less stressful, finding some comfy chairs looking out to see on the top deck. On arrival at Dover, the captain decided to imitate Rich, doing a full 360 spin and making an announcement on the tannoy that we had to wait for an open space to dock. Finally, half an hour later we were getting in the cars and waiting to disembark.
Getting out of the docks was the usual chaos but Woz managed it well. Matt and Rich had got off the ferry five minutes before our lane and disappeared off into the distance. All that was left for me was to wave goodbye to the brummies and find my way across the country to Somerset.
I first had a challenge as soon as I got to the M25, finding it in gridlock, drizzly rain coming down and the tonneau cover still firmly attached from when I’d put it in the German sunshine. I took the same TomTom detour through Bracknell centre avoiding more chaos at the M25/M4 interchange and waited til I got almost to Swindon before taking a break for KFC and removing the tonneau for a 15 minute roof up stint.
Further down the road, it dried up again. I left the M4 at a random junction, pulling the roof catches down on the up ramp, slowly crossing the roundabout at the top with the roof going down and accelerated back onto the motorway putting the windows back up. Job done!
I carried on straight home, enjoying an enthusiastic drive back down the A39 from Bridgwater to keep me awake. I’d done it. I could now curl up in my comfy bed with a proper pillow, without having to unfold the quilt from a German having made the bed...
Our final full day in Adenau, and a day where the track was open for the whole day. As such, we’d set our alarms with the intention of an early breakfast (makes a change) and to be at the track entrance ready for it to open at 9am. My alarm went off no problem, me and Matt got ready and waited for the others to make an appearance. We knocked the door a couple of times and eventually got bored and went for breakfast. Rich joined us five minutes later followed by Woz and Adam. Woz explained that his alarm wasn’t set for Saturday. Oops.
Never mind. It was already sunny and warming up. The tonneau cover came out of the garage again and we were back off up the road once more. The car park was already filling up, but we secured prime positions and perused the cars again. At 9am sharp the tannoy announcement came and with that Rich wasted no time in making sure he was first on track. Matt had a lap left and was eager to use it, I sat shotgun to get a sighter lap and check how the track was.
Everything up to Adenauer Forst was reasonably dry. It was damp from Kallenhard down to the hotel and then in the usual spot at Bergwerk. Out of the trees it was dry again until we rounded the slight kink of Kesselchen to find mud and grass strewn over the track, parts of Giallo bodywork and 458 Italia driver with an expensive bill. We were waved through steadily and completed the rest of the lap with no issues, other than having to avoid a dead squirrel on Hohe Acht! It was a little damp in the usual places but nothing to stop me taking the Honda out.
Back in the car park, I waited for the Ferrari’s remains to be trailered through the gates, doing the parade of shame through the car park that everyone dreads. 15 minutes later and still no sign, I wanted to get a lap in while it was relatively quiet, now that enough cars had gone out to leave a comfortably dry line around most of the track. I took to the track, and the kerbs, taking Matt out for another ‘medium’ lap and with the camera running. There were still a few small damp patches to look out for and plenty of faster traffic, but the lap on the whole was much better. I slowed after Bergwerk in anticipation of the Ferrari incident still being there though it was now all cleaned up. The Artega ahead of me allowed me past and I continued on. I finished the lap having been overtaken by only a handful of cars, though going slowly up through Kesselchen had cost me time and I’d got an 11:18. The Rallye’s been faster than that. In the wet. Four up.
Rich and Adam were going out again. I liked the idea of laying in wait at Hatzenbach with the camera to get some photos of them. I led Matt out of the car park, through Nurburg village and down the back road past the GP circuit, then down into the Quiddelbach layby where we left him for me and Woz to pop back to the hotel for my camera. After driving down to the town and back, we parked in the layby and started the climb up the hill to find Matt at Hocheichen. Just around the corner we positioned ourselves at the letterboxes in the fence, with perfect view down into Hatzenbach and the GP complex in the background, only to find a lack of cars on the track. Two ambulances later it was clear that there had been another incident. We waited, until eventually I got the call from Rich that they had come to meet us in the layby. It was yet again back to the hotel and playing the waiting game for whatever had happened.
It was ideal time for lunch, and with Breidscheid now buzzing with people everywhere, the cafes were open. A strange contrast to just a couple of days before. Sausages were order of the day. As Matt and Woz went for the simple Currywurst, I made the same error I’d made last year and ordered a Bockwurst, only to have to wait 10 minutes for it not really to be worth the wait. Bratwurst next time! By the time I sat down, the others had moved onto Apfelstrudel.
The track reopened and I left them with their puddings to pop round to another photo postion, this time just down the road at Bergwerk. I clambered up the steep slope onto the viewing platform just in time to see the MX-5 go past, managing a few blurry shots without having time to adjust the camera settings. I waited a few minutes for the MR2, but as I had expected, he had been through the corner before I got there.
The afternoon was pressing on, I had one more card to use and Matt had also discovered another card which had a lap on. He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. In tribute to Rack, the Clio now drove out onto the ‘Ring, on it’s two week birthday, with a full complement of driver and three passengers. Obviously no records were set, but it felt like a quick enough lap. Matt even took the high kerbs on the way out of Eiskurve. What a legend.
I took this as another sighter lap and with it being clear it was time for me to give Woz a proper passenger lap, facing the right way this time! This was a great lap, and my fastest of the week without a doubt. So much so that I ended up with a lot more brake fade on the downhill section from Metzgesfeld to Breidscheid and a nice judder of warped discs to go with it. I’d got more speed up to Steilstrecke and other than having to get out of the way of faster cars as always, kept a good line through most corners. The verdict: A 10:45. 15 seconds slower than the Rallye’s best (on a very quiet but dry November track). Damn.
