Euro Meet 2009 Revisited – Part One
The 2009 Easter weekend saw S2000s from all over Europe assemble for EuroMeet 2009 in Trento, Italy, a town nestled just south of the Italian Alps. This was an event organized within the S2KI community, including the significant local organization by S2K Italia Club and the UK community. More than 220 S2000 owners from Europe participated in this event that was also graced by the presence of Shigeru Uehara. For all the participants, getting to EuroMeet 2009 was as much fun as the meet itself, as the journey involved several border crossings and driving through mountain passes with scenic vistas in view. Lest memories of the event fade, our member leftfootbraking took it upon himself to write an account of EuroMeet 2009 on its second anniversary. We shall feature his account in three parts over the next few days and hope you will enjoy reading it as well as realize that our community is all about the quality of our members, not just an internet board.
leftfootbraking on EuroMeet 2009: I suppose part of these ramblings are just my way of showing that finding the right car at the right time can lead to some crazy adventures. Having spent some time looking at AE86s, Skylines etc I started looking at the Honda S2000. It was never my intention to buy a convertible, but two things stirred my interest. The first was I’d never owned a car with a 50:50 weight distribution and secondly I’d fallen in love with the amazing F20c engine, when using them in rally cars at uni. Like most people searching for the right car, I spent several long days and nights viewing cars and researching online. Eventually I found the one for me and joined S2KUK. S2KUK has a sub forum on S2Ki.com, where S2000 fans and owners worldwide share tales and tech tips. The timing of my purchase just happened to be 3 days before the sign up deadline for EuroMeet. This was a meeting of S2000 owners for its 10th anniversary in Trento, Italy, over the Easter weekend of April 2009. Having discussed it with the few Irish S2000 owners I met online, I decided I’d sign up and see what happened. Never in my life could I have imagined the craziness that I had let myself in for.
As the time for Euromeet approached the hype online was building. With over 70 cars making the trip from the UK, many had decided to make a weeklong trip through Europe. Being the only Irish car to make the trip and only being able to leave Ireland late on the Wednesday night, I was playing catch up. Having gotten the 9pm sailing from Dublin getting to Holyhead about 12:30am and due to catch the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk at 7am, things looked ok. That was until we got to Holyhead and some passengers that had gotten drunk and abandoned their vehicles delayed everyone getting off the boat by almost an hour. I finally got to the A55 just after 1:30am. Originally I was to pick up my co-pilot, Adam in southwest London at 5am, but due to the delay and having never visited his house before it was 5:20am when I got there. By the time he was out of bed, packed and ready to go it was 5:55am and we were due to check in for the boat at 6:15am. The rain was pounding down and it was a rude awakening for Adam, but we made it to Dover just as the last cars loaded. The sun broke through the clouds as we docked in France, and it was to stay that way for the entire journey.
I had made arrangements to meet up with some of the UK contingent in Ulm Germany on Thursday evening only a leisurely 800km drive away. By lunchtime and having already covered 800km with fatigue setting in it was time for Adam to take the wheel. Once he had settled into driving an unfamiliar car on the wrong side of the road I started to relax, and actually nodded off for a few minutes. My sleep was short lived as just outside Antwerp I was brought back to life by Adam shouting “F**K Tom Cops!!!” over the sound of sirens. My eyes instantly opened already pointing in the direction of the speedo, we were doing 140kmph in a 100kmph zone. “This is gonna be good” I thought as I swivelled in the passenger seat to see were the sirens were coming from. Coming up in the outside lane at a serious speed were 2 unmarked commercial Toyota Landcruisers. As they flew passed us I slumped back in the seat and the colour returned to Adams face. Needless to say there was no sleep to be had after that rude awakening. We took our driving in shifts and drove a tank of fuel each, changing drivers at each filling station and kept it that way until I dropped Adam back off in London. It was 8pm when we arrived into Ulm, rolling into the hotels underground car park the excitement grew as we spotted 8 other S2000s parked up for the night. After covering almost 1700kms since I left home I needed 2 things, dinner and a sound nights sleep.
The next morning a trip to the car before breakfast found a note attached to my windscreen, it was from Andy who was the organiser of the group we had met up with. The note was an invite to an early morning group photo shoot in the courtyard outside the hotel. As the courtyard barriers were removed the early morning silence was shattered. At the end of the ramp were 9 S2000s awakening from their over night slumbers, growling into life and settling into a cold idle that echoed through the under ground concrete cave. My spine started to tingle and my heart was pounding, “This is some way to wake up in the morning,” I thought. This was my first real experience of the intoxicating spirit of the S2000 and that unforgettable sensation would be multiplied 100 fold over the coming days. We were just finished lining up across the courtyard, as 3 more S2000s arrived. 1 was an English couple, Jonathan and Elaine and 2 were German S2000 owners, Erik and Francis. While greetings and introductions were still in progress and the laughter was growing, the cameras sprung into action.
