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  • Writer's pictureBarney

Readers Drives - Dirk Schoysman shows Geoff exactly what to do

Geoff and I go back a very long way and he is a great chum to us all here at Classic Heroes. I have spent many years explaining to people that my job is not just a pleasure because of the cars. Its also about the people. We come from all different walks of life and do so many different things and yet we all have this one common interest. Cars! It makes life such fun and so interesting. This story from Geoff highlights this so well. Great friends made all over the world. It is 23 years since I first met Barney and his Dad, Tony, at Munich Legends in East Sussex. The occasion was the start of my love affair with the E30 M3, although I didn’t know it then. I was driving an E36 M3 Evo coupé at the time, and was missing something of the driving pleasure I had had from my E30 325i Sport. Everything I had read about the E30 M3 suggested that this might be the way ahead, and my visit was for the purposes of research. I came away that day after striking a deal on a black 215bhp car and having made two firm friends. I must say here that they, and subsequently Barney and team at Classic Heroes, have played a huge part in maintaining all of my cars and adding to the pleasure of my motoring enthusiasm.

I eventually owned four E30 M3’s (one a convertible, which contrary to most reports I have read, drove just as well as the saloons) over a period of 21 years. For about half that time I ran them as my everyday transport, a luxury which a current owner could hardly consider, and they never failed to thrill and excite me even on mundane journeys. However, inevitably when considering a drive to write about here it would have to be something more glamorous than a run to Tesco, however much fun one may have had en route. Like many enthusiasts I have made a considerable number of trips to the Nürburgring in Germany, but two in particular stand out because several different elements combined to make them even more memorable than usual.

On one visit to the ‘Ring in 2005 I was lucky enough to meet a driver who had assumed almost legendary status in my mind through the columns of the motoring press, Dirk Schoysman. Chief test driver for Nissan responsible for developing the R32, R33 and R34 Skylines, (he was also involved with the development of the R35), he was the first to break the 8 minute lap record for a road car at the ‘Ring while testing the R33. Autocar journalists (no mean helmsmen themselves) wrote of his abilities with awe and respect, whether as a true “Ringmeister” or as an enthusiastic participant in their “Sideways Challenge”. I had also used an in-car video of his laps of the track in a Skyline as a study aid to improve my knowledge of the circuit. My first meeting with him was on the occasion that Evo Magazine had engaged him to attempt an 8 minute lap in a modified E36 M3, and although he was naturally focussed on his task, he still had time to chat to me. He impressed me as an exceptionally approachable and amiable person so when I returned home, feeling that my own efforts at learning the track and developing my driving skills had hit a limiter, I decided to pluck up the courage to ask Dirk if he would mind helping me when I returned there. He readily agreed to my request, and the following year saw me back in the Eifel Mountains with Dirk. My friend Sue (who accompanied me on several visits to the ‘Ring) and I quickly became friends with Dirk, enjoying his company away from the track as well as during driving sessions. And not only did I have the privilege of benefiting from his enormous knowledge of the circuit, but everything he told me to improve my driving technique had its roots in sound logic, clearly explained. During our holiday he also drove in a VLN race for the Manthey Porsche team, and he kindly invited us to watch from the team hospitality lounge and in the pits, an exciting experience.

The one thing which any ‘Ring devotee will confirm is that no matter how much your abilities (modest in my case) and knowledge of the Nürburgring may increase, you never lose a huge respect for it. And one element which I knew was lacking in my armoury was car control in a skid or drift. Certainly I had not infrequently corrected small slides, both on the road and the track, but I had a sneaking feeling that the M3 was doing at least half the work for me. And with the penalties for making a mistake potentially so high at the ‘Ring, I wanted to develop more confidence in that department. Also it just seemed like tremendous fun! There seemed little point in pursuing this by myself in the UK when I was lucky enough to have a friend with virtuoso skills in Germany, so I asked Dirk if he had any suggestions for a venue where he could help me in that endeavour.

Since I knew that Dirk had lost none of his enthusiasm for driving through his career, I wasn’t surprised when he suggested that the next time I came to the ‘Ring we went together to a low-friction circuit in Liège run by a friend of his. So finally in 2015 I and my Cecotto M3 headed for Germany, at least one of us (and I suspect both) extremely excited about the holiday ahead. Every trip to the ‘Ring was thrilling for me, and although of course the circuit was the focus of that eager anticipation, it is worth mentioning for anyone who has not yet made the journey just how beautiful the Eifel region is too. It has often seemed bizarre to me that people go anywhere else on holiday! So on this occasion I had another thoroughly enjoyable week both on and off the track, partly in the company of Dirk and his delightful partner (now wife) Virginie. But for the first time ever I could hardly wait for the day when we were to leave the environs of the Nordschleife, and head north for Liège.

