Nurburgring - Nordschleife

An article by Del Brocklehurst

Saturday 1pm
The night before i was like a kid at Christmas and hardly slept because of the coming weekend of speed and homage to be paid to the Ring and Spa.

The ferry was booked for Sat afternoon - 4:15 Dover - Calais, Hotel for 2 nights in Stadtkyll, half way between Nurburgring & Spa and so bags packed and off to collect James, a very experienced Ring and track day driving partner who normally drives a track prepared 993RS but it's in for work at the moment so both us sharing my car and the costs of the weekend. We left James place in Guildford at 13:45, congratulating ourselves on getting this trip together in such a short time frame and with spirits high we set off for the weekends fun.

400 yards down the road from James's house at a 'T' junction, I dipped the clutch and the pedal went to floor, i had stall the car to save it from crossing into the junction on to the main road! I got out and looked under the car to see all the hydraulic fluid dripping down from above and a puddle running down the road - Oh $#@%. Something major had failed , it was either the slave cylinder/master cylinder or the pipe work in between?? It failed suddenly and without warning so something had broken/burst. We started ringing up everyone we knew that might have a slave cylinder, so i could change it out assuming i could get one, i had enough tools with me to do the job by the side of the road except for axle stands and the idea of being underneath it in the middle of Guildford town centre didn't fill me with confidence...

We rang up the breakdown service and they said all they could do was recover me to home or a garage. We rang AFN Guildford OPC, luckily the workshop was open on Saturday afternoon but they said they didn't have a slave or master cylinder in stock nor did they have the time to work on it but if we could get the car there they would agree to try and diagnose the problem. So we mustered 4 of Guildford finest walking public and got them to push the car up this hill to join the main road, James and got in the car and we asked to wait for the traffic lights to change sequence and get the car up to 4/5mph where with the engine running i could get it into 1st gear and drive to AFN without a clutch and hope the rest of the lights were in our favour, they were but it was bloody close and i drove the car into AFN workshop at 14:30. I never thought i'd see my car in their workshop, well not at those prices but i had no choice.

I can't afford whatever it is they're going to do to it....booohooo

Some guy came over straight away and asked me to move it out of the workshop, i said couldn't and they agreed to put it up on the only free ramp out of eight of them, i think? and they started to look at it as James and i helped ourselves to coffee and pastries and James trying to calm me down. They came back and said the rubber section between the master and slave cylinders had perished and burst but there was nothing they could do because they didn't have the spare part! I said, surely there must be something like it that could persuaded into action to work but they were fairly adamant that nothing could be done until the correct part was installed. Can't blame them really they are the official OPC and my suggestion of cutting out the fittings and using a piece of rubber brake/clutch hose off another model bridge the 2 ends with jubilee clips - they said don't cobble together bits of rubber pipe and jubilee clips to make something work. My mood and humour and faith for the weekend was diminishing fast.

The clock is running as the guys get to work on it.

But give them due they did try and bind the burst pipe with tape and another piece of pipe approach, put the pipe on again and used their hydraulic pressure bleeding system, tried it but it just failed again and dumped hydraulic fluid all over the mechanic and their squeaky clean workshop floor.

Despondency really starting to set in now and i said it's 10 to 5 i'm going over the road and getting a piece of rubber brake pipe from an Unipart spares place to bridge the gap between master and slave cylinder and would they fix it if i could get some pipe? They said the workshop and AFN are closing at 5pm - i ran there and back in the rain bringing with me a Peugeot something or other long rubber brake hose, they removed the pipe assembly again and i asked them just cut off any of the Porsche fittings, so it was down to 2 bare ends of what essentially is copper brake pipes and shove this pipe in between it and fix it with jubilee clips. James removed me from the situation as i was starting to piss off the guy trying to fix it.

