Nurburgring April 2018 Circuit Days

It usually happens early December during the period where this years trackdays are over and you have an eye on the upcoming year but no dates have been released. Then an email drops into your inbox from Circuit Days with “Nurburgring Trackday” in the title.

Quickly open it, check shift pattern to see if I am working and if I was supposed to be on shift, speak to my colleagues and try to arrange the time off.  

Once I know I am able to get the time off work I book the event straight away. In the last few years the trackdays at the Ring run by UK organisers always sell out as the quality tracktime vs cost argument is more widely appreciated.
Touristenfahrten were you just turn up and drive a lap with anyone else still holds a certain appeal and I completely understand that. If the Golf was still road legal I would love to do the odd TF lap whilst I’m out there. The enormous variety of cars you find the amount and amount of traffic at any one time simply doesn’t exist on trackdays. The insurance situation is only going in one direction and a German friend found out this week that his German insurance company now also excludes the Ring during TF.

As it turned out this event sold out in under 3 weeks.

Then comes the waiting and the car prep. This year I didn’t have any major upgrades planned, the cylinder head was removed to replace the valve guides as it was smoking a little, the engine was given a check over but I was delighted to report nothing was wearing out or looking fatigued. The gearbox was stripped, front diff overhauled and rebuilt and then everything put back together in anticipation of the upcoming season.

Over the last 13 years I’ve learned that living with something you think could become an issue will always end up biting you just when you don’t want it. If I have a niggling doubt about something I’ll make sure I address it when I’m at home with no time pressure rather than hoping it’ll be OK then it causing an issue whilst on a trackday which they invariably do. There are many things that you can’t forsee but good preventative maintenance is always preferable over reactive work.

My son Matt has joined me on every Nurburgring trackday for the last 3 years but this time he was unable to join me. He can’t really complain having just returned from a holiday in Mexico with his girlfriend.

That meant it was a going to be the first Father/Daughter trip with me and Cat. I could easily do these trips alone and meet up with people in Germany, but I started my trackday experience on a TF lap back in 2005 as part of a family driving / camping holiday. Since then I have always enjoyed sharing these events with my family, be that all together or individually. I’m very fortunate to not only have a hobby I enjoy, but that my wife and children do too which makes them even more enjoyable ! 

She worked out there for a couple of summers and made many friends and she’s always excited to join me on a Nurburgring trip. This time she was able to sit in the front of the X5 instead of her usual place in the back.

After the usual drive across the M62 we checking in on the Hull > Rotterdam ferry.

 

Dropped our bags off in the cabin then went into the bar for a beer. 

Mike and Gina were there and we joined them for a drink. He’s done quite a lot to his TT and was really excited about the trackday.

Shortly afterwards we met up with James  who was taking his E92 M3 across for the trackday and had a brief chat with him before enjoying a meal in the Brasserie.

 

These trip reports can take a long time to put together and we used the opportunity of the drive across Europe to make a start on the recent Spa trackday. Even though we weren’t able to finish it, I dictated whilst Cat typed it up and we were able to complete well over half of the report.

 

One of the modules Cat needed to complete for her degree was a multimedia based one. We chose a walk-around video of the pinderwagen as not only did it tick all the boxes she needed of a storyboard, script, video, editing, effects and so on, but it was something I’ve been asked about for the last few years so it wasn’t just a project that would never see the light of day.

We parked up in the overflow carpark, unloaded the Golf and recorded the necessary footage she needed. Not only do I have a new found respect for people who put together videos you see online, but standing in front of the camera and just talking whilst isn’t as easy as it looks. We had to pause recording several times as we both caught a dose of the giggles. 

I used the opportunity to snap a few photos of the Golf whilst it was parked up.

 

Once we had finished we loaded up, dropped off the trailer at the guesthouse and Ian gave us a lift up the the Lindner for the drivers briefing.

Roy, Nick and Adam were there to greet us with a smile.

“Nick, why are you looking down my daughters top?”

`Nige, I’m not, I promise, it’s just the camera that makes it look like that  !, I was blinking !` 

 

It was pretty crowded inside but fortunately the air conditioning helped keep it reasonably cool whilst Chris ran through the mandatory briefing. We all know these are a necessary evil yet people still persist in talking to each other whilst they are being given. Not only is it bloody ignorant, it means the person giving the briefing has to keep stopping to ask them to be quiet and pay attention which makes the whole ting take longer than it should.

Shut up, pay attention, get your briefing band at the end of it and leave. How hard can it be.

