11 October 2014
The weekend was shaping up to be rather different. Einar had been approached, on one of his nocturnal forum ramblings on the internet, by a group of drivers who wanted to test Einstein in the VLN. Welcome to Thorsten Jung, Markus Gallmeier and Dirk Vieugels then. The normal crew smartly vacated the driver’s seat in Einstein and the Crok was prepared for action. Stand By!
The weather was looking pretty unpredictable during the week running up to the race. One day was hurricane force winds; another torrential rain, but as the day approached, the weather seemed to calm down and although cooler, was looking to be dry. Both the Crok and Einstein were prepared for the test sessions.
Less welcome news is an entry from Leonard Motorsport. Aston clearly want nothing to do with it, since its in his own name. Watch your backs, boys.
Danny is the first to arrive at 0930hrs with 2 taxi guests, but neither Carsten nor the cars are anywhere to be seen; they arrive at lunch time and run around like dervishes getting everything ready. Finally; at 4pm, the cars are ready to go out in the test session; which is pretty much fully booked with taxi guests. Danny, rather than accepting the ice bucket challenge, had paid for Sascha’s weekend, including rooms with Michaela. Finally, Domenico gets three laps with his guests; Einar two with guests and then Sascha; and then Danny took Michael and Julius for a lap each.
The session is also used to get the new drivers up to speed in the Astra. Thorsten takes three full laps, then the second driver is swapped in; but the gearbox, a known weak point of the Astra, fails in the second lap. They are still struggling with the understeer, understeer, understeer as they get used to the handling peccadilloes of the Astra.
MC wasn’t due to arrive until very late, so was the only team member missing. From the various texts he’s had a long day and an even longer drive to get to the Ring.
If Winter isn’t here, then Autumn certainly is. It's not freezing, not quite. But balmy it is not. Again, no one seems to have told MC who appears clutching the inevitable cup of tea in a polo shirt; and promptly heads off for the German language briefing and to sign on. It’s a good time of day to do that, no queues, so he’s early for the briefing and catches Karl Mauer, who explains that Leonard is only being allowed to race under a written caution and the threat of a black flag at the faintest hint of a transgression.
Domenico is volunteered to go first as he was the first suited and booted. Its foggy, though, so there is an hour’s wait until the track is deemed safe to race. He’s impatient to get out having had his appetite whetted by the test session and proclaiming the Crok’s handling perfect! Finally, the green light is lit and we’re on. Two warm up laps on the GP circuit and he’s off for a couple of NLoop laps. There’s a minor panic, due to lack of radio protocol towards the end of his first lap, when Carsten thinks he’s coming in; but it was cross traffic from the Astra. Dom comes in a little frustrated with the traffic and yellows for a smashed GT86, which everyone seemed to be treating as a double yellow, but he’s had two good laps; then Einar heads out. He’s again frustrated with a couple of yellows, and posts a 9.29, but with a theoretical of 9.15. He’s happy with the car, and sudden double yellows aside, says the track is pretty clear. MC is sent out to refamiliarise himself and hopefully get a clear lap. Once he’s cleared a pesky Astra #361, he’s off . All too nearly so, when at Planzgarten 1 the ABS doesn’t and in a cloud of smoke, the Croc yaws left, then right, but somehow MC keeps the car on the tarmac. As his pulse calms, the #361 Astra comes by again… The lap’s a write off, so MC positions himself to overtake again into the first corner. Its all too clear that the ABS has given up permanently as the howling tyres tell their tale of woe. On and off the brakes, MC just manages to get the car turned on the run off, but the flat spots are much worse now and he recovers back to the pits after radioing in again that the ABS has failed.
The Croc is pushed unceremoniously into the garage and hoisted into the air. It looks like the session is over, but new tyres are put on as Carsten plugs a pc in to interrogate the car’s software. He can’t find any error codes, so the problem is probably a failed sensor. Much digging around ensues, MC is strapped in and waved out again by Carsten until a mechanic from another team commands STOP in a stentorian voice. MC obeys; one of the rear tyres is flat; and by the time that is sorted, the red light signals the session over.
With qualifying having been delayed there is some confusion about the time of the race start, so the drivers repair to the truck for a Chinese parliament; and look at the data, where shortly, Carsten joins them. Qualifying was not an unqualified success; a lot of time has been left on the table. MC is clearly very rattled by his excitement at PF1 and is not prepared to drive the car until its clear that the ABS is working properly. The order is decided as Einar, MC, Domenico.
Much fettling and racing around has been done with the Crok; new tyres are on, so Einar has a good chance to make up some ground from the P8 start position. Having used the warm-up lap to get the tyres nicely warmed up while preserving fuel, Einar heads down the start/finish straight , pulls through the Mercedes Arena and have already made up a couple of places in SP6. Picking his way through the Cup Astras and slower V6 cars, he heads onto the Nordschleife truly inspired by the Crok's performance. Flowing through Flugplatz towards Schwedenkreutz he is the second car behind the giant crash between the Cup1 Astra #350 and the V6 Z4 #430, but manages to manoeuvre through the debris without damaging anything.
Einar drives solid laps and seems to have no problem following the strong SP6 M3 #207, a battle that could not be won last year, but with no power steering issues it might be possible to overtake this time? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so have a look at the video highlights from his stint here.
Unfortunately, the Crok's ABS played up a couple of times towards the end of the stint which meant the M3 was gone and Einar's last lap was taken at a slightly more careful pace.
The pit stop window is now fast approaching, although we aren’t 100% sure how many laps the Crok can do. Carsten briefs MC to get his helmet on and the crew prepare themselves. Another lap looks possible, so MC is stood down again.
Next lap, Einar pits. For once in a blue moon, there is enough clear space right in front of the pumps. Einar hops out full of beans, having had a good stint. “Track’s clear, car is great” he shouts to MC. He adds something else (Ed: "ABS plays up. Ignition off/on resets it."), but despite being asked to repeat it, the message is lost in the noise of the pit lane. MC is strapped in, but looks agitated again, pointing at the instrument console, which is flashing 2 red and one white error message. Julius assures him that all is well and that the car and brakes are fine. The net goes up, the door is slammed and MC is off.
The tyres are stone cold, so the Cayman is behaving more like a Mk II Escort than a race car. The GP circuit is taken in a series of balletic drifts with the ABS grumbling and chattering all the way to the turn in points. Hatzenbach Bogen passes in a similar style – how long does it take to get the Caymans’s tyres warm? Most of a lap seemingly, so its not until the second lap that MC seems to be confident to press on and start dealing with the traffic. The Leonard Aston blasts past on the way down to Metzgefeld; hopefully we won’t come across him again!
By the start of the third lap, MC is beginning to get properly stuck in and beginning to push the car. He’s got some free air now, with the odd GT3 car passing, but not too much traffic to deal with; but then, heading into Metzgefeld 2, he anchors up and the car locks instantly, slewing sideways a little, but enough to put two tyres on the grass. The inevitable follows and although the impact is relatively minor, the radiator is leaking, so its not safe to attempt to drive back to the pits.
The Crok is recovered back to the Breisdscheid entrance, whence Michael comes to collect it. MC is incandescent and long faces abound in the pits. Not the end to VLN 9 that we all hoped for. Poor Domenico didn’t get to drive in the race at all. On the bright side, Leonard managed an entire race without hitting anyone, which is a first for him.
Big thanks to all track-side photographers for smashing action pictures, your watermarks have been preserved for proper identification and rights protection.
Special thanks to Selda Schretzmann (HIGHSPEED-IMAGES.COM) for fantastic pit-lane pictures!