It certainly felt faster, and there was most definitely more to be got from the S2000 but I think my talent was running out faster than the car’s. I had done my five laps and done enough. The car had survived and II wasn’t going out for that ‘one last lap’ that could end in tears. It left me with no doubt that I need better brakes and some more practice in a RWD car at tracks where the risk and consequence aren’t so high. Still, Woz had enjoyed the hot lap much more than the disaster of a few days earlier.
We regrouped in the field car park where Rich and Adam told us they had one more lap each. With that, me and Matt would now have chance to get some photos. It was back to Bergwerk for us, another scramble up the bank to be joined minutes later by a minibus full of Dutch guys. It was a bit cramped and uncomfortable but we waited. First, the MR2 came round. Rich in classic form pulling off an excellent pose in the passenger seat. Then came the worrying wait again, 15, maybe 20 minutes later and the MX-5 came into view, Woz taking the passenger seat for the final lap of the week. And we were done. As the sun set over the Eifel and the last few cars went out, the Touristenfahrten for the week was finished and the sad reality dawned that we would be returning to the UK the next day. At the hotel, we pushed Woz’s car into position to pose for a photo under the sign before it got too dark.
We had only one more mission for the week. The final supper. Matt had already nipped into the Pistenklause the day before and booked our table. We were sat in a cramped corner but it didn’t mattter. I don’t even know why the menus came out. Everyone was clearly decided on food a few days ago. That’ll be five fillet steaks then... This would be the only restaurant all week where everyone (including myself) would clear the plates (or stones in this case), and the portions are certainly not what I’d call small. I savoured every last slice. With no appearance from the blonde waitress, Adam and Rich went back to start packing. Matt and Woz got on the apple strudles again, while I refrained from pudding, counting out the last few bits of change to pay for the meal. This time it was a Warsteiner glass that left the restaurant.
We crossed the road to have a quick look in the M Test Centre and take some photos of the lovely M3 GTS in the window before getting lost in the churchyard on the way back to the car.
Back at the hotel, I made an effort to pack some of my kit, before shortly getting bored. We spent the rest of the evening in the mild open air on the balcony, reminiscing about a great week that had passed. And then the lights came down from the hill. With great excitement everyone lept to their feet to see the Volvo on it’s 11pm lap. And that was it.
Alarms set (and properly set this time) to be up for early breakfast and leaving.
All quiet at Hatzenbach
Four up lolz
Adam and Rich at Bergwerk
Glorious autumnal weather in the Eifel
Breakfast gets later and later (a bit like blog updates, eh?). We barely made it to the table before 10am. I felt slightly bad for making Wilfred bring me some more cheese out so I could eat but I was hungry. After eating, our first task for the day was to return to the scene of the crime from the previous night, taking the bumpy track to admire our artwork. Matt's Clio could handle no more of the off roading and we left him at the hotel for half an hour.
On return to the car park the all red line up had now been joined by a red UK Mk1 MR2, a red Alfa 156 and a shiny red Norwegian Volvo, whose owner Matt had been making friends with. Turns out the Volvo was only a week old too. We found Matt in typical Renault fashion with the bonnet up, cleaning and stickering up the engine bay and trying to eradicate the mouse that had chewed the wiring and eaten half of the warranty sticker. The first trip back to the dealer is going to be interesting...
As we patiently waited for the track to open at 2:30, lunch was served in house, finally making use of the cheese and meat we had bought on our first day. It was clear I was the only one to have made ‘car sandwiches’ in the past. As the others scrambled around for a knife, I broke open my roll and utilised an expired lap card to spread my butter. Like a pro.
It was soon time to make our way up to the entrance. It was a Friday afternoon, the town had been deserted most of the week, it was end of season. It was going to be quiet, right? Of course not. The sweltering hot sun probably had an effect, but the main car park being packed, we settled for the gravel patch on the opposite side of the roundabout. We were early and the track was still closed, so we wandered around the paddock instead, admiring the metal on show. M3, 911, Corvette, M3, 911, California, M3, 911 etc...Sat outside the Devils Diner was a beautiful 458 Italia, in Giallo (yellow for the non-Italian speaking) on the much nicer standard wheels (rather than the optional ones that most 458s seem to wear). The combination of an Italian supercar on Russian plates, with an oriental driver speaking with a German accent seemed a little odd, but we were impressed all the same.
With Woz’s car out of action, I bought his remaining three laps. A muffled announcement came over the tannoy which would mean only one thing. There was a dash on as everybody flooded up to the entrance barriers. Having made this mistake in the past, i waited for the initial rush to die down. We had four hours today, I wasn’t wasting a lap going at at it’s busiest. Rich and Adam took the track a couple of minutes later. Not long after, the ambulance and tow truck were called. Oh dear. Please not one of our guys. Cars piled off the track and as the time went on, the joke of Rich spinning became more serious concern. There was a brief pause of cars through the exit and we still hadn’t seen Rich or Adam. This was quite worrying. Moments later, a red MR2 exited and shortly after that, Rich made his appearance. It was a relief.
The loudspeaker sounded again. “The Nordschleife will be closed for at least 45 minutes”. We sat in the car park, I could feel myself getting sunburnt. I even attempted to raise the soft top, before realising I’d fitted the tonneau cover. Rookie error.
