HH survives a horrible 24hr pre-race accident and the Team secures a grid position.
21 June 2014
With the N24H pre-qualifying race in April under our belt, the team was feeling pretty confident about a podium finish in V3: sure, the GT-86s that are suspiciously fast on sub 200bhp can put in a quick lap time, but scanning the entry list, none had a bench of four quick drivers, so morale was high.
It wouldn’t be the Nürburgring, however, without a little admin to get in the way, so when the truck rolled up to the circuit on Monday, it was no surprise to be told that we were two-and-a-half hours late (notwithstanding we arrived before the time we’d been told to on Friday), so instead of being parked in the row immediately behind the garages, we were sent to purdah behind the Kumho tyre empire. Turned out to be a good spot, however. After the usual parking and organisational hoohah, on the Tuesday, Einstein and HH were wheeled out and put in the sunshine, looking good.
Einar, being the keen soul that he is, arrived with his wife, Mette, at lunchtime on Wednesday. After checking into the Motorsport Hotel, he wandered down to circuit to get stuck into some admin. Torsten & Nina appeared seemingly from nowhere and joined in. Torgeir, our debutant RCN driver, and Lene were trying their best to digest all the impressions. Carsten had a million things to sort out so when Danny, having got held up with the day job, arrived just after 9pm just in time to squeak through the admin that night, the two of them missed out on the nice relaxed dinner at the Pistenklause.
Carsten, having also arrived on Wednesday afternoon, was not relaxed, since of Meyrick, there was no sign and he didn’t find his casual approach to documentation very reassuring. However, he had left no stone unturned in the team and had brought a full team of mechanics; great to welcome Julius back, Michael, Pascal, Dominic and so on.
Thursday started at dark ‘o’ clock, with the need to get Einstein prepared and ready for Thorgeir’s debut in the RCN. Still fretting somewhat about MC’s absence, Carsten calls him and is somewhat put out by MC’s saying that he was still at least 3hrs away, despite having been up until 0300hrs. MC arrived at 1150hrs, dialled into a board meeting on his mobile, to find Carsten conducting a military operation with the security guys. Parked in seconds in a pre-prepared slot, whisked onto the RPR team scooter, hopped off again to get his wallet, Carsten carves a line through the milling fans and dumps the scooter outside the documentation. Claudia had her usual welcome for MC & the docs were nearly complete.
Down to helmet weighing, where’s the helmet? Helmet arrives, where’s the HANS? MC is still dialled into his mobile, organising the world, but eventually our documents are done, just two days before the race. Carsten & Einar head to the drivers’ briefing and are sitting in usual spot when MC, perspiring lightly, arrives still organising the world on his mobile. They are all pleased to see a slide on all cars needing to respect each other; and a return to the traditional 70s intervention car video. Feels good, traditions must be observed. They are all very relieved to see that the only SP9 Aston is the factory car with Lamy, Mucke and Turner in it. All experienced and quick drivers, no problems there.
Soon enough, its 1345hrs and time for free practice. We decide to send Danny out first, just to check the car over, then get Torsten and Einar in the car, since they haven’t driven it, and finally MC who is already declaring his undying love for HH. Danny rolls out, but comes back in after one GP lap as the gearshift is missing 5th and 6th, after gearbox change. Quick adjustment & all OK. Then he’s out for two short and one long lap. He’s back pretty quickly with a big smile. HH is on form.
It's Torsten’s first time in the car and after two short, two long and one short lap, he gets out looking uncomfortable. Being the true racer that he is, he asks for another 100bhp and can we make it rear wheel drive? Not so sure about the seating position either. In true RPR style, TK is offered a cup of tea. Einar completes his laps and gets out looking pretty happy with HH; then finally MC does the last laps in free practice, which turn out to be surprisingly empty, and gets out declaring his undying love for HH and reminding himself to turn the TC off straight away, rather than on the way down to Schwedenkreutz.
Its quite a long break before Quali 1 and, being the summer solstice, it won’t be dark until much later on. The team holds its traditional Chinese parliament & decided the order as TK, MC, DB, ET, so as to make sure we could bank a decent time early in the session, although all expected Quali 2 to be when the quick times would come. TK briefed to do one lap on the 235s then come in & change to 215s that we will use in race. He’s feeling much happier with car, although still wants more power, more grip: racing drivers eh? Out on 215s, posts a 10:37 while MC wanders round muttering that the entire circuit is flat. Good clean laps, not too much traffic, so team’s in a good mood.
