Spa Francorchamps has been on the bucket list for quite sometime now. After visiting twice as a passenger in some exotic machinery, it was time to break my virginity on a circuit which holds one of the most famous corners on the F1 calendar, if you don’t know what section of the track I’m talking about, are you even a car guy??!! Of course its Eau Rouge.
Let me tell you now…. it did not disappoint! With a wet start to the day, we made a few set up changes to the car, it wasn’t a full wet set up as the forecast predicted it would dry out around mid day. Damping adjustments and tyre pressures were enough of a compromise to go out and get to know the track, find where the grip was and get a feel for what was going on.
That said, Spa actually had a good amount of grip even in the wet! More so than the majority of UK circuits I’d driven wet laps on previously. With the car feeling good I settled into a 4o minute stint enjoying the circuit! Needless to say lunchtime came too soon as the track was rightly drying out and getting quicker. My softer set up wasn’t suited to the ever increasing grip which meant the car was taking every corner on 3 wheels…. time to switch back to dry spec, grab some lunch and see if I had the balls to attack Eau Rouge flat.
After fuelling up with the over priced buffet, we prepped the car ready to get some more seat time and really get to know the track.
It was dry conditions now and an exit speed of approx 100mph from Eau Rouge was achievable. With the car limited to 130mph (not really built for top end speed) I suffered a little in the straights, which meant a slight lift and coast to avoid holding the engine on the limiter.
But once into Les Combes, the next corner after Eau Rouge, the car really came into its own. With 4 Pot AP CP5040 calipers upfront combined with DS3000 pads and 304mm rotas, braking can be left really late, as you can see from the video, there is still more time to be had, but this was a comfortable braking distance which allowed me to put in another 40 minute stint in the car. And trust me, when the engine temps are good, the tyres are consistent and your belting round one of the best circuits in the world, your not going to get bored easily. The fact is, running out of fuel is the only thing that put a halt to proceedings!
Check out the best lap of the day, a 2:56! (Click to view) It was nearly a full clear lap, the exception was an evo which we closed on quite rapidly in the braking area.
With the car performing faultlessly (apart from it being a little loose at the rear) it was time to load it back into the truck, the day was done. After many battles, 4 tanks of fuel, some sideways moments and much fun, it was time to leave this amazing circuit. If you’ve ever thought about going, stop thinking and get it booked! Even in the rain, its a great experience!
Meanwhile, lets rewind to the day before Spa, when we took a day trip to the Ring.
2017 was our 10 year anniversary, that’s 10 years lapping the Nurburgring, mostly an annual trip, we sometimes squeeze in a second or third visit to the Greenhell. This was our second visit this year.
BUT, no two laps are the same………………………………………
With over 100 laps around the ring in this car alone, I’m quite comfortable behind the wheel. Its built to turn in well, has a small tendency to oversteer, but that’s what makes a fwd work on track.
Well, on my 4th lap of the day, I became that guy who spun on the Nurburgring……………..
Yep that was me, the guy who spun on what you might as well call the first corner of the Nordschleife, It might as well been my first ever lap on the ring with this kind of performance!!
You will see that the car doesn’t initially break away, but when it does, its travelling at such a slow speed that trying to pull it out of the slide is not really possible and could of left me stranded in the middle of the track with traffic fast approaching. So after a dab of throttle I decide to hit the brakes and let the car come to a halt on the edge of the circuit.
Which seems to be a wise move as there was a fast approaching Leon! I saw the whites in his eyes he was that close.
See the video here (click to view)
So that was my 1st ever spin on the Nurburgring, but this trip still had one more surprise left in store for me.
One which gave me a certain title, a certain exclusivity. Part of an elite club you might say.
I didn’t choose it, it chose me.
Yep, I’m officially part of Club Bongard. £364 euros lighter in the pocket for the privilege too!
So here’s the low down of things you need to know.
A nearside cv joint let go when under full load through the right hander at Bergwerk (just after the half way exit point)
The car still rolling I spotted a gap in the barrier where my car and the crews would be safe, and, far enough off the circuit not to close any part of the track, or even get the cones out!!!
What happened next
Now tucked well out of sight, I thought I may have to ring for recovery. Huge credit to the marshals, they were on the scene within minutes!!!
Now if your ever unfortunate enough to join club Bongard, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect.
– They ask what the problem is (I tell them driveshaft/cv joint as I already know)
– A quick run round the car to assess for damage or leaks
– Next, they ask for a driving licence, insurance docs and take down all your details on an ipad
– Phone for recovery
– Recovery arrives and the car gets loaded, no f**ks given
Now here’s what I wasn’t expecting, maybe I’m naive in this situation.
– You can not ride in the recovery truck, despite no damage, leaks or any obstruction to the circuit
– You get driven in a diesel estate (quite fast) to the track side office, where they decide how much you owe the track for their services
– Then you have to make your own way to Bongard in Adenau to collect the car and pay recovery fees
Now I got lucky in some respects and I hope it was down to the fact I was able to pull off in a sensible and safe location. However it could have also been due to a huge crash before the mini Karussell which involved a GT86 among others vehicles, that I was not asked to pay anything in the circuit office.
So, after getting a lift to Bongard (and beating my own car back to their storage yard) I was greeted with the following itemised bill;
Admin fee – 33 euro – The kind lady had to print off my receipt
Recovery fee – 218 euro – Not bad for 30 minutes work
Collection fee – 54 euro – That’s for the guy that pressed the button to open/close the gate to the yard
After towing my car out the yard and fitting a new cv joint/driveshaft in 15 minutes (new record maybe?)
We called it a day and loaded up, ready for Spa Francorchamps.
This incident did leave me with some unanswered questions…….
Is it now time to stop with TF and move onto full track days?
Are recovery charges in force during Nurburgring track days? Or even more so, if the worst happened, cost to barriers and track closures?
How much safer are track days over TF days?
The Nurburgring is a dangerous place. It has the potential to bankrupt you.. or even worse, take your life. Both of these statements are not even an exaggeration. As I write this blog, I hear of a new Porsche GT3 dropping coolant with catastrophic consequences.
And even after all of this, we still take that risk? Well, I for one have no plans to stop our traditional Nurburgirng trip any time soon, the question is more so, TF or track days.
I love TF days, you choose when to go out, its more of a social thing, it brings people togeather and turns one day into 2 or 3 or more! If its raining, no one is forcing you to go out, you’ve no real money to loose, you can save your laps for another day. There are so many pros to a TF day.
With trackdays, you obviously get access to the full straight, less traffic and what you would hope is a better standard of driving and etiquette. But, that comes with a price, what if there’s a mechanical issue or the unpredictable weather turns bad.
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