Another 10 minutes of burning the side of my head, I decided the head back to the hotel to rest on the balcony and wait for the track to open. The others followed suit. We waited for almost an hour, constantly refreshing the webcam feed before seeing cars racing down the hill to Breidscheid. Getting late in the day, I was going out of my only lap. The initial rush would have died down by the time I reached the entrance and I decided to go straight on. Rich parked up and hopped into the passenger seat as I queued in the traffic.
The barriers were quite clear, and the lap started fairly quiet. I was a little nervous on my way into Tiergarten on my first lap since the spin there, though it was apparent that the track had much more grip today and I soon found a comfortable pace, taking all of my favourite kerbs and giving Rich a ‘medium’ lap. It got a little busier after the hotel and I stuck the indicator on a few times for faster cars to come through but it had been a much better experience for both of us. I came off track where the car parks were all now full and found a space in the field next to anther New Formula Red pre-facelift S2000. Car friend! With a whole day of the track being open tomorrow, I called it a day. Not long after, another announcement was made and the track was to be shut for the rest of the day. Just as Matt had purchased another lap and made his way through to the barrier.
After the drive back, we had a decision to make regarding our final two meals. Only one place would be fitting for the final night, we’d eaten in Pinocchio’s the night before, so we decided on Blaue Ecke for the penultimate evening. We drove down and parked in the layby / bus stop in the centre of the town, a little unsure whether this was allowed. An Italian Mini was already there, but I know from previous experience that the Italians make up their own rules.
As we were seated in the restaurant, on an uncomfortably low table, we enquired with the waiter who reassured us it was fine, before discouraging us moments later as it wasn’t his problem. Slightly odd sense of humour. He soon came back to tell us off as pyromaniac Rich started to burn the beer mats. I left the biggest surprise for Woz and Matt who were slightly freaked out by the knight at the top of the stairs on the way round to the toilets. He seems to have lost his head and an arm since last time.
Various unusual dishes were ordered, some local speciality sausages and noodles that looked like chips. I played it safe with a ‘plain’ cheeseburger, or so I thought, forgetting that ‘plain’ to Germans means you still get some odd flavoured sauce. I let Adam help me out with part of it as I’d couldn’t cope with any more of the sauce flavour and he’d not got on too well with his sausages.
On our way out, we crossed the road to look at the sign that I have missed on all my previous trips, pointing the directions to various racetracks across the world. Crossing the road to the parked cars, which hadn’t been towed away thankfully, Matt faced some more bad German sense of humour as a drunk guy started to apologise for some damage to the Clio. His friend reassured us that it was OK, to which Matt retorted “It’s not OK!” The front corner was checked for damage but with nothing being found it appeared that it was some kind of joke. Either that or some beer had been spilt on the car, probably actually cleaning it a little. I got in the drivers seat and took us back, still slightly confused by the car that does everything for you, not having to put the lights on, or the keys in the ignition.
Back at the hotel we were on watch for the Volvo security car now, to make sure it was a regular thing and not just somebody after us. Being still relatively early, we got a DVD on for a while. I’d love to tell you how good Outsiders is, but having fallen asleep half an hour in and not waking up until the laptop battery was minutes from dieing, I didn’t really see much of it. Matt was now also fast asleep. Woz and Rich went to bed and having woke up from my power nap full of energy, I sat out on the balcony to keep a watch out. 10 minutes later, bright lights came down the hill from Wehrseifen and as I looked into Ex Muhle I could see the unmistakeable shape of Volvo tail lights. Mission complete, it was time to try to get some more sleep.
Red cars only
Daytona seems close enough...
Yet again, the blog is late. This is due to traumatic circumstances that will come to light towards the end of this post.
The day started so well. We bathed in German sunlight yet again, the temperature was nice and mild. As fist task of the day, Rich wanted some money from the bank and all of us wanted some paint (for obvious reasons). It was only a short drive into the centre of Adenau, where we would need to find parking. Our usual spot by Pinocchio's was taken (being right next to the school on a school day), our next effort asked for a debit card on entry, which didn't work and eventually we found a small section on the side of the road just big enough to squeeze a pair of MR2s and an S2000 into.
Rich got his money after a couple of attempts and then while walking down the road we found a guy in a fox costume waving at the traffic, promoting something. For unknown reasons, we had to get our photo taken with him. He was very cooperative although you could tell he wasn't smiling inside.
Paint was the next objective. We found our way down to the fan shop where a variety of stickers were bought, Woz still not able to find another plain black one. The shop owner was only too happy to sell us three cans of white paint to deface the track with, even giving us advice on the best paint, though it was clear that the see through bag was an effort to expose us as we walked back to the cars.
It was then up to the visitors centre one more time, having just enough free tickets to get entry to the Ring Werk museum. I didn't know what to expect from this as I'd never stumped up the €20 entrance charge, and whilst it wasn't worth paying for, it was good enough as a freebie. We had our photos taken with previous race winners, a few laps on Gran Turismo 5, and some more random games, including a completely weird teacup style ride with laser guns and no clear objective. Needless to say, I came last! I had an urge to put a #topalwaysdown sticker on an F1 car, but couldn't be sure there were no cameras. Finally, we watched a ten minute video explaining the corners of the track from back in the day when there were no barriers, very surreal.
It was back into the empty boulevard again and into the Race Room for a rematch next. I wasn't going to be hindered by the car this time. I quickly chose a DB9R and raced out of the pits on qualifying, chased by a sideways R8, a Zonda and a Gumpert that appeared to be a handful! The Aston didn't let me down. I saw no one all through the qualifying and the race was similar, Rich coming within 7 seconds of me at one point before spinning and allowing me to stretch the gap to 15 seconds.
