Speed-blur’ring; it’s a bit like the Nurburgring, only slightly more strange. It’s the tale of an E46 M3, a jaunt across four countries and a virgin lap. It’s basically all of this;
When somebody asks you to work on a bank holiday weekend, it sucks. But reluctantly I agreed to do just that recently, waving goodbye to my planned bank holiday fun of mowing the lawn and cleaning the house. Turns out a colleague needed a lift in my M3 to the Nurburgring and some help filming fast cars. How’s your luck!
Once I overcame my disappointment it was time to consider all those things you need when road tripping into Europe – like how to get across the Channel, whether to get European breakdown cover, how to get a pocket full of Euros and figure out if your car in full working condition. And by the morning of departure all of that was sorted…until I walked from the house to see a deflated front right tyre. Two hours until picking up Loren, my work mate, and four hours from the ferry leaving our shores. Typical.
While it saves weight and probably allows for that twin exhaust system, not having a spare wheel as standard is annoying. BMW did see fit to include an electric air pump (great for blow outs!) but by the time I’d messed around with that I could have been pumped back up at the petrol station and on my way. So off I hobbled with 9psi of pressure in the tyre to get it inflated back up to full operating pressure. But trust it I did not, so in a mad dash around the south east Essex area on a bank holiday Sunday I searched for an answer. Nobody had a tyre in stock, I even tried the dealer I bought the car from a few years back, thinking he may have another M3 I could hire the wheels from, but he didn’t…and time was running out.
And then I found myself at JET tyres in Benfleet. They get a good press around this neck of the woods but it was the first time I’d been there…and I’m glad I did. It took them about half an hour to check the tyre out, look at the wheel and find and fix a leak caused by the something on the inside barrel. I didn’t really listen to what it was, I was too keen to hand over the £16 charge and get on my way. I was an hour late to meet Loren in the end… which left us about an hour to get to Dover from Brentwood train station.
Easy. And the BMW even decided to play nice and only sip at the super unleaded, returning 32.1mpg!
If you’re wondering why we went for the ferry rather than EuroTunnel it was all down to following the spirit of adventure. Nothing quite like being on deck watching Dover disappear and adventure beckon on the horizon. Plus it’s a good chance to get some lunch, which is something the super efficient train service doesn’t do.
Plus, you don’t get big fat, ballsy seagulls on the train!
The French leg of the journey is pretty easy, heading up past Dunkirk and into Belgium towards Brussels…which can be a hell hole of traffic. Fortunately we were blessed with only minimal delays and some interesting sights along the way.
The Audi above was followed by a similarly mental Corsa. They’d obviously been having some show fun somewhere over the weekend. Good lads.
By the time we hit Germany it was getting pretty dark and the fact Google maps on my iPhone, my non-EU TomTom and old BMW navigation were all falling short of the job of directing, it was back to old-fashioned road atlas methods. Let’s just say that at this point there was a bit of a delay and that there are some great winding roads down near Prum (which is quite a way from the Nurburgring and nowhere near our intended course!).
We finally checked in to the Dorint hotel, which is right on top of the GP circuit. The whole place is geared up for petrol heads, from the underground car park…
…to the tiles in the shower!
There are even about six channels on the TV that feed live images of the GP circuit from webcams, which would have been awesome if it hadn’t been the middle of the night. Still, all of that makes any pain of the inward journey disappear to be replaced solely by the excitement of what’s to come the next day…which I can’t tell you too much about right now.
Needless to say, I got pretty up close and personal with the Nordschleife as I positioned myself at various points on it throughout the day.
I can even tell you how sloppily they paint some of the barriers. The poor plants!
And where people have clearly been having a little keg party.
The funny thing about being on the Nordschleife when it’s not open to the public though is how many eager drivers and bikers you see gathering outside, looking in. They’re half interested in what’s going on, but you get the feeling they’re more interested in whatever’s going on getting the f&ck off the track so that they can play. Must say, I was beginning to share their pain.
So when things wrapped up with the filming I slipped round to the tourist entrance, paid the €26 for a lap and prepared to have my ‘Ring driving cherry popped (I’d been around it before, but not while behind the wheel). The token you get is like a plastic card that you swipe against the reader at the barrier, meaning you get to keep it as a memento… should you survive. You see, that’s something that went through my mind a lot; the idea of crashing, or more accurately, trying not to crash. With insurance void and the potential for extremely costly errors staring you in the face, it’s enough to jangle your nerves a little. Having spent the day looking at the magnitude of symmetrical black lines on the Tarmac that pointed straight at barriers, it’s clear the warnings to take it easy are the result of some expensive and dangerous errors.
