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The DSC Year – August/September
Back To The Ring

August and September should have been a purely domestic affair for the Deputy Ed, with the final three British GT rounds and the Britcar 24 to cover, but a request from the Ed saw him heading instead to Germany for the third time that season.

Races attended by DSC in August & September
ALMS - Mid-Ohio
VLN Rounds 7, 8 & 9 - Nürburgring
British GT - Snetterton
ALMS - Road America
Britcar - Snetterton
GT Cup - Brands Hatch
FIA WEC - Silverstone
ALMS - Baltimore
British GT - Silverstone
FIA WEC - Interlagos
ALMS - Virginia International Raceway
Britcar 24 - Silverstone
Blancpain Endurance Series - Nürburgring
FIA GT1/GT3 - Nürburgring
FIA WEC - Bahrain
British GT - Donington Park
FIA GT1/GT3 - Donington Park

“I’m going to need a car,” I said to Graham when he phoned. “Leave it with me,” came the reply.

A calendar change to the FIA GT1 World Championship had resulted in DSC’s European Editor Marcel ten Caat facing the prospect of covering the Blancpain Endurance Series, FIA GT1, GT3 and the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo at the Nürburgring single-handed, so the request came through for me to head to the Eifel Mountains instead of the rather flatter environs of Northamptonshire and the Britcar enduro. Things were sorted at work to allow me the time necessary and the plan was that I and legendary snapper John Brooks would share the driving, collecting Peter May en route. A last minute change in his own plans saw Brooksie heading off to Bahrain instead, and so it would be just me and Pedro making the trip.

Audi UK Press Office had kindly agreed to supply a car and I was told that it would probably be with me any time after eight o’clock on the Friday morning; and at 8:03 a very nice man signed over a very nice and shiny – and fully specced – A6 Avant 2.0 TDI S line Multitronic.

Later that morning, having finally managed to work out how to start it with the keyless system, I set off for the first leg of the journey and very soon realised that this vehicle was rather different to my old, battered but faithful Ford Focus. It took just a few minutes to feel fully comfortable and I arrived in Kent – having discovered that I could listen to my favourite station, BBC 6Music, on the DAB radio player – feeling fresh as a daisy.

With just the two of us, Pedro’s gear made barely a dent in the car’s cavernous luggage capacity and we headed off to the Chunnel. Emerging on the other side in the late afternoon (my travelling companion having had to work that day) we ran the risk of meeting rush-hour traffic, but at least we had inbuilt satnav to help us. Belgium arrived quickly and we were making good progress until we reached the outskirts of Ghent, at which point the automated Audi lady informed us that we would be taking a detour to avoid a large chunk of queueing traffic ahead.

Having followed her advice to “Keep left, then keep right,” and several variations thereof for several minutes, I inadvertently chose the wrong lane and found myself heading off to the left as my intended road veered away to the right. “Bugger!” thought I, “Oh well, the satnav will get us out of here!” Unfortunately, we would have to head through a busy city centre in order to be on our way once more, and it was at this point that we noticed a flaw in our otherwise-perfect guidance system; namely, that the real-time updating employed resulted us in our being told to take a left and then almost immediately being given contradictory information as new data came in. This meant, for example, that we would be trying to cross several lanes of traffic to get to the necessary lane and then being told to go in the opposite direction instead before we’d even got there. The net result was 30 minutes of frustration, swearing (the driver, not the satnav) and crawling traffic before we eventually made it through.

The delay meant that darkness was falling as we crossed the border into Germany, but the roads were clearer and I was able to put my foot down. Curiously, despite the slow-moving traffic, the satnav was telling me that I had gained time while driving through Belgium, but as soon as I took my speed up to 140kph the destination time began to get later; how fast was I supposed to be driving?