Now lunchtime, the Subway next door was the easiest option. One guy single handedly running the place was stretched to his limit but we all eventually got served.
From here, it was onwards to Kerpen, deliberately ignoring the satnav so to get a drive through the town and out onto the twisty roads to Altenahr and though it's infamous tunnels. VTEC in a tunnel is an amazing sound.
Before long we were onto the autobahn on the look out for the derestricted sign. Our first section was limited to 120kph, though with 5 miles before out exit, a derestricted section came up. I held back knowing we only had five minutes, but the MR2s sped off into the distance for a high speed run just a mile before the exit. Luckily Rich had seen my indicator and I found the others slowly cruising down the slip road.
Minutes round the corner we turned up at the Michael Schumacher Kart Centre. Looking like pros with our own helmets, we booked onto two outdoor sessions and waited for our turns. We had ten minutes each time and plenty of German traffic to contend with. I found myself in a duel with Matt until suddenly he disappeared from view. I found him on the next lap stood on a corner with a wheel hanging off his kart. A lap later it was Rich's turn to wreck his kart. After a ten minute break we were out on another session. Much of the same including a duel with Matt again though this time with more contact and some mildly angry Germans... A final session saw us now on the indoor track, with a slippy floor ideal for drifting, and only a handful of Germans to get in our way. I started out not far behind Woz and Adam before they lost me and I ended up on my own for a minute then decided to get the kart sideways on a few corners to give Rich chance to catch up so we could have a bit of a battle.
The way back from Kerpen involved the same motorways as the run up, giving us a chance to stretch the legs of the cars. I flashed the hazards to let those behind know my intentions when I then dropped a gear and proceeded to hit 9k in fourth, then on to 5th and over 200kph before easing off for the traffic ahead. The MR2s continued reaching over 160mph and we spent the rest of our time slowing for each other to come past at high speed. Childish, but much fun. From here it was back through the tunnels. A quick spin around a junction bought us enough space from the traffic to enjoy the tunnels to ourselves. We reached the hotel as the sun set, only for Woz to announce that he'd had no clutch most of the way back. Ah, so the talk of going home on a tow truck wasn't so pessimistic after all. No more 'Ring time for Woz's MR2!
We had a brief stop at the hotel and then headed into town for food at Pinocchio's. The pizza seemed to have scared us from the other night, so the safe options of schnitzels, pasta and a calzone were ordered, except for Rich who couldn't help but order a pizza salami. He still couldn't manage even the regular size, leaving only a crust and a couple of slices of salami. Still did better than me as I had to offer out most of my generous portion of schnitzel. One or two Bitburger glasses may have gone walkies too...
Last task for the day was a drive up the bumpy Adenauer Forst track again amongst the deer to add our mark to the tarmac. I chose a large #topalwaysdown off the line on some clean tarmac, well in view of the spectator point. Winner! A selection of other tags were added, as was a Spitfire and a couple of fake apex dots. We then collectively used our phone LEDs to take a photo, only for Matt to glance and see headlights coming round the track. Run! There was mass panic as me and Rich launched over the barriers, the Brummies ran off into the woods and Matt casually sat behind the fence. A Volvo came into view, stopped and reversed. For a split second I thought we'd been seen but it then drove off away from us. I waited for a few seconds before me and Rich recovered ourselves and we gathered ourselves together. I'd bashed my leg on the barrier, given my phone a 'Ring battle scar and covered myself in crap off the bush I'd fallen into. Rich meanwhile looked like he'd been mauled by an animal. We raced to the cars and set off down the track, scared that someone was now after us.
It was worth it. I'd just got the photo I'd wanted before we had to run. On closer inspection it had seemed that this was a regular check, not someone specifically out after us. Certainly not something I've seen before here. We will lie in wait and see if they come round tomorrow.
Colour coded car parking
The hobo has found somewhere to sleep
Actually quite sketchy when you turn around to this...
Well worth it...
"Today is expected to be foggy" said my alarm as I woke up this morning. How wrong it turned out to be. 45 minutes later, having finished writing the previous days blog post, it was time for another stab at breakfast. Playing the safe option as always I went for another plateful of meat, cheese and bread.
With the track only open to the same test cars today, we set our sights further afield. It was close to five years since I set out in my white 106 along the Mosel valley as part of a "home to Peugeot in Mulhouse" tour and I'd decided it was perfect for a few hours of wasting fuel, taking in the scenery and looking for the best fun roads we could find. We managed all three.
Rich jumped in shotgun in the S2000 and the cars were filled to the top with 102RON, a luxury for us Brits and certainly worth the €1.79 price tag for the F1 style pump handle alone.
Now facing the wrong way, rather than simply turning round and with plenty of time, it was a good excuse for a run up the switchbacks of the Hohe Acht road. After coming back around past Brunnchen my route took us into the small village of Meuspath before leading out onto a narrow and bumpy road named after a Honda engine, the K20. Matt and his Clio's suspension must have loved me. Certainly not a quick road, it was at least interesting, even more so when a testing 5 Series GT came hooning around a narrow corner into our path. Soon the roads became wider, quicker and more fun. A slow tourist in a Polo held us up for a short time though we turned off and got away, leading onto a long straight, perfect for VTEC.
We were lead along a typical German B road, nice and open with no hedges to obscure the view. Plenty of opportunity to hit the apexes and take the racing line. A disappointment came when a bus came into view a few corners ahead, though as we took the next series of bends it was clear that the number 713 was not hanging around. At some points he seemed to pull away, at all points he had wheels well and truly on the apex.
