A Special Trip to The Ring
Over the second weekend in September Jonner and Myself were given the opportunity to join some of our European S2000 friends and experience the S2000 as it was intended, on the world famous Nürburgring Nordschleife. This was suggested by Kotaro Yamamoto with the aim of experiencing the Ring as it should be. With over 1000 laps of the Ring under his belt and many of those as part of the Honda factory team, Ko was the perfect person to show us the ropes.
Leaving Dublin early on Tuesday morning we had a nice sunny spin down to Rosslare. A quick car wash and top up the fuel tank and we boarded the ferry for a 20 hour sailing to Cherbourg France. Little did we know that the next time we would see sunshine would be on Thursday. From the second we left the port torrential rain, standing water and French toll roads, meant that the next 800 km were slow progress.
Reaching the border of Germany the weather cleared and our pace picked up. Albeit with the help of Autobahns and a chance meeting with a Belgian registered RS Megane. It wasn’t long before the Eifel Mountain roads were calling almost as loud are our beds. A quick stop for dinner in the PistenKlause restaurant in Nurburg finished off a long day. Thursday morning brought bright sunny skies and it was time to start the days top down adventures. A Visit to the Nurburgring welcome centre showed the latest of Ring branded products, everything from jewelry, hats, jackets and toasters. After discovering that the giant roller coaster that passes through several buildings would not be open, we headed out to look at the Nordschleife.
Our first vantage point of the track was the parking area at Brunnchen. Standing on the large clay banking gives a perfect view of this downhill left into right to a short straight then a long uphill opening right hander. The severity of these hills are not realised until your inside a car. For minutes before any cars arrive the woodlands around the track are engulfed with the sound of screeching tyres and engines on full rev. The first car to make an appearance was the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG. This 560bhp monster looks so composed it does not portray its outright speed. Its only when seen from the main straight that the earth really shakes as it passes. Mercedes engineers pushed it hard for several laps until it finally retired mid way along the main straight and needed to be removed by recovery truck.
We then moved on to a part of the track called the Pflanzgarten. This almost straight set of downhill bends end in a major dip before long uphill right hander. The dip is almost invisible from outside the track and was only really brought to my attention by the sound of a S600 Mercedes hitting its bumpstops under heavy braking. We stayed for a while and watched the same 15 Porsche, BMW and Mercedes test mules getting pushed to the limit.
The sound of this was incredible!!
I think the test drivers body language says allot here
As the evening approached and the hunger increased, it was time to return to the hotel and meet the rest of our group. The amazing thing about the S2000 family is how far spread its members are, and this family meeting was no different. Our group consisted of S2000 fanatics from Japan, Italy, Portugal and of course Ireland. Some of these I had met and Euromeet and some from my trip to Japan for the S2000 final production tour. Featuring 8 S2000s 2 of which were final production Ultimate Editions and a full rally spec K20 on ITBs Civic.
Greetings exchanged and dinner at a traditional German restaurant finished, our thoughts turned to the plan for the next couple of days. We would be divided into 2 groups with the drivers of the second group being passengers as the first group do their laps. The next morning was a relaxed start, as an historic race car meeting were using the track until 2pm. We arrived to the track just after midday and settled in for our driver briefing over lunch. We were to receive driving instructions by following Ko with 1st driver team of 5 cars for 5 laps. After each lap 1st car would return to last position. We also had radios and Ko would point out all braking, turn in points and apexs for each corner.
With lunch over the radios and Ring cards were distributed. Each Ring card containing 25 laps for the Green Hell. Last minute checks made, the engines warm and seat belts locked tight we made our way to the barrier. A quick swipe of the Ring card and the barrier lifted. What followed can only be described as a living computer game and I was caught in the middle. As we built up speed heading into the first corner a routine developed of checking mirrors for faster cars, while trying to catch a glimpse of the correct braking point and entry line. This was difficult to say the least, but when you have motorbikes capable of 180mph on the straights, but cornering 20mph slower than a car it gets very intense.
The first few laps were somewhere in the 50% range and more for scouting reasons than anything else. But as we started to settle into a rhythm the pace increased and we were soon entering corners carrying over 50kph more than before. This increase in pace helped somewhat in reducing the amounts of cars overtaking us and at one stage we had 5 S2000s and 2 911s picking out the racing line from corner to corner. Being a tourist day the Ring was a busy as ever and the sunny weather had brought as many spectators as drivers. It was a strange sight to see so many people enjoying the sights and sounds and taking photos as we passed.