As the clock approached nine, we finally arrived at Nürburg and checked into the Hotel am Tiergarten before heading immediately for the legendary Pistenklause restaurant where we joined Marcel, Sören “Zorro” Herweg, Brecht Decancq, Ed Fahey, Stephen Errity and other media colleagues for dinner. This was followed – at Zorro’s insistence – by a visit to the Cockpit Bar in the Dorint Hotel that overlooks the circuit.

Here we found ourselves donning one white glove each in order to share a shot of Eifelgeist schnapps (a Nürburgring tradition, we were told by our German friend). We knocked the spirit back and amusingly the only person to cough was Zorro, whose grandfather had introduced him to the tradition many years previously.

The next morning, the DSC’s UK contingent emerged after a pleasant night’s sleep and enjoyed the rare privilege of being able to walk to the circuit. Indeed, the next time the car would be required would be for the journey home.

With the BES and FIA GT sharing the meeting, the Saturday and Sunday would not allow much time between sessions and it was a busy old time. It was, however, much easier to navigate the paddock than it had been at the 24 hours three months earlier, even if tracking people down to talk to between sessions was challenging to say the least.

As things transpired, the racing on both Saturday and Sunday was highly entertaining, with a stunning duel between Marc Goossens and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Blancpain race ensuring that the result was in doubt all the way to the flag; the Belgian beating the Dutchman to the line by just half a second to take the win for ProSpeed. 

The combined GT1/GT3 races were great to watch as well, and it was a shame to see the GT1 World experiment end on such a downer the following weekend at Donington Park.

As had been the case at the Spa 24 a couple of months earlier, we would be making a swift exit after the race and heading back to Calais. This time, however, we had had a full night’s sleep and been fed and watered by those lovely people at The Smoking Dog before leaving. As we had a FlexiPlus ticket for the Chunnel, we could catch any train after arriving at the terminal, but a quick perusal of Eurotunnel’s (pretty poor) website revealed that trains were running regularly up to around midnight…….or so I thought!

The satnav showed that the Chunnel was almost exactly 300 miles away, while the fuel gauge was showing that it could get us 300 miles! It was time to play ‘Fuel Chicken’!

The journey back was a lot smoother than on the way, and we were making good time – if we could keep up a good pace and not stop, we could probably make the ten o’clock crossing. However, the digital fuel readout was playing psychological games; at times showing that we had more than enough fuel and then suddenly wiping 20 miles off its calculations and leaving us ten miles short. As I sweated, Pedro amused himself with the Audi’s in-car entertainment system – as he had done on the way over – and was like a kid with a new toy.

As we neared the border between Belgium and France I cracked and stopped to fill ‘er up; and also to take the opportunity to stretch my legs. The stop took less than ten minutes, but greatly reduced our chances of catching the ten o’clock, so I decided to push on. With no worries about fuel anymore the rest of the journey was a lot more relaxed; I was comfortable and the car felt great. With the roads on the approaches to Calais virtually deserted, and with darkness having fallen, I was surprised at how quickly I was catching and passing the few cars that were on the road; then I looked down at the speedo and realised that my cruising speed was some considerable way north of the legal maximum for the area. In fact, it was a speed that I had never attained before while driving a car! The Audi could quite clearly have happily sat at this speed all day long, but I decided to be prudent and drop down to the limit.

As the last few miles were rattled off, we realised that we would only be able to make our intended train if it was delayed. We decided instead to check-in and then head to the terminal for a bite to eat before catching the next train an hour later.

“Er, why does it say ‘next departure 02.00’?”

In a state of shock, we entered the terminal building – soon to be filled with similarly bemused Brits – where a Eurotunnel lady confirmed that the 22:50 and 23:50 trains don’t actually run on Sundays. Gahh! All that effort for nothing!

All we could do was buy an overpriced sandwich and eat it while a humungous thunderstorm – matching my mood perfectly – arrived overhead. We then decided to get in the queue for the train and managed to get some shuteye before loading began.

Having dropped Pedro back home, the sounds of 6Music – astoundingly, including a live session from seminal Krautrock legends, Can – kept me company on the way back to Leicestershire; the Audi purring all the way back.

MH