MC straps in, starts up, TC off and disappears down pitlane. Traffic is good & he clearly means flat everywhere; and despite much adjuration that kerbs were out of bounds, he uses them healthily on the GP circuit & at the top of Fuchsrohre. He catches an Audi A4 V6 diesel, which is in the slow in, slow through, and then nail it camp. Very irritating when you’re in a Clio where momentum is everything, but MC nails the Audi down into Breidscheid & nearly collects an E36 3-series who breaks straight after Niki Lauda Linkskurve. Sadly there is nothing he can do about the Audi drifting past up the hill, followed by the Nurburgring Test Centre V12 Aston. Both lift for MutKurve, and then again, just as MC is back on their tail, for a puff of dust. Unperturbed, MC takes to the grass to overtake the Aston and chases the Audi once more, which then gets in the way for the whole of the rest of the lap, ignoring all the blue flags. The Aston clearly decides that MC is utterly mad and sits behind until Dottinge Hohe, where he passes right on the other side of the straight. This clearly spurs MC on, as he’s clearly on a mission for the next lap. Flugplatz flat, Schwedenkreutz flat & on; plenty of son et lumiere for the A4, who is closed down again remarkably quickly and he posts a scintillating 10:33. British Steel
Danny bolted in. Given calm encouragement of “Flat you F***er”. Heads off looking like he means business. First lap there’s a double yellow for what was the Nissan GTR GT3 from MutKurve to Steilstrecke, so a good lap isn’t going to come. Then, fortified for lap 2, with Danny muttering FYF to himself as he approaches Flugplatz, rain starts falling on his windscreen. Torn between the rational thought that hot slicks generate remarkable purchase on a damp track & visions of the SLS crash in the same place in VLN, Danny sensibly backs off and brings the car home safely. Smart work, Danny, smart work.
Rain is now falling quite hard, so team decide to park the car and wait until it clears up. The boys are all keen to get out in the dark. Rain settles in for the night, so aside from checking the headlights are pointing the right direction, there is nothing to do, but park up. Feels like the real quali is going to be in the next session tomorrow, so the drivers then settle into analysing the data & seeing if MC really did do Schwedenkreutz “flat”. Einar’s skills and his analysis tool really are genius & the four of them spend the next two hours looking in detail at places where one or other gains or loses a little time; and why? By the end of it, they are all at least a minute faster, but each has a concrete plan for improvement; and yes, MC really was flat. Balls of steel, man, balls of steel.
Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day: unfortunately it’s MC singing the refrain with his curious predilection for rain. Friday is damp and cool, with a thin film gracing the entire circuit. It’s wetter down in Adenau, so the lower part of the track will be worse.
Tom Daub, our uber-cool team chief, has now joined us for the weekend; and is busy making sure no stone is left unturned. ET still has to qualify, so is briefed to go out at 1100hrs, some 45 mins into the session; suited and booted, ET is strapped in. It’s still cool and damp, but there is a dry line most of the way round; so the focus is mostly on radio checks and completing a couple of laps. Cut slicks are the tyre of choice, and he has a set warmed and ready to go.
The GPS speed falls to zero in Wipperman and stays there. Nerves start to get frayed, as it doesn’t look like a GPS drop out, and the mobile phones come out. We nervously watch the in car footage of an SLS going through the site and it looks worryingly like HH is the car lurking behind one of the rust-red rescue Jeeps. Carsten’s phone rings and ET confirms the worst.
Carsten hands over to MC to download what happened: ET, distracted by a Porsche and by radioing in each corner had drifted a fraction off line and lifted at the wrong moment, resulting in a chat with Mr. Barrier on the left and an altercation with the barrier on the right. Quick assessment is that the front has been removed and the alternator damaged; and there is damage to the chassis leg on the right. There is more minor damage to the right side of the body, where the second impact occurred, but that was spread out along the side of the car.
Pictures start coming in from ET; poor HH looks a bit of a mess. The marshalls say that HH will be recovered back to the pits at the end of the session, which is imminent. A nervous wait ensues, and TB gets on the phone to work out what workshop facilities he can secure for HH if needed.