AFN's Craig, Alistair and Paul agreed to stay open for us and try and fix it but in between times AFN's Paul came up trumps and found something nearly right for the job but it meant having to unclip the copper pipe from the slave cylinder and bending it to allow the substitute pipe to reach the master cylinder, they tested it and put in on the floor at 6:30 clutch working again the trip was back on again, 4 hours late but better late than never. I turned to Craig and with a tear in my eye and feeling of imminent bankruptcy asked how much i owed him???? he said no charge just give Alistair a drink and enjoy your weekend, what an absolute bunch of stars they turned out to be, you'll never hear me complain about an OPC, they were as eager for us to get there as we were and they went above and beyond the call of duty to make it happen for us, well done AFN Guildford. The whole weekend experience was only made possible because of Alistair, Paul & Craigs selfless enthusiasm for us to continue on our trip & it makes me feel humble for acts of kindness such as this.

Sunday morning - 7:30 off to Nurburg.
Light drizzle and mist in the air as we drove the 30 mins to the Ring, still feeling shattered from only 4 hrs of sleep and driving through the night but we're at Nordshleif Nurburgring who gives a shit. Already 2 of the main car parks were full with exotica and everything else under the sun that would be doing the Ring, great atmosphere and a buzz of excitement all around. 13 miles and at least 73 corners

I went to buy my first tickets for the laps, i bought 6, James is a season ticket holder, glad i went with him. I asked James to drive my car round first to familiarise me with layout!! as if i could get to know the 73 corners that quickly! but you have to start somewhere on the most demanding circuit in the world. I do know it quite well from my time spent racing Grand Prix Legends F1 simulator but nothing can prepare you for the real thing, 13 miles of every conceivable corner/track layout imaginable from, in my car 125 mph twisting downhill section that bottoms out and shoots straight up again into left right combinations looking for braking zone to scrub off that speed and then into really tight hairpins - blind crests - off camber tight turns - downhill high speed twisting sections - jumps and surrounded by Armco never more than 20 feet away from you.

The Ring entry ticket barriers.

My turn and my mouth dried up as i set off for the first lap, watching all the time in the mirrors for other cars passing at lighting fast speeds really close to you into the braking zones makes it difficult to learn such a difficult track whilst making sure you don't get in anyone else's way causing an accident by turning in on someone approaching the same corner but at twice your speed. Luckily the first hour was motorcycle free as it was damp so that helped but it didn't stop all the other extremely fast cars that come from nowhere as your lining up for a corner and then having to change line to get out of the way for them. It was to improve as the day went on with me giving way less and being able to even pass some other cars the were either learning the track or in slower cars then mine. The whole place is just massive petrol heads day out, hanging out in the cars parks chatting to everyone about the Ring and cars and stories etc. etc. then going out again and every time the smile factor increases as you gain confidence in being able to remember where the next corner went after that one and being able to push on through those blind crests and getting the lines right through the many hairpins and fast sweeping bends - through never ending combinations where you eventually know that you can stay on the power and carry more speed into the combination knowing there's room the other side to make it, learning not to brake on top of the crest but leave it till just before the corner and brake in the hollow where the tarmac is chewed to shreds from cars bottoming out under braking.

The first time entering the carrousel i was convinced that the front splitter was going to get smashed to bits on the sudden change from flat track to 30 odd degrees of concrete banking in the corner but it didn't hit anything and made it through the rest of the 2 days without a scratch, until i got back onto the ferry that is...

Old red eye in action at the Ring, Ring phot's courtesy of Jochen van Cauwenberge, nice one.

