May 22, 2008

Axis Ringball 08 part III: TerroristenFahrten!

I think I will start this one off, if anything because CG's later tales of the GT3RS will be inevitably....faster!


This was the day when the Ring clicked for me.  

For some unexplained reason I had full confidence in the "...this is our best Alfa" car Dale offered on Monday morning.  OK fine, the harnesses were a bit dodgy but, for me it was the first time ever driving a fully caged car on the track...and this could only end well, I thought.

The car was the "fabled" V6-7 in the RSR fleet and is is as sweet as they get: Close ratio box and lumpy cams, Yokohama 048 and vestigial velour upholstery on the door panels, the old girl was fine!

I have a photographic memory so for me getting lost even on a long track like the 'ring was never the issue,  what clicked during the course of the day was learning to let the car flow.

The 'ring seems to me to be very much about that,  flow.

Certainly with a car like the Alfa speed there are really very few heavy braking areas,  for many corners you might only tap the brakes to shift weight and make the front bite (Back to that classic Berndt quote "brakes? why brake, it only slows you down!")  The trick, to brake a little earlier and a little less and so carry more speed to the apex.

So, as I learned to relax and maintain precious momentum, my speed started to creep up and I managed to do more key corners...the right way:
-Hatzenbach without braking for the last left, the Flugplatz right double apex no brakes, full throttle. 
-Fuchsröhre in fifth. Miss-Hit-Miss without messing my pants. 
-Angstkurve no lift, Pflantzgarten with just a tap of the brakes after the jump... 
All those were milestones for me and a great thrill. 

I cannot stress enough that this is mostly due to getting passenger rides with more experienced drivers and a chimp like attitude of "well, if he can do it, so can I".   When you get to the braking area, simply ask yourself,  "...what would Dale do?" and act accordingly.

Traqmate showed my v-max at just 125.8mph (202 km/h) even though I KNOW the linguine enhanced speedo read 220 km/h on the run to Schwedenkreutz.  Once I got both more relaxed and more aggressive with traffic, my best BTG was 8:51, a good 30 seconds faster than Sunday and close enough for now to the 8:40 seconds Dale told me the RSR instructors can flog those Alfa to!

Highlight of the day: having an Ultima Gt2 blow by me only to catch it up at the end of Hatzenbach, have it rocket away away again but catching and mercylessly tailgating it, tires begging for mercy, all through the Flugpaltz double right.... moments later it was all over but man was that fun!

One word about bikers before I turn you over to CG. I actually got threatening hate mail from a biker today because of yesterday's post. Look , bikers, I respect your balls but you are a bunch of lunatics and some of you are clueless lunatics. Maybe experienced ringers are nonchalantabout passing you figuring you already have a deathwish anyway but for us newbies bikers are a seriously scary issue.

Thing is, many of you are painfully slow in the corners and blistering on the next straight, in a momentum car...that's just a serious bummer. Essentially, this is what it looks like from our prospective: we do all our turns right, we earn that precious momentum going up the hill and then we come up on some clueless assclown like this dude in green to whom I would like to award the Axis of Oversteer Ring Assie.... see what I mean?

Over to CG now:

Good night sleep, and a healthy but just large enough breakfast before my biggest challenge yet at the Nordschleife: a well setup 996 GT3RS / Cup car hybrid rental from RSR Nurburg. I was also looking forward towards the 2 hours of instruction from Ron Simons, the shop owner and Euro Pro Racing Driver.

We started the day by stickering out our rental racecars so that the Axis gets proper coverage on the track photos. The GT3RS was an original streetcar that got converted to racecar. RSR bought it and converted back to street car for NRing duties (Remember that cars have to be TÜV Road legal to be able to get on the NRing on Touristenfahrten days).

Basically you end up with a well setup GT3RS with less weight (stripped of carpet and unnecessary goodies – It still had A/C to compensate for the Lexan sealed windows!), with a full race rollcage and fire system, proper factory raceseats, 6pt harness, and nice things like cup-car shifter and shorter gear ratios. Tires were N-spec Pilot Sport Cups.

Helmet ready, driving position perfect, talked to Berndt (master mechanic) about the setup and inquired about the harness compatibility with my HANS device: “Hans…? what is Hans?... my second name is HANS..”!! Another well deserved big dose of German sarcasm to my American trained health and safety standards that can easily revert back to my South-American born laidback-ness and NO standards!

Right away the car felt perfect. It didn’t have a very aggressive setup, more on the softer side to swallow bumps (and kerbs!), good camber (-3.0 at least from my eye-gage) and not too much caster (so self centering was not typical racecar aggressive). The 6 GT3RS feels closer in development to the 997 than to its 996 sibling. The front end, despite the rear weight bias feels glued to the road and always in control even if you lift one front tire from the ground. I’ve gained immediate confidence on the car mostly because it had the best brakes I’ve ever driven. Almost an unfadeable setup after a day of hard driven 500km of NRing laps. Pedal firmness and height was always the same all day out.

The engine felt strong and with loads of torque, given the car very fast acceleration mostly due to its low weight. In the fast 70-100mph transition sections one could easily short shift and do those in 4th almost at the same speed as staying in 3rd. What a machine!
The first couple of laps were at an easy pace mostly to get acquainted with the car, allow Ron to build confidence in my ability (so that he knows I’m capable of driving a Cup-car and doesn’t feel the need to babysit me all day!) and most importantly learn the proper line pointers from him. In general, on the faster sweeping corners my line tends to be tighter than optimal (earlier apex given that almost all are blind!) in a conservative way so that I carried less speed than what the true limit was and that allowed me to “hug” the apex for longer than on the ultimate faster line.