Loren came along for the ride, adding a bit of ballast to things, but I was intent on not pushing too hard anyway. I’d met the Pistonheads columnist and video guru, Chris Harris, earlier on and he’d given the top tip of removing covers I didn’t know existed from behind my front bumper. They can be popped out to allow for a greater feed of cold air, helping to stop the BMW’s front brakes from cooking. Little things like that gave me a bit more confidence. I’d also chatted to another top chap called Vincent. the driver who set the FWD lap record here in the Megane R26R, and his main advice was to be careful of the bumps… after all, it’s not like a regular smooth track.
Armed with this new confidence and level of knowledge I set off pretty eagerly. You start on the straight so it’s pretty easy to build up some early speed. After the first few corners you’re well into the swing of things, but you have to keep an eye on the rear view mirror. I saw a black 7-series approaching at speed on a downhill section and decided to let him through. He was followed by a motorcyclist who I also moved over for. Strange thing with some bikers though is if there’s a line they want, they take it regardless. On a 90 degree left turn at the top of a hill I was as far over to the right as possible, yet he still drifted over to almost clip my front bumper. You know when you look at bikers sometimes and wonder how long they have left on this earth…
I did overtake a few cars though, more through car ability than driver ability…and was also trounced by a new Megane RS and a wicked sounding Mk2 Golf on pink wheels and UK plates. I probably could have out-dragged the Golf as it was on a fast section at the back, but I figured he probably had better knowledge of the track, I was enjoying myself anyway, so why cause problems.
How long it took me to get around the track I don’t know, but I kept pace with a ‘Ring rental car for most of it, didn’t find myself in any sticky situations and knew I was driving well within my comfort zone. I wish I could regale you with a more heroic story, but the truth is I enjoyed the lap a lot, kept the car in good shape and didn’t embarrass myself, so I count that as a success.
I even found the two pictures above online afterwards, as well as others of my car, so make sure you do a Google search for the day you go and there’s bound to be someone trackside who has taken your picture and will let you have a digital copy for a small fee. For free though I asked Loren to take this shot of me looking like a plum, holding my ‘Ring ticket, presumably just in case I ever forget that I went there.
Would I go back again, I hear you ask? Absolutely. It’s like driving a great country road, but knowing there’s not going to be someone coming at you head on as you find the best line through a corner. I’d probably wait until I had decent rubber on my tyres though and would go out on my own next time. In fact, I’d be tempted by the idea of renting a fully insured Megane or BMW from a company like RSR so that I could drive with less fear of incurring costs I can’t afford. The buzz of the place is worth going for alone…and if you like a drink in the evening there’s plenty of opportunity. Some shots even require the wearing of a special glove too. It’s weird, it’s probably not necessary, but it happens.
I can’t remember what that shot was called but if you ask for a mind-bending drink that you need a glove for at the Dorint bar I’m sure they’ll hook you up. I do remember the bloke behind Zakspeed was in the bar that night and walking head first into a glass door, but the less said about that the better.
The following day proved to be a bit of a wash out, not through drink but through lack of access to what we needed to shoot and a splattering of rain. We decided to head home a little earlier, but not before stopping for fuel at a nearby and apparently famous local petrol station.
You’ll see some great cars if you’re there for any length of time.
And if you get bored of the real things, they have a very impressive scale model shop inside that you could get quite engrossed in.
The journey home was largely uneventful from there on. Seriously though, if you can avoid being anywhere near Brussels on your way to or from the ‘Ring then that’s probably a good thing. You think the M25 is bad, try getting around their ring road!
Despite being an hour early for the ferry home, we couldn’t get on an earlier one which was a shame. Still, Calais on a warm May evening with some good memories in the bag is never too painful an experience. Time to reflect a little further though, which made me think about costs. If you’re planning a trip and are wondering what sort of budget you need, then this may help (based on two people);
Ferry: £77 (could do it for £50)
Petrol: £230 approx (from South East Essex to the ‘Ring and back is about 850 miles. Reckon it was a bit over two and a half tanks of super unleaded, with prices in Belgium and Germany similar to the UK).
Hotel: £340 approx (includes breakfast, but sure you could find cheaper)
Ring lap: £22 each
Subsistance: £200 (£100 each)
Extras: AA Euro cover (£72), obligatory Nurburgring sticker (£5.50)
That works out about £900 or £450 each to get to the ‘Ring and have one lap. Seems steep, but if you took a diesel car and found a cheap B&B (or camped, as the countryside round the ‘Ring is stunning), you could likely do it for two thirds that price…maybe even less. Perhaps that should be another blog- the cheapest ever trip to the Nurburgring. Whatever you end up paying though, it’s highly likely you’ll be looking back at the continent from the ferry, feeling it was all worth it.