First taste of “The Green Hell”

8 05 2010

May 5th Wednesday

The day dawned fine and clear against expectation – very cold breeze – perfect conditions to finally make acquaintance with The Green Hell.

Peter Millener and I picked up the Golf from RentRaceCar after some salient advice from owner Theo. The GTi has DSG and KW suspension with street tyres – Hankook Ventus S1. These tyres turned out to be brilliant – not in same league as DOT track rubber, but for street tyre, brilliant. Interestingly our instructor’s GT3 had same rubber which he raved about.

Met up with our instructor for the day, Winnie (pronounced Vinny). Really neat guy, great instructor, with huge experience at the Nordschleife – over 2000 laps. He has a boring part-time job – gets paid to test drive for AMG at the Nordschleife! No, guys, there are no vacancies – believe me we asked ;).

Winnie’s approach to teaching us the Ring was perfect – he drove in front of us while we attempted to follow while he drove the perfect lines as far as traffic permitted in blocks of 3 laps. Peter end I alternated driving the Golf and sitting in the GT3 with Winnie., with one session riding with each other in the Golf. My son Jon filled the spare seat in the GT3 for 6 laps with Winnie when Peter and I partnered each other, and then in the Golf, so he had as many laps around the circuit as we did! He was stoked.

The first lap: holy hell! Well Green Hell – aptly named this track is utterly awe-inspiring. Forget the PlayStation – the reality is altogether different. A narrow strip of tarmac bounded by high kerbs you mostly dare not touch, bounded by a sliver of grass and very hard looking Armco, all of which winds through the mountains in a roller-coaster ride of steep drops and climbs, with bumps and hollows in so many critical places to unsettle the car. Driving the first lap was quite frankly scary. Scary to contemplate driving it at race speed. I seriously wondered what I’d let myself in for!

And traffic! It was a very busy day as it was warm-up day for a huge Scuderia driving course. Some incredible cars including, of course many GT3s, GT3 RSs, Caymans, Boxsters, AMG SRS (the first car built completely by AMG and a stunner according to Winnie), Nissan GTRs, KTM XBow, Corvette SR1s, a few Ferraris, lots of Golfs and Renault Sport models. Everywhere you turn there’s another bevy of wow-cars! A fully carbon fibre Z4 , yes all panels are carbon fibre – incredible car. The drop dead stunner was Gumpert Apollo – looks like a star fighter from Star Wars on wheels and costs about 700000 UKP. And ended up in the wall at Eschbach! God knows how much it cost to fix. Speaking of ending up in the wall, a hired GT3 from RSR Race Cars went into the Armco at Schwedenkreuz (one of the fastest points and a “Porsche Killer” according to Winnie), and looks like a 50,000Euro repair – one very sick feeling participant having a very expensive day at the track!

Out on the track we had masses of very quick traffic from behind – so in fact it was very good training for the 24 Hour race for us. Mostly you see them coming, but occasionally suddenly filling your mirrors unexpectedly! And many slower cars, including the odd van. The rule on tourist days is absolutely no passing on the right so slower cars must keep right and indicate right. I was very impressed with driver discipline – excellent. The only painful traffic is the bikes – most of them are much slower than the cars, poor rear visibility, some pillions(!), and think they are quicker than the cars (in straights some are, but in the twistys, no). Anyone driving a bike on the Nordschleife on tourist days needs a brain transplant – it’s so dangerous.  Most deaths on the Nordschleife are motorcyclists. Oh but it’s the car’s fault of course – usually true but it’s like saying it’s the lions fault when you get eaten after walking into his cage!

As the day progressed my confidence grew. Winnie’s technique of teaching was excellent – many many corners had lines different to what I’d expected to use and made a real difference. All up after an orientation lap, we had 3 sessions of 3 laps driving the Golf each, 1 session partnering each other in the Golf and 2 sessions passenger with Winnie in the GT3. So 20 laps around the track.

The last lap in the car with Winnie deserves special mention. He’s a very accomplished racer, absolutely loves every moment on the Nordschleife, knows the track like the back of his hand, and his car is an extension of his body. And he went for it! An unforgettable experience for me – the car was dancing across the track down the Hatzenbach, screaming over the crest at Schwedenkreaz at 240kph, hurtling down the Fox Hole, drifting through Adenau Forest, diving through the steep descent down to the Adenau bridge, absolutely flying on the approach to Bergwerk through the kink at Lauda Links and onto the long sweeping climb towards the Karussel, dropping into the craziness of the Karussel and up the steep climb to Hohe Acht, the challenge of the Wipperman S, and then the challenging ups and downs of Eschbach, Bruunchen, Pflatzgarten and though to the mini-karussel, and finally sweeping onto the long straight at Dottinger-Hohe.

This day was a day like no other in my life – going to a place I’ve dreamed about, driving a well-sorted car (the golf was brilliant), in the company of a guy like Winnie, and the prospect of more to come. Yes it was damned expensive, but it was worth every last cent!

There’s a huge challenge ahead, bring it on!




4 responses

8 05 2010

Nice read Greg.

11 05 2010
Gavin Sullivan

You jammy, jammy bugger is all I can say. I think I mentioned that the playstation wouldn’t quite cut it!
Looks like saying “enjoy” is a moot point…

12 05 2010
sarah and phil

Hampton Downs doesn’t really compare does it ?? !! :)……………..

13 05 2010

Worlds apart – not only geographically, but in every way imaginable except that both are race tracks!

Got 38 laps under my belt now – never enough but it’s starting to gel better…..

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