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That ring trip story - a true VW adventure

July 2013

A story featuring beer, friends, pizza and a minor incident at Nurburgring. Forum member Diamond Hell has a tale for us:

I said I wouldn't go back without a rollcage. Thankfully I didn't.

I've been pestering Chuff about going to the Nurburgring for a couple of years. The last time I went to the 'ring was the first track day organised by Darren Langeveld - Destination Nurburgring. These events have become incredibly popular since that first one, so when Destination Nurburgring6 (DN6) was announced I canvassed around a few people who I'd probably trust driving my car. The drivers alongside me for the event were DannyP who is a regular at events with me, but whose Golf Syncro is out of commission at the moment; Mike671 a friend, workshop sharer, fellow Golf Syncro owner and Volkswagen technician on the Isle of Wight and finally the irrepressible Dave_IOW - a car full of GolfGTI.co.uk usernames. Additionally Destination Nurburgring entry tickets include up to four passengers as well. Chuff had decided against driving (because he's a pussy), but booked in as a passenger, as did StevePD and finally (and after a couple of wobbles) mattneck(Beavis). Turns out we were just in the nick of time booking on the event; by the week before there were over 100 people on the reserve list for it!

The event was on a Monday, so team Syncro headed over to Germany on the Saturday morning, ready for a bit of familiarisation and spectating around the track on the Sunday. At the port in Dover Chuff finally applies the 'Certified Ziptie Technician' sticker to the back of the Golf. Git.

Being a trip put together mostly through GolfGTI.co.uk the convoy out there naturally didn't include a single Golf GTI. My super-duty Passat 4Motion towing the trailer carrying the Golf Syncro track car. Guarding us for overtaking was Chuff in the whistling Vectra. With a two-way radio in each car and plenty of goons there was no shortage of chatter on the long, dull haul along the E40 through France and Germany. I hadn't made much mention of the tank-track section of the 258 that marks the welcome end of Belgium and as we started to batter along the long straight corrugated concrete the radio exploded with a shout from Chuff: 'What the f*ck is this and HOW long does it bloody last?!'. Thankfully it's only a few rough miles out of Belgium, with Germany welcoming us with the open arms of bowling green smooth tarmac, through the dark Eifel forest.

Whenever I head out to the 'ring with folks who haven't been before, I like to make sure they've taken in at least some of the scale of the track before passing through the tollgates. If you've not been before it's worth spending some time looking around properly - although it's cliched now, it's difficult to understand just how unlike other race tracks it is without having a proper look round. Also the roads around the track are nearly as good as the track itself. Trekking in on Sunday from Sliders Guesthouse in Dollendorf, through Adenau village and into the countryside around, the hills echoed with the understeering squeals from the front tyres of the Vectra, trying to keep up with the Passat.

Any event at the 'ring needs to be approached with circumspection and prepared for carefully. The Golf had a full set of service items, new cambelt, auxiliary belts, seals, and a lightened flywheel. This was in addition to a newly installed CustomCages T45 cage, Corbeau XL bucket seats (to accommodate virtually any fat-ass) and 6-point harnesses. The harnesses were clipped into reinforced belt mounting points in the floor, with shoulder straps wrapped around the bar between the turrets, as per Custom Cages advice and rail mounts were welded in for the buckets, too. Because of the range of sizes of people who drive the car, the driver's seat has been mounted on sliders and we even managed to source a booster cushion for Dave and Mike, who are of particularly diminutive height, if not size or volume. Was the car over-prepared? Maybe, but we were planning for it to be out on track for the whole time the track was open, so we took all of the necessary precautions, or so we thought. With the final checks made, the drivers each booted the car up the road out of Dollendorf on Saturday - not the most comprehensive familiarisation drive, but confirmation everyone fitted and the car didn't glitch at all. Naturally Dave attracted the only Police car in the area during his run out. Special and particularly big thanks has to go to Mike and Chuff for helping finish the preparation as time was pretty short in the run up to the event.