With the size of the original group nearly doubling overnight it was decided to split into 3 groups of 4 cars and meet just short of the Austrian border. Our group was the late arrivals, consisting of Jonathan and Elaine, Erik and Francis. We happily let Erik lead the way, allowing us to retire our SatNav for a few hours and enjoy the view as the sunlit Alps crept into sight. It wasn’t long before we got to our rendezvous point and I began the hunt for some Austrian road tax called a Vignette. When we returned Erik was making some calls and was consulting a map spread across the bonnet of his car. As we approached he lifted his head and looking in our direction said ” What do you guys want to do?” my instant answer was ” What’s our options?” Erik pointed to the map replying, ” We are here and we need to get here” pointing to Trento ” So we can go this way, but its boring” tracing a motorway along the map with his finger ” Or this way” pointing to a mountain pass.
Having spent the previous day driving on endless motorways the words “mountain pass” was all I needed to hear. Both Erik and Francis began to develop a devilish grin upon hearing my response; I knew then that I had made the right decision. Jonathan started to smile straight way upon hearing the plan. Erik pointed to a small town on the map just at the base of the Alps, “My friends are stopping for lunch here, if we pick up the pace we can join them” he said. Within minutes we were waving goodbye to the others and our little Hondas began to stretch their legs. Unlike Irish roads German country roads are flat, smooth and aren’t hedge or tree lined. This makes a huge difference to visibility and confidence when travelling at speed. It also means exhaust noises travels allot further, as we found out much to my surprise. Our little convoy was quickly settling into an up-tempo rhythm and confidence and trust was growing between us. Rounding an opening left-hander on the exit of an over pass bridge, our progress came to an immediate halt.
Standing in the centre of the road brandishing a table tennis bat with the words “HALT POLIZEI” and a holstered handgun, was a plan clothes policewoman. With a quick glance at our registration plates, she called Erik and Francis to the side of the road. Not really having a clue where we were going or what was happening, Jonathan and myself had no choice but to join them. Our confusion grew as we were approached by one of her colleagues whose only words in English were “Passports Please”. Having collected passports from everyone he returned to an unmarked Audi estate and picked up the police radio. One by one he opened each passport reading its details into the microphone, then placing them on the dashboard. After 20 minutes of watching 2 more officers remove the interior of an Opel Astra and placing the carpets and door panels in a pile on the roadside, the door of the Audi opened. Approaching with a smile the officer handed back our passports and walked away. I could hear Erik’s car starting and barely above idle merge back onto the roadway. I’m still not entirely sure what went on at the roadside, but I know for sure they knew about our arrival minutes before we knew about them.
A short while later and with the Alps towering above us we pulled into a small village were Erik and Francis’s friends were waiting for us. Smiles and cheers greeted us as we entered the restaurant; these guys were obviously making fun of our late arrival. Their laughter increased as Erik explained about our earlier encounter with the Police. We sat at a table by the window that could easily have seated 12 people yet seemed to be the smallest in the room. The waitress passed out menus that Erik and Francis kindly, yet almost automatically translated for us. Lunch time on a Friday, surrounded by fellow petrol heads and some of the finest roads I’d ever driven, meant only one thing, steak and what a steak it was!! It had barely found its way to my stomach when we were on the road again. This time our convoy was over a dozen cars and Erik explained that if the convoy gets separated the last car of the main group waits at a junction or turn off until the delayed cars catch up. This way it never takes to long to reform the convoy.
Instantly it was obvious that this particular group of friends had spent along time driving together, their pace was fast moving in tight and equally spaced formation. Sitting at the rear of the biggest S2000 convoy I’d ever laid eyes on was some sight to behold. As we got further into the mountain passes the sound of screaming Vtecs was exhilarating!! The adrenalin was ripping through my veins with every tunnel we entered. The exhaust notes at such a volume that my chest was vibrating. Suddenly the noise stopped and we could see a border checkpoint. I had no idea of our chosen route but I knew it wouldn’t be long at the rate we were going before the Swiss police would have us all in custody. Slowing to a crawl we approached the security hut, the official standing to one side just gave a nod of his head to signal we may pass. We drove through the barrier and were into an automotive danger zone. The Swiss do not tolerate any type of motoring misbehaviour let alone a loud high powered convoy of our size that was intent on it. We turned left and crossed a bridge over a river with barely a sound between us. Turing left again we drove straight through another border post and suddenly I realised we were heading back into Austria. Within seconds the air was engulfed with the sound of 13 Vtec engines changing gears at 9000rpm. It was like a tollbooth drag race only up hill and the noise made the border guard turn so fast he almost fell over. My heart rate rocketed and I noticed straight away that the groups driving style was completely different. The gaps between each car were closed to only a matter of metres, and braking was left to the very last second. Driving as fast as I could I tried to keep an eye on the taillights of Erik’s cars. We quickly found out why the group had such a sudden burst of enthusiasm.