 

There were around 20 of us going from Northloop and as usual we met up at the Comfy Corner to chat and have a great meal. Whilst there I finally met Ash who owns a beautiful E46 with an LS3. My next project could well be something similar and as he hasn’t driven many laps of the Ring we arranged for me to drive him for a lap in his car tomorrow. Not only would he be able to pick up some pointers, but I would be able to see how I found the torquey V8 in a track car. Several people have suggested I may not like the low revving nature of the engine and that I simply must drive one before embarking on my own build.

I also had a brief chat with Martijn who I had never met before but had followed the Golf through my website and asked if he could have a lap tomorrow if I had a spare passenger seat.

 

As all the guys were talking car stuff as usual, Jude & Cat were talking about, well, car stuff !  Jude recorded the voiceover on the walkaround video I mentioned above.

 

The evening was a great success and as always, I enjoy these socialising parts of the trip almost as much as the driving. Almost….

 

Waking up and peering out of the guestroom window to a glorious spring morning at the Nurburgring when you are about to spend the day driving is one of those feelings that is hard to beat.

 

As I have said many times, we can’t change the weather and if it’s wet I’m still going to drive but it’s still a welcome sight to see a clear sky and dry tarmac.

 

I speak to Andy between trackdays and even though I had seen him a few weeks earlier at the Spa Trackday we spent some time discussing his thoughts of the Golf after his drive. He was delighted to hear I had addressed every area he had highlighted as having room for improvement.

 

Then it was time for the sighting laps. As I hadn’t done anything major since Spa apart from swapping the brake pads around to even wear and give everything a check, I only did one lap to see what track conditions were like before coming back into the pits.

 

After a quick look under the bonnet to check everything was OK and tyre pressures dropped we went out to do 3 laps on the bounce.

 

On the second lap I was up to speed and was approaching Adenauer Forst when the back end stepped out on the right hander approach. It had been absolutely fine through Aremberg and after catching the moment my immediate thought was a puncture.  Left handers were find but the rear was particularly lively when the left rear was loaded up.The brake pedal also felt a bit weird so I moved across to the right and drove down to Breidscheid where I pulled off and into the carpark.

 

Looking at the rear left and it was instantly obvious something had failed. The wheel was showing a lot of positive camber and so I waited for the recovery truck which dropped me off in the overflow carpark. This was not the start to the day that I was looking for.

 

Jacking up the car and checking for wheelbearing play suggested something wasn’t quite right. 

 

I’ve pushed out the annual front wheel bearing change to every 2 years and even then I’m not finding significant wear when I replace them. Since I started stripping the bearing and repacking them with and uprated I haven’t had a single failure, but the rears can’t be stripped and repacked. They don’t take anywhere near the same loading and since I swapped to the improved Polo rear bearings I have found they last several years then start grumbling well before they are in danger of failing. This was a new one last October and had shown zero play before the trackday and had made no noise whatsoever earlier on the lap.

After removing the wheel it was pretty obvious what had happened. The wheel bearing had completely failed. They are designed so the hub nut is larger than the bearing race so in the event of a failure like this, the hub not stops the wheel coming off the stub axle. However the wheel, bearing and disc assembly is now loose and as the tyre is loaded, it tries to fold under itself. The bearing usually stops this but as it failed the only thing keeping it vertical was the brake disc and the caliper. This puts a huge load on the disc and it simply isn’t designed to take this sort of loading. The weakest point is where the disc meets the hub and as can be seen below, this weak point failed around the entire circumference of the disc.

 

The hub nut was tight, but after removing the bearing failure was pretty obvious. The inner cage had failed, the balls had locked together and stopped rotating. They ad then overheated and simply ground themselves away whilst I was driving off the circuit.

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare Hub or rear brake disk.

No problem I thought, I’ll drive around and pick one up. Surely someone will have one. Martijn offered to come with me as he spoke far better German than I did.

 

The plan was to unhitch the trailer and take the X5, call at local garages first and if necessary make the trip to VW in Mayern.

 

Enter this selfish moron in his GT2. 

Not only had he blocked in Ian and my trailers and tow cars, but he then didn’t answer the 2 tannoy calls for him to urgently return and move his car.

I was just finishing off leaving a very snotty note on his windscreen when he returned.

After pointing out he was bloody selfish and why couldn’t he park 100 yards further away in the huge overflow carpark, he replied “what’s your problem, we’ve only been 5 minutes..”.

No you selfish prick, you’ve been over 45 minutes and we have been calling you on the tannoy to move ! 

Anyone who knows me will struggle to recall a time when I’ve lost my temper, it just never happens. But his attitude was the final straw. I lost it…

After a tirade of abuse that I’m not particularly proud of he apologised and drove off.

