I should have completed this a while ago, I blame the kids……This years Ring trip was set to be different from the other I had done before. Previously I have always driven my own car or a friend’s, but seeing as my friend (Al) that I usually go with was already on Euro driving trip I set off with another friend (Nath) in his trusty Skoda Fabia VRS, Al would join us on the Saturday. I decided that renting a car was the way ahead for this year, I would of course love to take the C63 but it’s no track car and simply would not do what I wanted on the Nordschleife, not to mention the wear on the car (£££).
The trip was to be shorter than usual, Friday night ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, Saturday travelling to Nurburg, show Nath around the area, rendevzous with Al and Cristina in his M135i then maybe a couple of tourist laps on the evening. Collect a rental car on the Sunday morning then spend from 08:00-19:00 lapping, Monday back to the ferry in Rotterdam, home on Tuesday morning. This schedule would obviously involve plenty of the Pistenklaus’s finest steak and the sweet sweet Bitburger. The plan behind the shorter trip was hoping for a quieter time with it only open for one full day (wishful thinking, I know!).There are a number of rental companies who operate at the Nurburgring offering a large range of cars, Renault Twingos/ Suzuki Swifts right through to McLaren MP4-12C/991 GT3 RS. I was aiming for something to the lower middle mainly for cost but also my thinking was I would rather have something FWD incase of the weather turning bad as we only had one full day. After looking at many many options it was clear that something around a Renault Megane RS265/VW Golf GTi/VW Scirocco was what suited my budget but I also wanted a RHD car, the last thing I want to waste time doing is getting used to LHD again and the car on the opening laps. This made the deicision quite simple as RHD are only offered by RSR Nurburg a very well known rental company in Nurburg with a huge selection of cars and a very solid repuation. I called RSR and spoke to Ray Shepherdson to discuss the options, the only two cars available in RHD were the Megane RS265 and a Porsche Cayman GTS, as much as I would have loved to rent a GTS the Megane was the best option for me. The conversation moved onto discussing the Ring, driving on the Ring, tyres, different ways to drive on the Nordschleife (ie trackday v public days) and so on. One thing that certainly helps when making decisions on what car and what company is speaking to people who know the circuit and people who understand what driving the Nordschleife is all about, this without doubt inspires confidence. I booked a RHD Megane RS265 for the all inclusive package (makes more sense and is easier for you on the day) for 10 laps (maybe 12 depending on how the day goes). Tyres, I tried a couple of different “track” tyres before on the Nurburgring on the Clio, Toyo R888s and Yoko A048s, granted they were not back to back comparisons (I prefered the 888s, by the smallest of margins) but I am quite used to the feeling and grip level of track tyres. During my discussions with RSR I had asked what tyre the Megane would come on, Ray said that they used standard Pirelli P Zero on all the cars due to the unpredictable weather and novice drivers to try and ensure the cars remained intact, this is clearly sound thinking (if you are not sure it is then just watch videos in the wet from Kallenhard). I expressed to Ray that I would really like to use “sticky” tyres if it was an option, he said that they do have a couple of sets of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres that he could fit to the car if the weather was showing signs of staying dry, perfect I thought, driving a wet Nordschleife on sticky tyres is not my idea of fun either (especially with a huge excess to pay). This is a good example of a company listening to its customers and offering to tailor their service to the individual, great service, however it left me praying to the weather Gods for no rain! It seemed a little odd that there was no prep required for a car before the trip, obviously I am used to a trip to the Nurburgring involving weeks if not months of trips to various garages for parts to be fitted, brake and suspension tweeks and general over cautious maintenance (always worked pretty well but cost plenty to do it right). Preparation for this trip was like a beautiful dream, the only serious thinking was given to charging batteries for the cameras and what shirt I thought was the luckiest for the weather! This was a certain plus point for renting over driving your own car.
The journey to Nurburg went without a problem, we stopped at the Venlo McDonalds of course and arrived in Nurburg at about 14:00. We were staying at the Hotel Burgstube/Lindenhof rather than at the usual, hotels were in short supply as the Blainpain Endurance series was racing on the GP circuit on both Saturday and Sunday hence the change, but I’m always happy to try another place. We got checked in and went to watch the RCN race that was on the Nordschleife as Nath had not seen any of the viewing areas on the track, we went to the Brunchen and then onto the Wipperman to wait for Al to arrive (previous times this has been a long drawn out affair). The RCN race was ok to watch, as it is a race based on consistent lap times as opposed to actual position. The action was not in the same league as a VLN race (which is epic!) but there were a fair few cars pressing on and it was entertaining to watch.The track was scheduled to open at 17:30 until 19:00 after the RCN race was finished, as we went up to the track we decided to all go out in Al’s car for a lap to introduce Nath and Cristina to the Nordschleife, typically Al found the temptation to drive quickly too hard to resist, what a surprise! We planned to take the Skoda for a lap but as is all to common as we started to think about getting a ticket the horn sounded and the track closed, 20mins later the announcment came the at the track would remain closed for the rest of the evening, very annoying! The weather was good on Saturday but forecasts showed rain overnight and maybe in the morning, damn it! Obviously it was Pistenklaus for tea and then bed to be up and ready for 07:30 collect the car from RSR. By the time we left restaurant it was definitely raining, damn it again! I went to sleep with everything crossed for an improvement by morning. As we got up for breakfast it was foggy, really really foggy, the gound was wet but with dry patches appearing, so a kind of improvement from the day before.