Every time you make it back to the pits it's great sense of achievement and the need to go again is very strong, you can only do 1 lap at a time and you have to leave the track half way down the very long back straight and rejoin through a ticket barrier and start again on the rest of the back straight. James found a few mates and got us a ride, courtesy of Gary Williams in his Nordshleife prepared GT3 MR by Nurburgs own Manthey Racing specialists - James set off just before us. in my car and we caught him up a few k's later in the twisties as he was being held up by another 968 that James eventually got past and the chase was on and have to say that, because James is really smooth bloody fast driver, James was able to keep a decent gap ahead of Gary until it came to the first uphill section where Gary's 400bhp blasted us past my 968, James was in the rear view mirror for a short while and i could see him trying hard to keep up but bloody hell did this GT3 go or what, i'd never experienced anything like it, it cornered like it was on rails and such power and stopping ability, a great driver too he didn't let up. Before setting off he asked what sort of lap i'd like, i told him the faster you go the more i'll smile, he said gotcha and he didn't disappoint.

The very long back straight is cut in half for the start and finish of the lap on public days.

Jeremy Clarkson was there testing out the diesel Jaguar for some programme?, it's on TV on the 24th October. He was wondering down through the car park looking at the cars and chatting to people, he came towards James and I with his film crew recording everything and i said to him "So, are you bored yet"? He walked over and said in his own inimitable way "How can anyone be bored with so many brilliant cars to look at" he asked if that was my 968 we were standing next too, i said yes and we started off into a conversation about driving the Ring and how bloody scary it was and that he's got to do it in Diesel Jaguar!

A few 968's enjoying a little rest between laps.

JC wandering round the car park just before he a did the chat/interview with James and me.

The film crew was recording all this jolly banter between James, Jeremy and me, don't know if anything of that will be shown? I mentioned that the wildlife here is very fast when a squirrel shot across the track in front me on one of my laps. He said "a squirrel? i had a tiger ran out in front of me, in fact it was a bloody Bengal tiger" we had a 5 min or so session of joking about the correct lines into the corners and how he was trying to get under 10 mins a lap and that it was his first time here too so we were both Ring virgins, ooerr missus. I have to say, you couldn't wish to meet a nicer bloke, he walked up to me after my throw away comment and greeted us like we were old mates and straight into a conversation about the cars and atmosphere the buzz of the place and the crazy things that happen at the Ring- lap times and jokes, really natural and he's definitely a 100% car nut , he was still there looking round and chatting to everyone as we were leaving at 7:30 in the evening when the track closed.

So how did the new suspension fair? there were some tuning issues to sort out, perceived by James who knows a lot better than i do, that the car was suffering from too much under steer and the rear end was taking too long to settle after high speed elevation direction changes - which there is a lot of at the Ring. Needless to say, i'd bought a good selection of tools with me but could i find the bump/rebound adjusting tools for the suspension, no i'd lost them sometime between the car and the hotel the night before i reckon, when i'd found the side of my bag open. So James knowing the place so well suggested we drive 5 mins down the road to Ring Racing. The guys there were excellent, one of the owner brothers said he races a 944 round the Ring and suggested some tweaks to the suspension. He was under it and had reset the ARB to equal on both sides and adjusted the front bump one click higher in 10 mins all done. I asked about lowering it some more but he said not to for the Ring else it'll be bottoming out through parts of the circuit.

So we took it out again and things had improved but i still felt it wasn't settling fast enough on the rear and it felt more one side than the other, so we took back to them again later in the afternoon. A crowd of others in having work done and more outside waiting to be seen but again the owner just dropped was he was doing and did mine straight away this time he wound up the bump adjusters all the way to find out how if they were equal and it turns out that one side was a click out, he made them equal, i asked how much 15 Euros, really nice people and very helpful.

The track was closed 3 times that day to clear up the mess of cars that gone off and for one serious one where a motorcyclist had gone straight into the Armco somewhere near the end of the circuit, bad news. But every time the track closed either James or me had just completed our laps and each time we were just about to either go for fuel, lunch or suspension adjustment and every time we got back the track was just re-opening again, our timing was impeccable - unfortunately not so for the unfortunate motorcyclist.

We decided to try and get into the famous Pistoncluase restaurant and who's there, yep JC's in there having a meal too, this place is full photo's of the greats of in motor racing history and their signatures all over the ceiling, just full of atmosphere and good food too.