Cat said “Dad, I’ve never seen you like that…”

 

Calming down we unhitched the trailer and Martijn and I went looking for a rear hub and brake disc after loosing almost an hour standing around waiting for the Porsche to be moved. When you only have 7 hours of driving that is not something you want to lose because of the selfish and arrogant attitude of someone who wasn’t even on the trackday.

After calling at several garages in Nurburg we called at Manthey in the industrial estate. Even though they didn’t have one they were able to speak to a local VW garage who checked all the dealerships in a 60km radius Nobody had the parts on the shelf.

As a final stop we called into the scrapyard in Mullenbach. The guy shrugged his shoulders when we asked and said “have a look yourself”.

It only took 15 minutes before we found this Polo at the back of a line of cars at the bottom of the scrapyard.

 

A quick look at the rear and it appeared to have the rear disc assembly still attached ! (This photo is after I removed them)

 

A short walk to the X5 to fetch the necessary tools and I eventually removed the hub and disc from both sides. I took the old disc with me to double check it was the right size.

 

As we were walking back to the car Martijn asked how much I thought they were worth. I explained that in the scheme of the ferry, guest house, fuel and trackday whatever they cost was a price I’d pay, but realistically £50 per side would feel fair. He managed to get both for £80 which I was very pleased with.

 

20 minutes later we were back at the Golf and it didn’t take long at all to refit the new hub and disc then the caliper and finally the wheel.

 

Martijn had he been such a help that it was only right I took him out for a lap. Cat had been lapping with James and Ian whilst I was working on the Golf so at least she had SOME laps. negotiating, translating and helping,

 

Back on 4 wheels with the 17″ fitted to the front. I will cover them in a later post but instead of all 4 arriving in time for this trackday, Rimstock had only completed the front 2. Turns out that’s actually pretty quick service, a friend ordered some at the start of January and they still had’t arrived by the end of July.

 

It was now approaching 15:00 and I had completed a total of 1 sighting lap, 1 lap at pace and 1/2 a lap before the bearing failed.  The track conditions were absolutely perfect and everyone had been driving within their limits with no mechanical failures which meant there had been no red flags at all. That’s right, the circuit had been live from 09:00 without a single stoppage !

 

Ash had been lapping without any issue.

 

Out through the barriers and I approached T13. Instantly I noticed the difference with the steering, it was hyper sensitive and I really struggled with it. I am always smooth and relaxed, but by the end of that lap my forearms were pumped and I was tense. I’d been gripping the wheel far harder than usual and told myself I needed to relax and calm down.

 

Martijn had spent almost the entire lap laughing and clapping his hands. He loved it. It is rare to get someone so enthusiastic in the passenger seat but when I do it cheers me up no end.

 

I wasn’t sure if it was the Geo that was causing the front end to be so reactive so I added a little bit more toe in per side to reduce the sensitivity a little. Cat was still out lapping so we went and did another. The steering response was certainly dampened a little but in places I was driving by muscle memory. That isn’t to say I wasn’t concentrating, quite the opposite, but as anyone who drives knows, you instinctively know how much lock to apply when approaching a corner. After doing over 2,200 laps of the Nurburgring I definitely fall into that category but I was finding the steering response was immediate without the usual delay between turning the wheel and the car rotating and the amount of steering lock necessary was reduced.

Further thought on this points to the sidewalls. I’m running the Dunlop 235 17″ slicks that the Mini Challenge use, Dunlop recommend 9J wheels and that makes the tyre almost look stretched, where the rim is wider than the tyre. What that means is there is almost zero sidewall flex on initial turn in and that delay where the rubber deforms is massively reduced resulting is much more responsive steering.

As I’m used to fairly large steering inputs with the standard rack I use, I was turning the wheel far more than necessary simply because that’s how much I always turn it. It took me a couple of laps to realise that but over those 2 laps I ran over more kerbs by accident than I have done in years !

Since this trackday I tried some 8J wheels on the front and that made a significant difference, giving a responsive front end but not quite so sensitive as the 9″ rims. I need to drive a bit more on both the 8J and 9J wheels before deciding what to run next year, but I’m leaning towards 8J all round.

 

Back into the carpark and I was looking for Cat to take her out on a lap. She was in with James and he asked if I fancied a couple of laps, one where he followed me, the other where I followed him. Cat was happy to sit in the M3 for more laps and Martijn needed no convincing to stay in the Golf.

 

I haven’t mentioned it before but the cameras were playing up yet again. Turns out the latest firmware ‘upgrade’ was a backwards step and caused corruption. Do they not check these things before release ??