Unfortunately when the Ring is mentioned the word accident is usually close in the conversation, and this time was no different. At several points around the track were stranded cars after loosing control and hitting the barriers. On more than one occasion we witnessed paramedics attending bikers who had become unstuck. Their twisted bikes being loaded onto recovery trucks. These sights drive home the feeling of just how unforgiving this piece of tarmac is.
This photo was taken while waiting for the track to reopen after the 5th biker accident of the day.
After 5 laps we pull back into the car park and allowed the cars to cool, 5 continuous laps of the Ring in heavy traffic can take its toll on both the car and driver. The break allowed for discussion of correct lines and more information on braking and turn in points and the most vital of all, a toilet break. It was now time for Jonner to take the wheel. It was the same procedure as before, with the second driver returning to the end after each lap. After the 3rd lap the heavens opened and with the wipers on full tilt We decided to give a wet lap ago. Although this was without a doubt the slowest lap of the weekend, it gave us a perfect look at the track without the pressure constantly checking the mirrors. For the entire lap only 6 cars passed us, each leaving a dry line for us to follow. Having taken our time and studied the track for standing water and unsure where the rest of the group had gone we returned to find a large amount of the cars and drivers had left for the evening.
Ko taking the K20 Civic for a quick lap
A quick regroup and we ventured onto the track again. This time Jonner took the opportunity to take a passenger lap with Ko. The rain had stopped but the track was very wet in places. There was allot less traffic now, even with our greatly reduced pace we were not overtaken as often. One car that overtook me and I will never forget, was a BMW 330D estate with four on board. It passed me 100 metres before turning into a quick set of uphill S bends. Entering the first left hand section I noticed that the driver was beginning to feed in opposite lock. He held this slide until the exit of the corner, at which point he ran out of both traction and talent. In the space of a heart beat it spun 180 degrees and was starting to slide backwards towards the grass and barrier. I instantly hit the brakes, which is unwise in an S2000 on wet roads. I could feel the weight transfer forwards and the rear end started sliding right. I knew this could be big trouble and I fed in opposite lock as fast as I could. The driver of the BMW was staring at me and I could see the colour drain from his passengers faces. The back was sliding out quickly and I felt a thud as the steering reached full lock right. I came off the brakes, the pendulum effect took hold and the rear started in the opposite direction. now on full lock left and with a slight touch of throttle and I began to turn this unexpected slide into an unwanted drift. I could see the BMW entering the grass as I passed the apex of the second bend. Back in shape and slowly accelerating down the next straight two things came to into my mind. The first was an Italian S2000 that was only 5 metres behind me the whole time and the second was how quickly the ring can turn the most harmless looking cars, into serious situations. From that point on I fully understood the term Green Hell. The remainder of the lap was a a slower pace with allot more caution, this was to be our last lap of friday evening. We returned to the hotel and after a quick change it was out for dinner. Friday nights dinner was at an Italian restaurant and the discussion over dinner ranged from the Ring, to physics to how much sugar one man can tolerate on an Ice cream sundae!!.
Saturday began with breakfast and a quick fuel stop on the way to the entrance gate. The crowds were allot larger than Fridays and parking close to the gate was at a premium. As Fridays second session was cut short due to the rain, it was decided that the second group would go first. This meant Jonner was driving for the morning. With all the pre lap checks of tyre pressures, oil and fluid levels complete, we lined up for the off. The traffic was allot heavier than Fridays, but with a few laps under his belt Jonners pace and confidence was increasing nicely. As the queues of cars were so great, the marshals brought a mobile barrier out on the track. This meant there was no reason to leave the track to swipe the Ring card and begin another lap. After a few laps I began to notice an increase in rear bump steer under heavy braking. I didn’t seem to be affecting Jonners pace so we continued on, but I kept a close eye on it. After another lap or so it became more pronounced and before I could mention it Jonner was exiting a corner at 175 kmph on opposite lock. After a brief discussion we decided to leave exit the track to investigate. A quick inspection showed that a rear toe arm ball joint was failing and allowing the rear right wheel up to 5 mm of lateral movement.
This ended my cars participation, but it also afforded us the opportunity to take passenger rides with other drivers. While standing in the car park chatting we were approached by a guy from Kerry, who had heard our accents and came over to say hi. After chatting for a while he offered us a passenger seat in his striped and caged DC2 Honda Integra Type R. As I was still debating a repair or replace strategy for my car Jonner jumped at the chance. A short while later while I was chatting to the Portugese mechanics he arrived back with a big look of ” That F%*kos crazy” in his eyes and a large grin on his face. It was getting near lunch time and we decided to leave the madness of the Ring and go try a small village restaurant a short distance away. The sun was shining and the silence was punctuated every so often by the sound of exotica making its way to the Ring. It really is hard to imagine a better place for petrol heads than the Eiffel mountains in summer time.