Monday 7:30 bright and sunny off to Belgium Spa
About 40 mins drive away and Spa Francochamp Autotrack day.

James met another mate there and we arranged to unload the car contents into one of the pit garages, which just happened to be next to the one that GVR racing were using. I introduced myself and met Chris the car owner race driver and Gordon the GVR boss we had very interesting discussion about 968's and Porsche club racing and all that stuff. Gordon was hard at work replacing a differential at the time, smiling all the while really nice blokes, there was another young lad there but i didn't get chance to talk to him as he was working away all morning. There was all sorts of exotica in the pit lane and the back of the garages to keep any motor head happy for hours including one bright yellow Carrera GT, James thought it might be a friend of his...

Oooh look what's just turned up.

Chris, from GVR Racing, helped me out with a proper tyre pressure gauge and found my hot temps were waaay to high and suggested we lower them 34 hot. Every time i came back in we lowered them some more until 34 was norm after 4 hot laps, that helped with the turn in but we still needed more. I asked Chris if he would drive my car and give me his impression of where it could tweaked suspension to improve it. He passengered with me first and then he took over and what a smooth and bloody fast drive he did, passing all sorts of other greater powered cars in the process, great to watch and learn from him. His main comments were that the car feels very connected and he liked it a lot but it could do with some descent tyres on it, the Goodyear F1's weren't doing me any favours as the deep long tread pattern, good for the rain but not high force/speed cornering. He suggested the best tyres would be the Dunlop track tyres, I can't remember which ones he said now..duh!

James convinced me that we (the royal we that is) should up the rear ARB to full hard. So we borrowed a jack and axle stands and i had it changed it in 20 mins.

What do you mean James? you're allergic to grease? OK i'll do it.

Ready to go, thanks Del get yourself cleaned up while i take the car out....Eh!!

It made a significant change to the handling. Much better turn in and no more understeery pushing out to edges of the track on full power through the high speed off camber corner Pouhon and yet it was still very controllable over steer if you needed it and James showed me what he meant by a few demonstrations of it through the corners. Backing off the throttle and letting it rotate, then over steering it and giving some welly, all very controllable, well in his hands any rate. James was now at last happy with it and he gave it some real stick round there seeing off several some 911 drivers on most laps. This was amply backed when Chris was driving my car, the 968 handling is so good in the right hands, even i was pushing and passing a few much more powerful cars than the 968 through the corners and really enjoying as i was passing more and more cars as the day went on.

If you know Spa then the great attraction is the first corner flat out down the hill from La Source and into Eau Rouge, my first time through there, i took it at 80mph and no braking pulled it right for the second part of the bend and up the hill to clip the left hand apex and let it run out wide for the long run up to Le Combe. I thought well i can do that faster next time and i entered Eau Rouge at 100mph but i didn't turn sooner to account for the extra speed i was carrying and missed the right hand apex as it climbed sharply uphill again and i knew i was not going to be able to pull back to the right to enough to miss the left apex on the exit, i said to James i'm not going to make so i'll run straight on and cut the apex and the corner. James said that was the right thing to do, rather than trying to correct it at that speed through the complex, you know there's a good sized run off there so just use it, phew next time i start again at 90mph until i was sure i get it turned in on time for the next apex and eventually building up again to 100mph entry speed later on, sometimes with just dab of brakes in the bottom of Eau Rouge to help it turn in for the next apex.

There are so many great corners at Spa, the scariest for me was the left hand entry in Pouhon, way up there in 4th gear and gentle dab of brakes to slow and more important gentle release of the brakes to turn in for the first part of the very long double left corner. It's real easy to go in too fast there and run out of road to the outside but if you get it right and let it drift right to the outside of the first part then you can give it full welly and let it pick up speed as the opposite camber track drops away from you and picks up great speed downhill through the next fast long left hander making sure you get the apex and letting it run right to the edge of the track, flat in 5th gear then gathering it all up moving over to the left and hard braking for the start of the 90 right hander complex Des Fagnes leading into the right left chicane which for me was the highlight of the track as i really enjoyed the cars ability to put it wherever i wanted it to be and make up loads of ground on others cars through there. I could change line through there virtully wherever i wanted to when catching another car i usually just showed them i could be faster and still pull it in tighter to the inside for a passing move before the next corner, great car the 968.