Because virtually all of the people driving in the event have hiked in from across Europe, the main briefing is held the evening before the event. Several people crammed into one of the new buildings associated with manufacturer's testing at Nurburg. Darren delivered the briefing from a raised platform, as if delivering a sermon to an attentive congregation. This was followed up by a delightfully sweary announcement by Jim Cameron from Mission Motorsport, who had ex-military mid-rehabilitation drivers out on track during the event.

Official business over with, team Syncro moved the short distance to the Pistenklaus, where everyone ordered the first of two quintessential Nurburgring meals - steak on a stone. The Pistenklaus was packed out as always and as always the service wasn't great but the steak was excellent, although if Steve had left his on the stone any longer it probably would have become coal. Bloody Welsh heathen.

End of season track days in the Eifel Mountains mean a dark, cold start to the day, with the gauge on the Passat showing zero in Dollendorf when we pulled away from Sliders around 07:00hrs. A quick stop on the way saw the Golf filled up with super unleaded and plenty of fluids purchased to keep the drivers running through the day, too. We park up in the outer car park, establishing our pitch for the day. The Golf is checked over, but there isn't much to check - it's had a full dose of attention yesterday. Ed Cross drops by - he has an issue - the fuel pump relay in his E30 M3 is playing up. Do we have a spare? Naturally we do - sorted.

Destination Nurburgring events start with an hour of sighting laps from 08:00(ish) until 09:00hrs, with speeds kept under 120kph and no overtaking.... so pretty much full-on pace for the Golf and those unfamiliar with the track. I take the first drive, with Mike on board, then we swap to Danny, with Dave as passenger, then switch to Mike driving with Danny and then Dave driving on the third and fourth laps. There's mist, no, it's fog from Exmuhle until we're halfway up Kesselchen. It's so cold down there it clouds the wing mirrors out - not good. Then there's low sun hitting us as we climb Kesselchen. I make ready to head out with Dave on the fourth lap, grabbing my sunglasses and a pair of mirror shades from Mike. We roll out as the time ticks past 09:00hrs and suddenly we've got cars at full tilt coming round us. I spend the lap spotting for cars for Dave. This is something all passengers in my car are expected to do when they're riding shotgun. I'm also shouting directions at Dave. He does fine and Frozenspeed get a great photo of the car at Wehrseifen.

Sighting laps over, Chuff straps in for his first passenger lap out with me, around 09:30hrs. I had strapped a GoPro to the offside front bumper, but the gate marshals demand it is removed, so we head out, chatting about that, with only the SLR filming inside the car. No worries. They also check we have dip beam headlights on, because of the mist and fog. Everyone has lights on. I'm still not pushing really, it's only my second driving lap in the Golf in as many years and the car's been through some significant changes. It's also on Toyo T1-R tyres because it's cold and damp and I want the guys to try the car on road tyres before they learn the R888s on top of the track and the car. It feels a bit like it's on tip-toes against the normal planted stance it has on R888s, but it's all good - the cage has made it feel very taught. It feels as truly delicious as I'd hoped it would.

Tick tock through the wriggles of Hatzenbach, bosh the kerb and out on the run through Hocheichen. I open the car out through to Flugplatz, clipping 100mph in fourth, lift for Flugplatz and back on it towards Schwedenkreuz. Nothing's come past us, but I can see Chuff checking diligently out of the corner of his eye. I'm checking too - I know there's a lot of fast cars out there and we're not one of them. And then it happens, just after I've slotted fifth and we're north of 100mph, coming across to the left of the track, still before Schwedenreuz on the line. There's a quiet hollow tap from the rear nearside of the car and it feels odd, is unsettled. I have an utterly sick feeling suddenly in my stomach. Then a moment after there's another more solid CLUNK and the rear nearside of the car lifts. It lifts really high, we're into a spin and there's an almighty bounce, the front offside strikes a glancing blow on the Armco and we're travelling backwards, still going bloody fast.

We're passengers, sliding down the narrow grass at what speed I don't know. Finally, with a clunk the car stops. We've been travelling so long and I'm convinced there's a wheel bouncing down the track. As soon as we stop I'm straight off with the harnesses, to the glovebox, to grab the phone and call the incident in to the office. I nearly forget to check if Chuff's OK before I jump out of the car. He responds after what seems like an eternity; he is fine, which is a relief.