We followed him down to our first stop of the day in Tries Karden, parking along the riverside once we'd negotiated the dropped kerbs. Matt loves the dropped kerbs. After a quick stop here to cool the cars down and a first opportunity to check the oil levels on the flat we drove off towards Cochem, although the route along the river was closed at this point. We were taken past the supermarket with the helicopter (only a few people will understand what I mean by that) and up over the hills. Following the other diverted traffic meant being held up on the bends down into the town, which Rich saw as the perfect chance to lean right out the car and get some formation photos.
Once in Cochem I headed for the station car park, although following the signs for the Bahnhof only lead me to a cobbled street in from of the station. Matt loves the cobbles. A few turns later and I found the little bridge into the car park and we parked up, paid a respectable 50c and gave ourselves an hour to wander round the town. On the way out of the car park on foot, we noticed a bright yellow 106 and my inner geek wanted to find out if it was a Sport or an S16. The steel wheels and cloth interior showed it was indeed a rare Sport. We wandered around the cobbled streets looking for somewhere to eat, only finding a coffee shop that looked to posh for us and a rotisserie chicken van. Instead, we decided not to eat, bought drinks from the local Shell station and wandered down the river looking for a toilet. After a trip into the Bahnhof we decided there was nothing more to do here and set off.
I set the satnav for a windy looking piece of road another 15 miles along the river. We now got to drive the flowing road through the valley, surrounded by the vineyards on the steep hillsides, through a couple of small villages and on to the twisters. This road did not disappoint. A local in a Laguna in front saw what we were up to and kindly pulled over so not to ruin our fun. Hairpin after hairpin gave us chance to get more photos and for at least one MR2 to get a little sideways. Again we pulled over the let the cars cool before commencing.
The way back was much of the same route, despite my planning, so I added in another detour, this time to the Kempenich sign from my previous trips. It's become a kind of tradition. While the 106 had a tenancy to roll off down the hill, Adam's MR2 instead made lots of danger noises before proceeding to dump a load of coolant. We were here for a while then. Woz and Rich each took a turn to take the S2000 down the road and then fiddle with the (now completely functional) electric roof.
Eventually, Adam was able to top the water up and we made our way much more gently back to the hotel, taking the Hohe Acht road as a gentle cruise serenaded by Brian Eno's An Ending (aka the Top Gear end of series music) seeing rather fitting in the low light.
Once back, we rested for a while as Adam and Woz went out to check on the MR2. Matt took to the trackside with camera before being told off by security for being in the "red zone". Eventually I could resit no longer and the buckets came out to give the S2000 a wash. Woz eventually caved in too, leaving a variety of different shades of red in the hotel car park. Stickers were fitted all round, or in Woz's case, screwed up and thrown on the floor. I also got chance to decorate the sign at the top of the steps with my own sticker, leaving topalwaysdown's mark at the 'Ring.
Our restaurant for the night was the floor below. I even continued to wear my slippers. There were no blonde waitresses on show tonight, the only nice jugs on offer were full of Coke, Sprite and Warsteiner. Steak was served as it always should be, on a piping hot stone. A variation on the theme saw Matt and Adam with pork and chicken in addition to the usual beef, while the rest of us went for the rump. The sauces were lovely, though the rest of the meal was incomparable to the fillet from two nights before. We know where we will be returning to...
Full of steak, we retired to our rooms, putting off the traditional Steilstrecke walk for another day...
Somewhere near Treis Karden
Car problems at the Kempenich sign
Slab of cow
Today started with our first meal at Eddy's hotel and a disappointing lack of donuts at the breakfast table. A selection of bread, meat, cheese and eggs had to suffice instead.
Once fed, with the track not open til late afternoon we had the day to wander round the area and do some exploring. Matt called the passenger seat in the Honda only to suffer a topalwaysdown related injury minutes later when a random branch fell into the car hitting him in the face. First stop was the Dottinger Hohe ED petrol station, a quick visit to look at the vast collection of model cars for sale, none of which were MR2s, S2000s, MX-5s or Clios...
A short distance up the road, the next stop was the ghost town of the 'Ring boulevard complex. Stickers were purchased and we wandered around the empty centre with only the Nissan showroom and Race Room open. Since we couldn't find our way into the grandstands to watch the GP circuit, we instead used some free time to have a race on the simulators. Qualifying seemed to go fairly well for me, though the 10 seconds to choose a car resulted in me driving a manky Marcos. The race was another matter. Matt soon found his way to the front, while Woz and Rich battled for second. Further back, a large off had seen my car reset facing the wrong way, losing me valuable time and from the back of the field I began to chase down the AI drivers before coming across Adam's Spyker. I passed only to slide off soon after, though rejoining the track a few corners later I got back in front when the same happened to Adam. After half a lap of mirrors full of Spyker, I began to edge away and catch fifth place. My second lap of the two lap race was much more successful with now major offs and coming into the Dottinger Hohe straight I was catching fourth before the game cut out.
We made our way back to the car park where only one child was immature enough to get sideways on the empty gravel. Erm.... Guilty! I made an unscheduled stop down the road to check on opening times for the Brauhaus, which unfortunately found it to be closed not just for the day but for the foreseeable future. No metre long sausage this time then.