Through Stavelot was just flat out in 5th with a lift for Blanchemont and then get it across to the left for the straightest entry possible for the bus stop. I always thought it spoiled the track watching F1 racing but i have to say it's really a good test as you have to leave your braking till very late from approx 120/130mph as the braking zone is only straight at the very last part of it and then all anchors on down to 2nd for ritual slinging of the car into the tight left entrance of the Bus Stop and another quick flick to the right making sure you don't run out wide and into the wall staring you in the face if don't make it. Then it's out of the Bus Stop and heading down for the first corner La Source and lots show boating going on there with last of the late brakers and flinging round the concrete walled 180 degree start of the lap again, lots chances to get rear end out as all the pic takers are there watching.

Under heavy braking and turning in for the first corner La Source.

Here's some pics at Spa -

The car still needs a little more tuning in the rear for end high speed direction changes, i've yet to start playing with the rebound settings but one thing at a time so i learn what's happening. It's improved greatly from the first time out with it. so i'm learning how to use it and it'll take some time to understand how it's all connected and what to change for what conditions. So towards the end of the day now at 6pm and i'm feeling really chuffed about the achievement for myself for the last 2 days having driven what to me are the 2 best motor racing circuits in the world. And to round it off, as i came back in from my last run James came running over said quick Sean is waiting for, Seann ?? i asked, "yes" said James i thought it was him this morning, the guy in the Carrera GT, he's waiting to take you out in it. I abandoned my car, threw the keys the James and jumped into the cockpit of this bright yellow snarling beastie. Oooohh i knew i was going to enjoy this, we slowly left the pit area and the guy on gate that checks everyone out onto the circuit didn't ask to see the circuit wrist bands or look into the car he just bowed and pointed to the track for this car.

Sean the owner on the left and James, nice bloke for giving us some passenger laps.

Sean entered the track at the top of the hill after La Source and opened the throttle, the engine screamed into life and my head just hit the back of the headrest and there it stayed until he backed off a tad through the bottom of Eau Rouge and punched it again and my head was stuck to headrest again as it howled it's way up the hill to Les Combe. Those ceramic brakes do work you know as i can attest to he braked at the 100 metre mark from 175mph and flung across the right curb into the chicane, the car rode the curbs as though they wern't there and changed direction like it was a roller coster bloody fantastic. Some fools though they'd keep the line and hold Sean up, what a mistake he saw the gap and blasted into hyper drive and past them in a blink of eye and let the V10 and those 600 horses do there thing in the only way they know with loads of noise and a disappearing radar trace round the next corner and off into oblivion, yeeeehaaaa i had 4 laps in this car. He missed a gear because of a packet of fags was rolling around under his feet on the floor, he bent down to pick them up and gave them me for safe keeping, whilst doing god knows what speed, meanwhile he's trying find the right gear and gunning this engine which it just does and doesn't complain as he doesn't find 3rd but dumps into 2nd instead and floors it again as it just piles on the revs and the sound of that sweet engine raising in pitch and howling and whooshing away thorough the revs so quickly to the next gear and the next, what a rush. A nice way to finish off the day with 4 laps in a Carrera GT at Spa nice!!

The whole return trip was 1,300 miles, including 200 track miles at the Ring and 240 track miles at Spa, i think it was about 3 tanks of fuel for the track days. About 5 tanks of fuel in all plus ferry/hotel/track fees/meals come to £850 shared between the 2 of us is a bloody good deal. I shall certainly be doing it again.



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