Anyway as a result , I only have this footage from the afternoon, of James behind me and then me following James

 

Afterwards both he and Cat commented how the Golf seemed much livelier than usual, I replied that if they thought that from following, they should sit in the passenger seat ! 

I didn’t have time to keep adjusting the Geo so refitted the 15″ wheels for the last half hour of the day. With the impact gun it only takes minutes and I needed a drink anyway.

Cat still wasn’t around as she had gone out with Ian for another lap. After issues previous years he was delighted that the day finished with not a single problem.

 

Mike had apparently being lapping all day and he was certainly buzzing afterwards when I spoke to him.

 

I took Rob Harrison out for a lap instead. I think he enjoyed it, but it was hard to tell as he’s one of those ‘quiet’ passengers I sometimes get. The car behaved exactly as I expected on the 15’s so I knew it was a sidewall or offset issue causing the sensitive steering on the 17`s. Something that needed a bit more investigation but today wasn’t the day.

I had time for one more lap and I drove round the carpark looking for Ian so I could let Cat get into the Golf. They had stayed out for a second lap and I wasn’t sure if they would be back in time before the day ended. Roy was stood there with helmet in hand and I asked if he wanted to come out with me.

“Sure, in all these years, I still haven’t done a lap at speed with you yet”. Roy lives in Germany and not only drives the Ring regularly but instructs on most trackdays out there. I used to get a little apprehensive and overdrive when an instructor sat next to me but it doesn’t bother me anymore and I can usually drive as I normally would. The lap was going well, it was very clear and the car was driving and handling just as I wanted. Existing Weirseifen I felt a slight stutter and the AFR gauge flickered lean. Initially I wondered what was wrong, then a glance and the almost empty fuel gauge answered that question. In my haste to get some laps in, I forgot to add more fuel 

“Er Roy, we need to trundle back in 5th, otherwise I’ll run out of Fuel….” Doh.

 

That ended the driving for the day. The chequered flag came out and the trackday was over. Spa a few weeks before was fantastic but the weather conditions less so. This time the weather was perfect but the car let me down. If it had been the front wheel, I had a spare with me but as the rears have been so robust since changing to this type I didn’t have one with me. Obviously I now carry a replacement hub and disc in my box of spares, although that usually means I’ll never need it.

Frustrating ? Yes of course it was . This was a single day event which meant I had no opportunity to drive tomorrow. That was something I was aware of on the drive across but to have such perfect track conditions with no stoppages and as much clear lapping as you wanted only to miss several hours trying to find a part to fix the car made it worse. If it had been raining and full of Red flags I wouldn’t be sat here feeling like I missed out on such amazing tracktime.

 

Back to the Guesthouse for a quick shower and change then we walked up into Nurburg with Ian & Jude for a meal. They had reserved a table at a restaurant but when we arrived we found they were closed ! Brilliant.

Decided to go to the Pistenklause, we haven’t been for several years but we always have a decent meal there even if it is a bit pricey. Jorg had the night off and joined us for the evening. It was great to be able to spend some time with him having a drink and talking about life. When he is at the CC he’s working and only gets the time to quickly say Hi and then he’s back in the kitchen. 

We even touched on Brexit but the old adage about not discussing Politics or Religion is something I tend to follow so we didn’t stay on that topic or long 

 

During the meal a guy walked past in a Porsche jacket. Jude said “That guy really looks like Mark Webber.. hang on a minute it is !!” She’s a big fan of his but he was out having a meal with colleagues and so she left him alone and didn’t pester him for a photo. She certainly thought about it..

The next morning I took the Golf off the trailer, replaced all the spares and tyres on the rack then strapped it back down.

 

After doing some shopping in Adenau we had a steady drive across Holland to the Ferry where we met up with James again and had a good discussion about our laps. We both know our cars are capable of going quicker than they did on the trackday but he was getting used to the car and I was just happy to do some laps. Next time we will make sure we do some more sessions in convoy with Sam in his E46, should make for some epic lapping 

What about the lap in the E46 LS3 ? Well one of the biggest disappointments of the trip was missing out on the opportunity to get a lap with Ash then drive his car. It was something we have discussed for some time and I thought everything had aligned to make it happen but sadly it just wasn’t to be. There will always be another time, I’m not planning to start my next project for a while yet but it is always nice to have some extra data when planning these things.

 

Only completing 7 laps on a trackday is never going to be classed as a huge success, my luck on the Circuit Days trackdays at the Nurburgring hasn’t exactly been great, which is obviously nothing Chris and the team can affect !. After not managing any laps at all in 2016 and then the wastegate falling off in 2017, I suppose things could have been worse. I’m hopeful I can make their event in October this year and if so, I’ll be taking as many spares as I can.

Just in case.