More disappointment came just round the corner in the back roads of the GP circuit where a barrier prevented me going to the Sudschleife as planned and a closed gate thwarted our effort to get into the grandstands to watch. We parked up and first watched a bit of the skid pan action. This consisted of under steering Octavias and CLKs plus a lad in a 5 Series Touring who got it sideways every time. I did the usual of convincing the group to walk the route despite the miserable weather. We soon found ourselves walking through the trees along the old Sudschleife route. Half and hour later and much more tired we reached the cars again.
We took the short drive down to Adenau in the search of lunch. Finding most places closed. My idea of bratwurst mit pommes and curry ketchup wasn't to be. Further into the town, I used a parking space that I wasn't sure about on the premise that "I'd parked there once before and my car had still been there when I came back". Lunch was served at the Blaue Ecke in the middle of town. I got my schnitzel fix, Adam played it safe with a burger and the others has spaghetti. The waiter became the second German of the day to have a sense of humour joking with us about our salad dodging and giving Rich a firm but joking "No!" when Rich asked "Can I have..."
Our next task was to attempt to get stickers from the breakdown and recovery company KFZ Bongard, something that friends had managed to do in the past. A little lost in translation we eventually figured that these were no longer available. Still we had chance to nose around a mainly carbon covered Evo that had clearly had an expensive off, plus a Gumpert hiding in a showroom next door.
After a quick detour back to the hotel, we drove up the long bumpy track to the viewing point at Adenauer Forst where we spent an hour watching the test cars going round. Today there were lovely sounding M135s, a Discovery with the tyres constantly squealing, a very graceful Rolls Royce Ghost coupe and amongst others, the same Supra and IS200 combo that I had seen lapping last November. Almost forgot to mention the F Type too. Want!
It was getting late and almost time for out hour long stint of public session, so we picked up the remaining cars from the hotel and made our way to the entrance. Initially, it looked as though our time had been cut short and we were limited to half an hour, though at 5:30 an announcement came over the tannoy that included the word Nordschleife and people started to move. Rich was the most keen and wasted no time in getting out. Matt waited around the car park while I took Woz as passenger with Adam following.
The track was a little damper than the day before, but the initial series of kinks in the lead up to Tiergarten felt grippy and the S2000 was taken to 9k in seconds and third. I cut the white line on the way into the first right hander, remarking at the time at how the track felt "OK" and with that the back end came round like a pendulum and I was left rather embarrassingly on the grass on the inside of the corner facing the wrong way. As Adam came round I could see the look on his face was partly of laughing at me and patly fear that if I'd come off, what hope did he have?
As soon as the traffic allowed, I got the car back on track facing the right way, took the next right at T13 and then left before going down the hill and essentially doing a carbon copy just 30 seconds after the first spin. I did me well, giving me more respect for the car, I completed the rest of the lap at near to 30mph, being overtaken by a Mondeo estate, an Insignia and a 1.6 Golf. Made me realised my four up overtake of a VX220 last year in the Rallye wasn't quite the achievement I'd thought.
With the S2000 back in the car park and the only damage to my pride, I could at least see the funny side and soon found out that Rich had done exactly the same in the first corner. I was doing no more laps, though Matt was now going to go out and serial nutcase Rich wanted more.
The MR2s followed me to Brunnchen for some spectating. I attempted to get the S2000 on three wheels a la Rallye, though this was not to be. Woz ignored me parking further back and carried on soon followed by a loud scraping noise and a slightly battle scarred front splitter. As we stood on the trackside with our cameras I told the others that this corner was where they were most likely to see a crash. And we weren't disappointed.
Matt came round safely first, a little understeer from the Clio but powering away with a lovely exhaust note. 30 seconds later the MX-5 pop up lights came into view and as he exited the first part of Brunnchen the back end swung right out sending Rich into a well held (whether partly luck or not) 360 degree spin. A loud "LOL" from Woz and a thumbs up from Rich ad he was safe to carry on. The German spectators also found this very amusing.
We set out to find Matt and Rich in the hope that they had completed the rest of the lap safely and were relieved to see them coming towards us back on the road. It was back to the hotel again to recover from the trauma and enjoy video of the MX-5 pirouetting through Brunnchen on repeat.
A safer task for the day was the five minute drive to Pinocchio's Pizzeria for the infamous "regular" pizzas. Rich had unfinished business to complete with an XXL while Woz foolishly decided the regular wasn't enough despite the look on my face when I questioned him. Sure enough, the look on his face when confronted with a 10" pizza was quite amusing.
Adam and Matt conquered their 15" regulars despite Matt having gone for the hot option. I saved some for breakfast and both Woz and Rich managed a valiant 75%. This means Rich still needs to come back again!
We let them both recover for an hour before wrapping up warm in hats and blankets and taking a walk up the track, fuelled by Bitburger. The racing line was discussed at Kallenhard where the dots were found on the turn in and apex points and as we returned down the track our scavenging efforts left Matt with a carbon airbox, Rich with some Halfords looking mesh and Adam with most of the front end of a race car...
We all survived the ascent of the slippery barrier and made it back to the hotel before all of our phones that had been lighting the way died.
We found a Shell!
Enough pizza to feed a small country
Steilstrecke "seemed like a good idea"
The aftermath of the 24"
Good news. We've made it to Adenau. All five cars! This may have been slightly unexpected, but is good news all the same.
The day started early at 8am local time, 7am for the UK. The Carrefour petrol station did indeed stock 98RON, though being unmanned made for an 'insert card and hope' scenario. With all cars brimmed, we made our way through a quiet Dunkerque and onto the E40.