After a nice relaxing lunch I was delighted by the chance to sit as a passenger with Ko. These laps were a real eye opener and I was amazed that over the first 8km until we got separated by at an accident a Porsche 911 996 Turbo could not pull more than a few car lenghts on us. To see the reflection of your own face in the tail gate of an Audi RS4+ avant, as it moved out of our way made me burst into laughter. It was incredible to see the capabilities of this little naturally aspirated roadster in the right hands. What made it more amusing was only feet behind us were 3 crazy Italians. The only cars to pass us within those 3 laps were a handful of GT3 and GT2 911s. Needless to say when sitting in the presence of such driving talent, what you think you know about driving and what you actually know undergo massive reevaluation. I will be grateful to Ko for a long time for giving me the opportunity to sit with him. As the evening drew to a close one of our Italian friends developed a charging issue with his alternator. This meant the Italian group need to leave early for the hotel in Frankfurt while there was still day light. We said our goodbyes to them and Ko and went to visit the Portuguese as they loaded the cars onto a transporter for the journey home.
As everyone headed off we made our way to the Devils diner and got some dinner. The last of the later lappers were making their way off the track and the marshals were closing the car parks. We headed back to the hotel with the intention of getting an early night. But before long the calling of the mountain roads was to much, it was time to burn some midnight oil. The Eiffel Mountains have some really great roads woven across them and we covered about 100 miles before we finally returned to the hotel.
The next morning after breakfast we checked out of the hotel and made one last stop off at the parking area at Brunnchen. It was difficult to get parking as the car park was completely full. Everything from Vintage motorcycles to Luxury camper-vans fill all available spaces. All sorts of race cars from the 60’s to the late 80’s were out in the class groupings on parade laps and not holding back. It was almost a festival atmosphere as people set up their barbeques and children cycled bicycles and walked dogs as there parents took photos and waved flags at the passing convoys. Just after midday we saddled up for our trip back. The sun was shining so it was top down and tunes up, all the way to the Belgian border. As we entered Belgium it seemed like mother nature decided to see how much water you can get into an S2000. The heavens opened and we pulled over to put up the roof and dry off. After only a couple of minutes we set off again at a slower pace as the motorways were beginning to flood quite badly. This weather continued until 20 miles before Dunkirk.
This little fellow wasn’t so excited
We reached the ferry terminal just as the last car entered the 4pm ferry, so we had to wait till 6pm for the next one. As we waited to board the rows of cars began to grow around us. The amount of ring stickers began to build also. DC2’s, M5’s and M3s all had that tell tale ring sticker to indicate its colourful motoring history. One car that caught my eye for 2 reasons was a Citroen DS. The first reason was its incredible condition and the second was it had parked behind me on the ramp, and I prayed its brakes were in equally good condition. Car chocked and secured we were off to find our seats for the sailing in the VIP lounge. Having made this sailing several times and stood in the endless queues for burnt leftovers I figured it was better to pay the extra money for seats and a decent meal and it proved to be a wise decision. The ferry was packed and when we finally found the VIP lounge We sat in reclining chairs while a waiter took our order. After a long drive it was really enjoyable sailing and it was a welcome change getting a good meal and plenty of leg room.
The trip from Dover to Holyhead was the usual rain soaked flooded motorway affair. We arrived just after the 10pm boat had sailed so again we found ourselves with a 2 hour wait. We were both worn out from the journey, I was tired from driving while constantly monitoring the condition of the rear suspension. Jonner was wrecked from his 4 hour long Elvis impersonation all the way from London. Needless to say neither of us were awake long enough on the Holyhead-Dublin crossing to make comment on the conditions. Off the ferry just after 6am on Monday morning and it was a quick dash down the Quays to drop Jonner off. Then on to the M50 before the traffic and home like a man on a mission. Its extremely hard to adhere to 30kmph speed limits on motorway junctions after traveling on Autobahns for a few days. But needless to say I made it home to bed in a legal and timely fashion.
A decent few hours sleep and it was up to change the engine, gearbox and diff oils and filters, check the brake pads and replace the failing rear bearing. I find these sort of jobs of great reward and a kind of thank you to my S2000 for a great job well done. Thinking back over that weekend, yet again I’m amazed by the power of the S2000 community. The enjoyment of meeting friends that you haven’t seen in a while and pleasure of making new friends, all while sharing a common motoring passion at the worlds greatest racing circuit.
I’d really like to thank Ko for making this great idea a reality and I honestly can’t wait for the next one!!!
An original write up by leftfootbraking
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