As soon as I'm out of the car, I'm on the phone, giving location, talking about a missing tyre, Chuff walks over to me 'it's still got four wheels'. I'm confused. If we haven't shed a wheel, what the hell just happened?? 'There was a car, low, black and no lights, on my side' he says. I look at him in disbelief. I saw no car. 'I only saw it when it was right alongside us'.

If I'm honest, I was relieved - whatever had happened wasn't entirely my fault. I then look at the car, damage to the front corner was obvious, with the offside front wheel bent under from the impact, the front of the car also had taken a smack, it wasn't pretty, BUT for an off at 100mph it wasn't catastrophic. Most importantly the Golf had stayed right-side-up. I'm aware of cars that hadn't managed that around Schwedenkreuz which had headed straight to the scrapyard. On this occasion, a trip to the local scrapyard, immediately, in another car looked like it might cull enough parts for the Golf to be out on track later in the day, mightn't it?

Hang on, the front numberplate was missing. The original 1988 front plate from Forge Garage in South Wales. No way was I leaving that in Germany! I jogged back up the track to check where we'd clouted the barrier and recover the plate. There didn't look to be much damage trackside, but I've had enough accidents to know things can look a lot less awful at the scene, than they do later on.

Shortly after I got back to the car the Bongards recovery truck arrived. As the Golf was winched on board I noticed one of the pressure fuel lines was free underneath the car - bouncing over the curb had grabbed the fuel lines and sheared them off the pressure pump. The recovery driver had switched the ignition on to straighten the wheels and there was a steady trickle of fuel out of the loose pipe. Should we try and resolve that here? 'No, it is too hot here' said the driver, Germanicly and finally.

Chuff had got up in the cab first, when I climbed up it wasn't obvious where I should sit - there was a second row of seats, but the only way of accessing them was through the front of the cab, over the huge transmission tunnel. As I clambered towards them the driver shouted 'NO! Feet off!' Oh, right, I'm to travel the rest of the distance without a belt on for fear of dirtying the upholstery in a German recovery truck. Thank heavens I hadn't just had an off at 100mph. I sit dejectedly on the transmission tunnel, just out of reach of the rear belts while we rumble around to the Breidscheid bridge and thankfully turn off, to head up through the minor roads back to the car park in Nurburg, still without a seatbelt.

While this is going on Chuff's phone is quite busy. When the off happened he texted Dave to say there had been an accident and it was quite likely the day was over, but he and I were OK. Dave didn't believe this, nor did any of the others apparently. As a result Dave rang repeatedly until Chuff answered to say no, he wasn't joking - there are some things you just don't joke about.

The Golf was deposited back in the outer car park, post bump. Danny and Mike were directed to assess the damage, while I went off to tell Darren what had happened and see if I could figure out what the hell had hit us. Steve suggested it had been a Radical that was running hot laps with a certain well known racing driver. I went and looked over the car, sure enough there were witness marks on the dive plates in front of the wheels. These matched the marks on the side of the Golf.

After a bit of discussion with the organiser running the Radical, he (surprisingly) allowed me to have the footage from their car. Sure enough - clear as day there we were taking the racing line through the corner, completely oblivious to the approaching, matt black, unlit Radical.

No matter - time to see if we could get back out on the track. I had a chat with the very helpful Michaela, who runs www.guesthouse-fuchsroehre.comand got good directions to the nearest scrapyard and headed back to where we were with the car.