This road was incredible!! The German guys had plotted their entire route around driving it and have driven it on several occasions. I believe it was part of an annual Alpine pilgrimage that they hold. It was what I’d always imagined Alpine passes to be like, hairpin bend followed by a straight allowing for full revs in 4th gear and back into another hairpin bend. The whole thing covered in flawless tarmac and trimmed with Armco barriers that held us back from massive drops. I honestly wasn’t expecting the pace at which the entire group took off and it was only for a H2 Hummer that slowed them enough for me to catch up. But not for long, I was more prepared for the next stage and found it allot easier to follow someone than to try cold read a strange road. Sitting on the wrong side of the car for overtaking made this type of driving a team event. Adams ability to spot passing opportunities and gauge both my reaction time and the cars acceleration was undergoing constant re-calibration. Within minutes his pace notes were coming thick and fast, our trust was building to a new level and it was paying off.
One thing that surprised me about this road was how little traffic it had, I’m guessing it was about 10km long and we only passed one car. Not that I was arguing as traffic was the least of my concerns. Just as we started to find our rhythm things came to a sudden halt, we had reached the summit and the road began to level out. We came to a stop similar to fighter jets landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Each car arriving to a standstill within half a second of last and returning to relaxed idle outside a hotel that looked like a log cabin style mansion. Along the front was a large balcony with people sitting enjoying an early evening drink in the glorious sunshine. As our group sat at the road side the balcony began to fill with tourists taking our photographs and the sound of children’s laughter got louder as they pushed each other for the best vantage point. Inside my car both Adam and I were silent, it was a sensory overload. The mixture of fresh mountain air, the smell of tyres, clutches and brakes all in various levels of distress and fatigue brought on by hours of fast driving in 30+ degree heat, had us speechless.
We started to hear the front cars move off and as I gathered my thoughts it sped off passed us in the direction we had just come from. “Don’t tell me he’s lost” I said, as he was closely followed by the rest of the group. The spectators on the balcony cheered the departure of cars each one rubbing the rev limiter as they left. Turning in the gate of the hotel I took a deep breath as I tried to recall the exact combination of bends I’d just driven in reverse order. In Ireland our mountain roads are not really steep enough to notice the difference in a cars weight. But entering the first corner, I could feel our extra weight pushing me on. Loaded with every tool, spare part and manual I thought I would need for any emergency roadside repairs, we were easily 130kg heavier than most. The first thing to go was the brakes. The horrible realisation that pedal force was not being translated into stopping power came as we went deep into a right hand hairpin bend. Our only saviour was how fast our German friends who were 5 deep at the time cleared the corner. This allowed me to use more than my fair share of road. A minute or so later Adam announced the clutch was starting to stink, but I already knew it was starting to feel the strain. The sight of a VW transporter slowed everyone enough for my brakes to make a very welcome return. It didn’t take long for the entire group to pass it and continue at its previous pace. Arriving back to the border checkpoint, we were welcomed with the glare of a china shop owner staring at a bull through his window. I think our laughter didn’t help, as they knew what we had done, and the fact we knew they could do nothing about it made it twice as funny.
For the remainder of our journey to Trento our original fast moving formation resumed. The tight mountain roads over hung by boulders and edged with shear drops of several hundred meters were soon replaced by open fenceless roads as we swept through an enormous valley floor. These open roads allowed our pace to jump another 10% without fuss and it was only because I required petrol that we eventually fell away from the rest. When Francis found the nearest petrol station he pulled in and waited for us to refuel before leading the way the remaining few kilometres into Trento. S2k Italia who had organised the event along with some members of S2KUK had booked 7 hotels that surrounded lake Levico just at the base of the Italian Alps. Situated on one corner of the lake on a three-legged roundabout, these hotels would be our home for the weekend. Having been amazed by the sight of 9 S2000s in an underground car park or 13 parked outside a small village restaurant in the Alps, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. We rounded a corner and cruised along the lakeside road towards the hotels. Getting closer we started to realise the scale of this event. 230 S2000s from 13 countries had travelled to this small lakeside resort for a magical motoring weekend. It was bumper-to-bumper, mirror-to-mirror road and footpath S2000s, every colour and combination of interior was present. We craned our necks trying to take it all in, while also trying to find our hotel. Some of the Italian S2000 owners were standing at the roundabout directing traffic and beckoned us to keep moving up the hill to a large car park.
We parked up and strolled back down towards Hotel Florida were members of S2KUK had begun to check in. The entire drive to the rear of the hotel was full of UK registered S2000s all neatly reversed up to the boundary fence. We checked in and were given our itineraries for the weekend and our official Euromeet passes. After we found our room I had a quick look around for any remaining parking spaces. Every last spot was taken, but the hotels owner noticing my problem called me over. A combination of my Italian and his English made us quickly resort to sign language. He motioned for me follow him as he led the way down by the swimming pool towards a tennis court. He opened the gate of the tennis court and pointed inside. The look of confusion on my face made him grasp an invisible steering wheel with both hands and turn it wildly, and then he quickly pointed back into the tennis court. I nodded, shook his hand and thanked him.
To Be Continued…