Within no time, we reached the Belgian border, signified by the large rut running across the road and watching the rest of the convoy bouncing their way into the country. We continued for an hour towards the rising sun, the convoy keeping close with a steady 120kph speed before it dawned on me that nobody had had breakfast and I was still unsure whether Adam had filled the MR2 or if he was still searching for a Shell. The next services became the first stop of the day. The Total fuel was ignored, mainly because we were all still fairly full from the morning and the first item on the agenda was a selection of baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolats. I took the time to assess the weather situation and fit the tonneau cover, I'm getting much better at that with practice! Rich meanwhile decided on some off roading in the Mazda resulting in a bent sill. Top work!
We hit the road again, our intention being to stop near Brussels. With a not so strict time schedule I kept to the sat nav and made no attempt to avoid the hell of the R0, the infamous Brussels ring road. This looked like it may have been a mistake at first as 10 miles from Brussels the traffic stopped dead and a queue formed. I decided we had to persevere and was rewarded to find the delay was only two minutes later. A Toyota Auris facing the wrong way and then a truck and another badly damaged car came into view. In the UK this would have closed the motorway for the rest of the day. In Belgium, the vehicles are just left in the middle of the road and you are left to find your way round the wreckage and through the shards of smashed plastic...
Once negotiated, it was time to lead a five car convoy round the R0. It went surprisingly well. It was busy, as expected but at a steady crawl. I've certainly seen it worse. The convoy even got a nod of appreciation from a passing biker.
Still recovering from my least favourite continental road we set off for another services for a small break. The first had the world's most confusing entrance which meant we ended up simply doing a drive past. The second was much easier to find our way through and let Rich top up his fuel.
From here, an hour away from Spa, I set the satnav for one of the four Shell stations in the area that I had pre-planned. The route took a pleasant diversion from the usual, taking us through a series of what I'd like to call "VTEC appreciation tunnels". If ever there was a fitting time to have the roof down and the airbox lid sat at home in the garage, this was it!
We approached Spa town, with a triumphant cheer at finding a familiar red and yellow petrol station that was actually open. Hooray! Cars were all now running on lovely V Power as we left in the direction of Francorchamps and the Spa Circuit.
Dissapointingly, all was quiet at Spa. We did the obligatory walk into the unguarded grandstands and took the obligatory photo of Eau Rouge before wandering into the paddock, always on the look out for angry Germans. There were no today, instead, we found a paddock full of numbered up cars, mostly English and within five minutes were accompanied by the sound of people finishing their lunch break and heading out on track. Perfect timing!
We watched for half an hour as a variety of cars took to the circuit, ranging from Jaguar D Types, to race spec Corvettes and GT3RS's and even a Brit in a standard looking Mk3 MR2. Unfortunately, as the track fell quiet we soon saw a truck bringing a damaged TR4A back to the pits, the owner looking suitably gutted. After a quick look at the carnage, it was decided to press on, no more stops now.
We left the E42 at Prum, my normal "back route" through the Eifel, only to find the road closed. We found an interesting detour with the added bonus of a couple of unexpected hairpins thrown in for good measure and I was pleased to find we had come back onto our original route just in time to take one of my favourite roads, the L10 from Budesheim to Hillesheim. It's a bumpy start, something the Rallye took in its uncomftable stride, though even the S2000 felt fine. The open corners flowed from one to the next and as long as I could always see the MX-5 at the back when it came to a straight we could press on.
In another twenty minutes or so, we found our way past the Nürburgring complex, a drive past the TF entrance to check how busy it was and down to our hotel to check in and unload. Hotel owner Eddy was a legend as always, handing us the keys to Room 1 (balcony) and Room 4 (three bed opposite), plus a garage for our storage. With the cars considerably lighter, we drove the short distance to the entrance and got into buying tickets. Prepared as always, I had come with cards which I got checked. Unfortunately I only had two of the four laps I was expecting, but one got used anyway.
I first took Adam out in the S2000 to give him a taster of what to expect. The track was damp in places with a dry line most of the way around. I stuck to a moderate pace, included some VTEC where appropriate on the straights and faster sections and tested the car's feelings of going over the high kerbs through Hatzenbach and the exit of Eiskurve. It was not quite Rallye speed but the car felt good. In the dry I'd be a lot more confident, but the feeling of having the top down enhanced the fun factor. Until I reached the car park.
Panic on... The roof is stuck in the down position. This is taking #topalwaysdown a little too far... Checked the fuses, tried and tried again but left with a broken roof I had no other option than to lock it and hope it didn't rain before jumping in the MR2 to give complete 'Ring novice Adam some guidance. Meanwhile, Rich had got back from taking Woz out and Matt had successfully lapped the now nine day old Clio. Stuff of legends TBH. Woz now took to the MR2 with Matt as passenger and guide with Rich off on a solo lap.
Adam's lap went well, he took the advice, albeit a little over cautiously in some places, though maybe to be expected for someone who's relying on blind faith in my instructions! As Woz passed us at Aremberg and disappeared down a moist Fuchsruhre at a high pace I voiced my concern, though he managed to hold it together, even if he did make Matt a little green (something that's happened before in a Rallye...)
We let the cars cool before heading down to Adenau. Whilst waiting for Matt to get out of the car park, I fiddled with the roof switch only for it to work! In a split second I realised that leaving the handbrake off so not to cook the brakes in the car park had been the problem all along. Nothing wrong with the reliable Honda (which by the way hasn't lost a drop of oil since leaving home!).
In order of importance, we first stocked up on Bitburger in the Rewe "beer supermarket" then headed next door for food. On return to the cars a strange German man asked if I would give him the S2000. I reluctantly declined.
