Readers Drives – My first night race at the Nürburgring (Christoph Wagner)
I loved this story from Christoph. I imagine he was the envy of most of his school friends having a Mum who offered laps of the Nurburgring. It made me reminisce about some of my early races at the Nurburgring. Slight nerves mixed with an extraordinary level of excitement. Enjoy!
25 October 2015, 3hr Race “Schwedenkreuz”
This was my third ever entry in a competitive event. Encouraged by Bradley Philpot, an instructor at Bedford Autodrome, I had taken up motorsport earlier in 2015. Bradley was brave enough to climb in next to me (at the wheel!) during a number of “Atom how fast” sessions and also in my Lotus 2-Eleven. His kind words of approval and support were what I needed to find the courage to go racing.
As the last event of the season, RCN (“Round Circuit Challenge Nürburgring”) typically hosts a 3-hour race meeting partly intended as an opportunity for its participants to prepare for VLN and ultimately the 24-hour race. The event is held on the VLN variant which is essentially the minimum loop of the Grand Prix section of the circuit needed to be able to use the F1 pitlane and paddock plus the mighty Nordschleife.
The race was mesmerising and to date remains my fondest memory of any driving experience I have had. Team boss Bernd Küpper slotted me in as the last driver of three to finish the race. Given the late afternoon start, it was clear we would see the chequered flag in the dark. I knew the track well, but had never driven it at night. The car was familiar from the previous two race meetings, a very reliable and extremely well prepared E36 325i. And the team seemed to think I could handle it.
So I climbed into the refuelled car with about eight laps to go when it was still light. But then lap after lap, the light faded and gave way to the moonless night. It was pitch black. Everything was familiar, the engine sound, the braking noise, the lateral forces, the bumps, the rhythm of stringing the corners together. At the same time nothing was familiar, no markers visible, no chance to see far ahead, curbs popping up out of the dark. I never felt so submerged and enveloped in driving.
In terms of results, we lost our class against a Honda S2000 and knew we had no chance if that car would last the distance. 50bhp difference, less weight, less frontal area equals no chance as evidenced by a 30s plus lap time differential. The result did not matter one bit. When I climbed out of the car in park ferme, sweating, I asked one question: how did my lap times compare between light and dark? To me that was the yardstick of the performance and the work I did in the car after I started to notice where I lost time without the visual reference points. And I worked hard to get closer to my normal breaking points, a decent line not missing the curbs and not hitting them either, and to get back on the throttle without being able to see the corner exit (no self-angling front lights here!).
What also made this drive special is that a lot of personal memories gelled together in one single experience. I grew up about 45min from the track. Our village GP drove a red E24 635CSi which I passed every day on my way to primary school, often stopping to look through the passenger door window at the harnesses which had SCHROTH embroidered on them in yellow letters. He replaced the car with an E30 M3 later. I knew as an eight year old that Dr. Demuth volunteered in his spare time as emergency doctor at Nürburgring race meetings and the infamous “Touristenfahrten” (which at the time were a much more relaxed affair than they are today). When we had guests over at our house, my mother would sometimes offer up a choice between visiting the Cathedral in Cologne or a lap around the track in the afternoon and she was a good driver with our 60bhp, one and a half ton Mercedes 200D at the time. As a teenager, I would go camping at the 24-hour race with friends and neighbours for a few days. My driving test was long passed before my birthday and I could not wait to pick up my license (an alien concept to my nephews today). My first company car, once the running in was completed, was treated to a bunch of laps of the Nordschleife in the wet. And there were a few moments where the thought occurred to me “how would I explain this to the fleet manager”; well, Kallenhard. I love the track.