The assessment had been completed - a pair of new front dampers were needed, a lower control arm, fuel pump and that was about it to get back out. Five of us jumped into the Vectra - an excellent team, consisting of Beavis (ex-VW parts-man), Mike (current VW Tech), Danny (yard-ape and full of cunning), Chuff (similar to Danny) and I (general dogsbody). I started negotiating with the guys in the office, brandishing the broken parts; we quickly checked through the main shed with them, fruitlessly. I then waved into the yard, saying 'we can look?'. Ja. The team fanned out rummaging through Golf2 and Golf3 cars around the yard. What's this? Golf2 1.3 - no good. Everyone but Beavis moves on, then there's a shout. 'HANG ON!' came the shout, it's an injection model! 'Wow' says Mike 'how rare'. I don't care how rare it is - if the pump's the same as that on the GTI, then we'll have it! Beavis is on the phone, back to Dan at Vee W Services in Bristol, getting a cross reference - it's good, definitely the same pump - Mike's on it immediately. Danny and Chuff head off to another Golf2, which has already had quite a lot stripped off it, but not the control arms. Problem is, it's on the deck. There's a shout as I head off - 'can you prop it?' Danny and Chuff have lifted it over. I sling a couple of wheels under it - the control arm undoes easily.

Back in the main building there's some description of subframe with a pair of coilovers attached to it. They're not lovely, but they'll do, so they're added to the pile of tat. With a bit of haggling we're down to 90 Euros and all back in the Vectra. On the way back up the road Beavis pulls something out of his pocket and looks at it, pleased. What's that, Beavis? 'pocket litter' comes the response. It's a Golf2 heated seat controller, worth maybe around 50 quid. It just fell in his pocket, see. Can't take some people anywhere.

Back at the car park we re-assemble and get ready to build the Golf back up. I fit the new fuel pump whilst the other guys work on the front of the car. For some reason the Golf has two different strut top nuts at the front - one is 21mm and the other is 22mm. We have a 21mm socket, but no 22mm socket and the socket and ratchet are ineffectual on the nylock nut, as the shock shaft just turns. I jog over to the guys running the Radical and am very apologetic and come away with a 22mm socket and a Snap-on electric impact gun - the nuts are away and old dampers are off.

Unfortunately it seems we've acquired a pair of Polo front coilovers - the top mounts are tiny and need to be swapped, but we don't have any C-spanners for the coilovers, or spring compressors. The Golf top mounts are liberated from the original dampers easily, but there is concern about launching a coilover across the car park into something like the Carrera GT only a few metres away. Chuff and Danny apply not much under 40stone to the top of one of the coilovers and Beavis buzzes off the top mount nut - success! The process is repeated to replace the top mounts on both the coilovers. While this is going on, I replace the control arm and we're into re-assembly of the front end, while the bumper is bent back to fit and shored up with zip-ties. Turns out the sticker Chuff applied had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as well I'd bought a new pack of good quality zipties before we left then!

Everything's going well on the re-assembly - it looks like things are coming back together OK. I'm setting up the hubs back to get as much negative camber as we had to start with, but the driver's side isn't having any of it - the best I can get is about zero degrees. Oh well - it'll do. I take the Golf out, down the road to see if it drives anywhere near OK. It's not crabbing at all, there's a little pull, but everything seems to be running OK. May as well take it out for a lap then to see how we get on. Chuff and I load into it and head out again. We're greeted by Darren with open arms at the entrance to the main car park - a car he didn't think he'd see back out on track that day.

The guy marshalling people out on to the track laughs his ass off as we come up to the barrier entry to the track. It's OK - I can take this sort of abuse - we're going back out. I give the Golf full beans down the start straight. The track is a bit busier now and there are people doing flying laps - bloody hell it's intimidating having 911s roaring past at +160mph as you're coming up to speed. I tip the Golf in for T13 and run through Hatzenbach, which is fine. When I'm on the power through the second turn of Hocheichen there's an untoward rumble from the front offside - the drivers front tyre is catching on the wheelarch - the one I couldn't tip in to its normal camber angle. Something isn't right... Although we are running slightly lower than normal at the front because of the coilovers, too. We cruise round to Breidscheid bridge and tuck into the exit there to inspect. Although the tyre shows slight marking we're not going to kill it before we get back from the lap. Chuff has an idea to sort it out, too.