After unloading at the hotel again, Woz and Matt took us to the famous Pistenklause restaurant in Nürburg village. I convinced Adam to have the famous "steak auf stein", a raw chunk of cow on a piping hot patio slab that you have to cook yourself. He was glad I did. Plates were cleared and after a good look at the blonde waitress' cleavage I had the job of driving the Clio back to the hotel, Matt having had a drink. It was "quite nice".
Now, at gone midnight I need some sleep. Stay tuned...
The standard Eau Rouge shot
The petrolhead's holy grail
Sitting in a cheap French hotel, yet again, I'm pleased to announce that the Red Roadster (and Renault) Ring Roadtrip is now underway.
I set out from Somerset this morning with the simple task of making it to the opposite side of the country to get on board a large boat. With the top down and a clear blue sky above, everything was perfect. I was off to the motorsport mecca in my dream car and the sun was shining down on me. It may have been single figures temperature wise and I couldn't feel my hands but I had a smile on my face. My specially prepared road trip playlist was giving me everything from Elbow's "One Day Like This" to Matt Munro's "On Days Like These" and everything was perfect until I made the first stop of the day...
The cheap Shell that I had planned to stop at had everything but the V Power I needed, something that was to become a theme of the day. Another station further up the motorway allowed me to quench the Honda's thirst but might as well have required me to bend over whilst doing so. £1.57 a litre!?
Onwards through Bristol I managed to have a little fun in the small tunnel like section under the M4 interchange until the VTEC 4 pot got drowned out by one of Maranello's V8s. He had the roof up though. Pussy...
I soon met Matt in his spanking week old Clio and we carried on east, taking the usual TomTom diversion through Bracknell to break up the motorway driving and avoid a section of the worst road in the UK, the M25. Another stop at Clackett Lane gave Matt a chance to get out of the not so comfortable Recaros and we were joined by Rich in the MX-5 complete with a full compliment of tools and two spare wheels and tyres strapped to the boot rack. Optimistic as ever!
Soon off the M25 and onto the M20 and M26 we met the final contingent, MR2 drivers Adam and Woz, in Maidstone before leaving in search of a Shell again. Not a problem of course, I've got them all programmed into my sat nav, the chosen one being Folkestone. However, a little yellow sign at the side of the motorway was to strike fear into the MR2 drivers - "No fuel at services". Erm...
We made a stop anyway to check the sign was right. It was. The Shell station was barricaded and completely closed. Our only other option was to use the local Tesco in the hope of finding some Momentum (thanks to the tip off from an old guy in a rather cool Vauxhall Firenza!) or head for the continent in the hope of a Shell. It was decided to get into France. I had a Shell in Dunkerque bookmarked, it couldn't be third time unlucky, surely?
We arrived in the port at a punctual 3pm, breezed through the rather lax border controls and made our way through to check in. Being the first time in a few years that I was not taking my Rallye had an effect on me as I automatically pulled up to the LHD queue before realising a minute later that I was on the wrong side.
Once Woz had fixed his headlights (yes, he broke the car before we even left UK soil, it doesn't bode well does it?) we were soon boarding and after a little cheeky manouver managed to get the cars in line, only separated by a belgian MPV. Result. The crossing was calm and without any issues, bar Adam almost getting locked in the car deck. On return to the cars, feeble attempts were made to block the glare from our headlights with black electric tape. At least we'd made an effort.
On the other side it was business as usual as we followed the queue out of the docks. We let the belgian out of our convoy so we could be together, only to get split up again on the approach to a roundabout. Nevertheless, we all made it safely into the village of Loon Plage on the hunt for the elusive Shell. We found it. But it wasn't a Shell. And being 7pm on a Sunday it was also deserted. Hmmm. On to the hotel then to consider our options.
Another 10 minutes down the road though a couple of confusing junctions and round the wrong way of a one way system through a supermarket car park we found our F1 Hotel. Check in was as simple as showing the guy my printed off reservation, probably the easiest thing all day. We found our rooms and settled in, Adam, Woz and Rich sharing Room 101!
Finally it was time to eat. Easy option McDonald's was abandoned in favour of a deadly trip through Dunkerque centre to find stone baked pizza (this may have included a red S2000 driving down a road on the wrong side for a few seconds...). The menu was as confusing as the last time, but we managed enough French to get something we each liked. The French man serving us had as much of a laugh at our language barrier as us. Remember from previous experience, jambon et fromage is always the safe option. The gale force winds on the sea front forced us to eat in the cars, probably not what Matt had in mind for the 8 day old Clio! All that was left now was to get back to the hotel and get some sleep for an early start in the morning. With the top down (naturally) it started to drizzle. No problem, I'm used to that. It started to rain. Fine as long as I keep above 40mph (65kph now I've swapped the clocks over). Then we hit a red light to coincide with an absolute downpour. I patiently waited, getting drenched, for the lights to change so that I could demonstrate the roof mod on the move to Woz in the passenger seat. The last two miles back to the hotel were done roof up but it was too late, we were already soaked!
Weather for tomorrow looks dry, so the tonneau cover could be making an appearance (yes, I've managed to fit it in the boot with even my wash buckets and my slippers!). We have located a Carrefour petrol station next to the hotel selling 98RON (we'll just have to not be fuel snobs for once) for the morning and we're planning on leaving at 8am bound for Spa and then Adenau.
More to come tomorrow ;-)
200 + 2000 + (2 x 2) + 5 = Convoy!
Woz doing his Kate Winslett impession
Broke it already, Woz?
Stone baked goodness and epic lolz