For me its hard to get to feel the proper line if you are not carrying close to limit speeds, as my style is more towards driving by feedback and feel than by reference (i.e. using pointers for braking and turn-in points), so that if the car is not at the limit I tend to wander a bit and not use all the track contrary to when I go all-out (almost), looking far ahead carrying enough speed and being forced to open my line a lot more (that’s probably why I use a lot of minor corrections on corner entry via left foot trail braking).

Ron did a couple of laps in the GT3 and in one of his Alfas and clearly showed me how fast some of those turns are (Schwedenkreuz at 130mph+ for example!) and allowed me to learn what the proper track position should be to be able to straighten and go flat out critical sections like after Flugplatz or the big climb after Bergwerk.

My fastest traqmate real GPS speed was 161mph (258kph… I believe the car indicated around 270kph!) on the big jump before Schwedenkreuz). Despite a great car and feeling high on confidence was never able to flat out Fuchsröhre as the compression on the left kink feels brutal and the brake area after it incredibly short once you are north of 140mph! (Flat out Fuchsröhre was relatively easy to do in the 325i racecar).

The car was a joy to drive on the fast transition sections were speeds were saner, allowing me to test the limits of the PSCups and play a bit. This car is a monster on the Nordschleife. I would be intrigued to see, maybe not sit as a passenger (wife, 3 kids, good job, chicken co-driver), how fast it can go in the hands of Ron or the likes of Rohrl. (BTW, Dale is not allowed to drive the GT3RS… reasons are obvious…).

You can easily see how much faster the GT3RS is everywhere than the Carrera and the Alfa, including cornering speed on every type of corner. I loved the experience and loved the car. Only caveat of that sunny day is that it felt like hell inside the car thanks to lexan sealed windows. I did 3-4 laps at a time and came out drenching in sweat (and I’m in pretty decent shape as Im an active triathlete). I easily lost 5-6 pounds in fluids during the course of the 500kms I drove that day (Yep! That’s basically 1.5 times the length of an F1 race!). Obviously I went far beyond the allowed mileage for the rental and you can see one of my testicles in a formaldehyde jar at RSR’s HQ, but I would do it all over again!

Don’t know how Stee managed the brutality of 3-4 consecutive laps as a passenger with me driving this car on the Nordschleife, but his theory goes that I have more to loose than him (3:0 on the children count) so he should feel safe in my hands (Go figure… I’m not able to apply that logic..!).

The high point of the day was a time when I was reeling in a well driven white sedan after Wipperman that was about 200yds ahead. 100yds ahead on the approach to Pflanzgarten and with great surprise about to make the pass going flatout off-line before braking area for Schwalbenschwanz to the NRing’s very own Ring-Taxi!... Priceless… Feat repeated once more during the day, causing a perma-grin effect that lasted almost a whole week!.

Better than Sunday but still plenty of traffic and accidents, mostly bikers and one totaled MGF, so no really totally clear laps but nonetheless ginourmous fun. Best BTG lap was in the 7:50’s with a Traqmate best sectors (9 sector split) BTG lap of 7:40s.
Now my lame, well setup 997 S feels slow and sloppy and my local 10 corner tracks look boring as hell…. Can’t wait to go back!! If anyone knows of a Private Equity Fund that invests in the German Black Forest let me know asap!!

The End?

PS. June 30th has a track day at the 'ring. Open track, open main straight, cars only. From 10 am to 5 PM, $450 Euro! Tempted? Download the application HERE.


  1. addictive isn't it. I've booked trip #6 for september and im itching to go back. It makes my local track look like a supermarket carpark.

  2. I truly envy that you can be there in just a few hours....

  3. 5 hours to Dover, 2 hours on a ferry and another 5 hours to Adenau, its hard work, especially in a stripped out, rollcaged little tin-can. Sometimes i wish it wasn't so close and that i wouldn't find excuses to keep going back!!! Roughly $1000 per trip for me.

    Kudos on the write-up, i really enjoyed reading it, and i fully sympathise with the biker "issues"

  4. Being a biker as well as a car guy (and I take bikes on tracks as well) I have to say that most of the bikers on the Ring I've encountered have NO BUSINESS being there. I would not rent a bike and go on that course until I had a chance to do it with a private instructor/class on a closed course with no cars. There's too much commitment involved and the 5-6 bike get-offs per day get really old after awhile.

  5. Certainly an odd feeling being on track with bikers... In a slow car they can just wreck your lap especially in the uphill section.

    Last time we were there bikers were out in the rain!

  6. Dont be so harsh on the biker ... if i spotted it correctly there was a breakdown triangle right before Bergwerk. He actually did the right thing by slowing down. Otherwise, yes they are pesky ;)

  7. Nah, that triangle was there from 3 laps earlier, the track was clear enough that he could have either moved over or taken the turn at more than 25 mph.

    Assie status confirmed! :o)

  8. Could you imagine thecarnage if they had bike only tourist days!!! Some riders are a pain but they do add to the experience of driving the 'ring'

  9. Excellent write up!

    That picture of Ron and the drinks on the spoiler sums up the RSR guys!


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