We got to RSR and went into the brief, I have sat through many pre trackday briefs, some good (Destination Nurburgring DN13) and others that blend into each other. The brief at RSR must have been geared towards novice drivers driving on a wet track (the worse case scenario) given the amount of talking about crashing, there was lots of talking about costs of damaging the car, damaging the track, excesses on what ever car you are renting (mine was £15000+ on the Megane!), videos of common mistakes, pictures of accidents, videos of accidents, warnings of Kallenhard in the wet and the tricky line at Bergwerk etc. All in all it was a fairly terrifying 30 minutes. Despite all the warnings they also said that they expect you to drive the laps you have paid for regardless of the weather, this seemed a bit of a contradiction at the time given the rest of the brief but as Al pointed out later RSR can not allow a damaged/destroyed car to effect their business (hence the charges). The more I thought about some of the conversations I had with other people renting the cars there was a clear lack of experience on the Nordschleife indeed any track driving whatsoever. With conditions like they were and vast array of expierence it all made sense. It was nice to hear the instructor giving the brief say that one of the first things you need to do to learn the Ring is to learn the corner names, something I have said many times, kudos to me!Seeing as the weather wasn’t playing ball and the fog was still as thick as ever we were going to be waiting quite a while, but on a positive it was drying slowly. During this time we had a go on the massage chair (which was close to torture on a higher level, you have been warned!) and attempted a lap on the PC simulator, this was a lot of fun right until the entry to the Wipperman when the Nissan GTR I was driving took a bit too much curb and ended what was a pretty reasonable lap into the barriers. But anyway back to more important things….
Finally at 11:15 the track opened, everyone rushed to get the cars in a scene not too different to an old school Le Mans start, despite the three hour delay it was all still very well organised we were given keys and a lap card with intructions to return for fuel after 5 or so laps, we also were going return if the weather improved to a point where putting the Pilot Sport Cup 2s on was a sound idea. We started on Michelin Pilot Sport 3s, a tyre I know well from the Clio (they were great on the Clio), got our stuff ready and headed out.
The opening laps were at a reduced pace as the track was still slightly wet in places, especially the Foxhole and Bergwerk. As the track dried the pace increased mainly due to the car inspiring confidence by the bucket load, every part of the car seemed to respond well to pressing on, the steering felt accurate with enough feedback to allow very progressive throttle steering (great when your trying to get to know a car as quickly as possible). Likewise the brakes were superb, firm pedal and powerful in all situations. The chassis itself was very safe in design but did like to slither around as the speed increased, through the Bellof-S it must have been a hoot to follow us the rear of the car was squirming around with the changes in direction yet at the same time the car retained the feeling of being planted enough for me to not worry about the speed. The Bellof-S is a set of corners that in the Clio were entertaining to a similar level, the Megane certainly moved around more but we were almost flat from the exit of Pflanzgarten1 to Schwarbenscharwarz so a bit of movement is to be expected.
After five laps we returned to the RSR garage for fuel and with the weather staying dry and looking good for the rest of the day I asked for the PSC2s to be fitted too.
After a couple of laps I returned to RSR for a pressure check on the tyres (as RSR had suggested), the last 3 laps were huge fun but every lap was either frought with traffic at the worst possible moments (like the hill up from Bergwerk) or there was a large yellow section. The worst yellow section featured an E30 3-Series that had dropped coolant and caused multiple crashes, including a Cayman GT4 that resulted in very broken rear suspension, gutted! This lap did include a great chase with the M3 Ring Taxi (until the uphill section at Bergwerk, no subsitute for 400bhp+) which I was very happy to keep honest to some extent.
The two video laps are from the last three laps, one is free of yellow sections but I came across traffic at the worst places, the other video is clear but I ended up coming to almost a complete stop at The Brunnchen for the E30/GT4 accident and both laps were almost the same time, classic toursist lapping. Still love it regardless. I have put on one of Al’s laps too, for the majoity of the lap he is chasing me, but it is worth watching for the huge sideways moment at Ex-Muhle!Its a shame that the day came to an end when it did (in fact we were lucky to get the final lap in as there was an 11th hour closure that reopened with 15mins to spare), I felt like I was really getting into the groove with the car, there were areas on reflection that I felt I could have gone quicker mainly in the first part of the lap but without doubt there were areas where the Megane was mighty. It is hard to straight compare the Megane to the Clio, obviously the Megane was significantly quicker but chassis wise the Clio was so well setup for trackwork it gave enormous confidence to the driver to push harder and harder. I’m not for one minute saying there was any disappointment with the Megane, far from it, clearly the standard setup for the RS265 is extremely well judged but there were a few places where slightly stiffer suspension would have been an advantage. Again I feel I must champion the supremely strong brakes. The car is perfect for the average person renting cars for the Nordschleife . A trip in 2017 is unlikely (I am very very sad about this) but with any luck I may be able to do a couple of extended trips in the C63 to make up for it (who am I kidding!). The plan of going on a quieter weekend and renting a car proved good, although it could have been a disaster if the weather had been any worse than it was. I still think the best thing to do is to go on a closed trackday, however this is surprise surpirse the most expensive way of doing it, I suppose you get what you pay for.
RSR Nurburg were superb, I would not hesitate to rent from them again, they certainly air on the side of caution but when you think of what they are doing it is easy to understand. I very much appreciated that they understood that I was far from a first time visitor to the Ring, the choice of tyres certainly increased my enjoyment and also felt like my money went further as I was able to gain more performamce in the same package I paid for. If you are thinking of renting make sure you give them a call as they were only too happy to talk through options.
Another great trip done, another long wait before I can return to my favourite place on the planet.