Coming off the track, the marshals are all over the car like a rash - where did we hit the barriers?! No - that's damage from earlier. They back off. Everyone's a bit pensive when we get back - we'd been out for about 15 minutes which is a long time for a single lap! Smiles all round that we're OK and Chuff cracks out the jack handle - it's time for some pikey arch-rolling to reduce the tyre contact! The Golf is pushed back and forth and then I head out again. Things are better now - the tyre only makes contact in a couple of places on the lap. The R888s also feel lush in comparison to the T1-Rs too. I'm not back up to full speed yet though.

The other lads take the Golf out now - it seems happy, so we need to wind some laps on it! I'm not going to just sit around though. There's been a regular flow of interested parties coming past asking questions about it - they're all surprised we're back out. Ed Cross stops by - I'm feeling cheeky - any chance Beavis could have a passenger ride in the E30 M3? Naturally - not a problem. I point out to Beavis that it is a bit special - Ed's installed an E36 motor up front and he knows the track damned well, so hang on. Beavis takes one of the GoPros with him, as Ed only has the camera on his phone.

When Ed comes back Beavis is grinning like a fool - great lap although he got held up a bit. I chance my arm and head out with Ed too. The E30 is UTTERLY ballistic and Ed is pretty damned committed too. I also now have a foolish grin. While this has been happening Martin Houston, who Danny and I had helped out on another trackday has pulled up in his E36 M3 - he needs his coilovers winding up, but doesn't have the tools. I go cadge use of a C-spanner from the guys with the Radical - what nice chaps - we sort the ride height, Martin takes Mike and Beavis out. Grins all round.

It's nearly four o'clock and I'm going out for a last lap, with Mike shotgun. The temperature's come up beautifully and despite the slightly odd geometry on the front corner the Golf feels damned good. I'm starting to find a bit of pace and get the car moving around under me again - this is how we should have been on it all day. A red MX-5 passes us at the start of the lap, but I don't have the confidence, or the pace to keep up with him - looks relatively standard too. Turns out it was Bren, who'd hoping for a bit of to and fro. Sorry - I don't have the balls for that today. It matters not, after the Foxhole the lap is reduced to a steady cruise - someone has properly totally their SEAT Leon race-car at the Breidscheid bridge: it's game over for the day. I am gutted, but buzzing from an excellent day.

Day over, there's one more thing I need to do - I need a signature from the guy who tapped us off the track. Amazingly, he agrees.

I'm also rather nervous. I hit the Armco and I need to have a chat with Darren about that. I wait patiently for him to come back from the track inspection. It's not a good wait and it's not a happy conversation, either. I'd contacted quite a lot of Armco and moved back quite a number of posts. Darren understands I'm not particularly happy about the circumstances under which it occurred and promises he won't 'hang me out to dry'. He calls back later and is as good (if not better) than his word and I'm very well looked after, which is a huge relief. Massive credit to him for this, which must have involved a couple of tough conversations.

There is another difficult conversation I need to have when we're back at Brens, after the video from the Radical and the Golf have been played back a few times - no one's impressed with the moves busted on track by the Radical. The conversation I need to have is with my wife. It doesn't go terribly well, but the main thing is that we're OK and the day wasn't a complete write-off. It takes some understanding to establish this, but we get there eventually. Apparently I'm not allowed back without life insurance now. No, no I'm not going back to doing Touristenfahren because of this, either. With as much tied off as possible I can now relax. We head down to Pinocchios for the second indispensable meal - pizza in Adenau! The pizzas are expansive. More expansive than Mike had anticipated - having opted for the XXL he's got a lot of pizza left over. Danny was prepared for it having tackled one before and has far less left over. A great meal as ever. We head up to the Comfy Corner for further drinks and chat afterwards. Dave tries out some local beer, but is unimpressed - it tastes of bananas apparently.

The next morning we're up early doors and the Golf is on the trailer, ready for the long schlep back. Dave and Mike vow to get back as soon as they can. The direction of Dave's Golf2 project seems to have changed tack significantly and the 'ring has gained a few more disciples. Even Chuff professes to have had a good time, despite not having driven the Vectra round to earn a sticker for its rump and having been on one of the fastest, least controlled fairground rides ever.

We will be back in due course, maybe next time with two Golf2s on track.

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