We set off early from the Eifel and drove the 2 hours up to Liege in convoy. Our destination was the Centre de Maitrise du Volant, and we were greeted warmly on our arrival by Philippe Ménage, the founder and an old friend of Dirk’s. Philippe was particularly happy to see my car, as he had raced (and I think rallied) in E30 M3’s. By an extraordinary coincidence I discovered only recently that one M3 model which I have owned for years is a replica of one that Philippe raced – his name is displayed on the rear window.

The glistening wet track is set in a fairly uninteresting suburb of Liège, but the surroundings were of no interest to me – all I could see was the ideal environment to begin to realise an ambition. The icing on the cake was that we were to have the circuit completely to ourselves for three hours. What a luxury! Philippe had a fleet of VW Golfs, but I really didn’t want to learn to drift in a front-wheel drive car when my own two cars were RWD (the other was an E36 M3 Evo saloon). So we set out onto the circuit in my Cecotto with Dirk at the wheel initially, while Virginie took one of the Golfs.

She had visited the track before with Dirk so had already benefited from his instruction. Surprisingly, considering the low-friction nature of the track, Dirk didn’t find it particularly easy to get the rear end of the M3 out and he was using quite aggressive bursts of power and steering movements to initiate a slide. Of course the E30 M3, for all its perfect balance of engine and chassis, is not especially powerful. I was a little concerned that this was looking more difficult than I had expected, but Dirk drove the M3 back off the track and into Philippe’s garage. Here in this Aladdin’s cave, Philippe found a set of E30 M3 wheels with very worn tyres which he quickly swapped for my own cross-spokes and we headed back out onto the circuit. Now things were completely different! Dirk was able to glide around the twists and turns of the track almost balletically – I know what I’m talking about as I am a violinist, then, as now with the orchestra of one of the UK’s leading ballet companies. It all looked – and from the passenger seat felt – so easy. What a shock I had when we changed seats and it was my turn at the wheel. It might have still looked balletic – I don’t know. Certainly ballet dancers do regularly spin and pirouette, and if spinning were the goal here I would have achieved perfection. Fortunately there was nothing to hit here, just plastic cones, but at first I found it almost impossible to maintain control of the car, so readily did she slide even in 2nd gear. But Dirk was unbelievably patient, and with his expert tuition I gradually had glimpses of the control I was seeking. What I hadn’t grasped at first was just how quickly one has to apply opposite lock to catch the initial slide. Any thoughts I might have had that I could wind on lock in a nonchalant manner were quickly dispelled – I realised that I had to almost throw the wheel, then catch it. But my goodness, the first time I caught that slide and held it on the throttle before successfully exiting the corner, the thrill was indescribable! That’s it, I thought, I’ve cracked it! My complacency was short-lived as I promptly spun the car again at the next corner – and the one after that. But Dirk didn’t give up on me, constantly instructing and reminding me where I was going wrong. Curiously, it seemed to make a huge difference exactly in which direction I looked – I couldn’t understand why that had such an effect, but Dirk was very insistent on it and indeed my success rate improved the more I followed his advice.

Once he was satisfied that I had taken on board the fundamentals of his teaching, Dirk got out and left me alone to practise. And I loved it – it actually reminded me of practising the violin in some ways. Gradually, lap after lap of the winding track, I improved my technique, trying to recall the sensation when I hit the sweet spot and held that perfect drift. I found that exiting the slide smoothly was possibly even harder than maintaining it, but lap by lap even that got better. The whole experience was so enjoyable and immersive that I would probably have been there still as darkness fell, but eventually our session came to an end as my petrol gauge approached empty.

So I left the M3 to rest and cool down in the car park while the four of us retired to Philippe’s offices for lunch which he provided. Philippe was a charming host, and when after eating he asked if I would play something on my violin (which I had with me), I couldn’t refuse. Secretly I was wondering if I would be able to play as my arms were quite tired, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were unaffected. I wondered if the music of Bach had been heard on those premises before!

After replacing the original wheels and saying grateful farewells to Philippe, we set off in convoy again, this time for Maastricht. I had never been there and Dirk and Virginie wanted to show me the city. It was a beautiful day, and the attractions of the surroundings coupled with perfect company added up to a marvellous final day of my holiday. The only lingering concern I had was for my journey home, as this was the period when strikes at the Calais docks were combining with migrants making increasingly brazen attempts to board vehicles queuing outside the confines of the port. But even here my luck held, and the following day all had returned to normal when I arrived to catch the ferry back to Dover. And to round everything off, my valiant Cecotto took me safely home to Cheshire, never missing a beat through the long outward and homeward journeys, many laps of the ‘Ring and those hours of intense practice together on Philippe’s circuit. A great holiday for both of us largely thanks to Dirk, Virginie and Philippe!

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