The inevitable, and inevitably yellow, Bongard truck arrives and a crowd gathers to peek at HH. It may not be as bad as feared but, aside from the obvious, the front right chassis leg has been bent in; and the engine top mount is broken as a result. Luckily, on a Clio III, this part is welded in, so assuming we can track the part down, we have a chance of still racing. Julius, Pascal and Michael rip around loading every conceivable Clio part into the RPR van; TD’s phone is glued to his ear tracking parts down; and the bodyshop manager he has unearthed from his amazing little black book has arrived to provide some calm professional assessment on the scene. Let’s just say that this one won’t quite polish out.
Tom and Carsten tell the drivers that they will have a definitive verdict in an hour, so the kettle goes on and the datacard is slotted into ET’s ever-present laptop; and downloaded to see what can be gleaned. As ever, watching and analysing a crash is a mix of horrifying and armchair expert. Meanwhile, while Einar heads for the clerk of the course to argue that he has managed to qualify, if HH is repaired. Shortly he returns with good news and, of course, some fresh stickers, to make sure that the car is safe to race. Only at the Ring…..
The team gradually follows the car down to the Manheller workshop in Meuspath, where Julius, Pascal, Michael and team are stripping the car with devastating intensity. By the time the drivers arrive, the engine is out, all the subframes stripped, the rear suspension is off and the car is already being manoevred onto the chassis jig. Several large and rather alarming-looking pieces of hydraulic equipment are standing by; and Carsten appears periodically with armfuls of new parts. It turns out that not only are both the front chassis legs damaged, so too is the rear right chassis leg and the rear suspension subframe. This is going to take some serious work to fix overnight.
Michael is in the middle of the workshop, draining the old engine of oil and bolting the pan onto the new one; Julius and Pascal are helping one of the workshop team attach the Hungry Hornet to the jig to be pulled, welded and generally bludgeoned back into shape. Tom is at the workbench attacking various suspension parts with an air spanner – some team chief, getting stuck in on the oily bits! The suspension is taken to the KW lorry, where they are all busy watching top 30 qualifying, but promise a check over in double-quick time. The #66 McLaren bangs in an astonishing 8:10 lap, which must be getting very close to the outright lap record speed for the Nordschleife; and a couple of the SLS look like they really might backflip over Flugplatz. Awesome spectacle.
upper is organised down at the workshop, and Michaela has excelled herself in the team’s hour of need. The boys need fuelling and boy is that what they have got. Attagirl! There’s an increasing confidence that the car will be ready for the race, which has a tremendous effect on morale; coupled with the news that we have qualified 6th in class, besting 7 theoretically quicker cars in the process; all but one Clio Cups with less weight and more power; and around 10 seconds behind the two suspiciously quick GT-86s. Reassuringly, neither seems to have four quick drivers, whereas HH has four consistent quick drivers. Carsten sends the drivers home to rest for the race: there’s confidence for you. As the boys depart, one of the chassis legs is glowing orange and red as the team lay into it with large hammers. Best not to look, chaps.
As the day draws to a close, Carsten sends round some pictures of progress, which is little short of miraculous. The front is back together, the engine is in, new radiator fitted. Compared with the sorry state that HH was in such a short time ago, the progress is almost difficult to comprehend. The boys deserve vast quantities of beer for this. Vast. This is an object lesson in teamwork, determination and just plain knowing what they are doing. Tom & Carsten have led from the front, but there is still a long night of fitting, set up and so on still to go.
It’s cool but clear, with the sun trying to peek out occasionally and a beautiful sight awaits the drivers in the paddock. HH is parked behind the truck and looking ready to go. Black gaffa tape adorns her right flank; the front apron is still virginal white; and the rear right resembles Boudicca’s chariot with some rather long wheel bolts. The heroes of the day, or rather night, are getting some well-earned rest; boys, we owe you beer. A lot of beer. We love you and want your babies. This is the sort of work that is the domain of factory teams, or a Manthey / Black Falcon and almost beyond comprehension for a small team.
The boys finished at about 5 this morning; and after a minor panic that the engine wouldn’t run (the fuel had been drained at some point), drove HH back up the road to the circuit. Of course, the right documents weren’t present, and no one at the Ring was going to let that slip by. However, a bit of Italianate arm waving and HH was back in the paddock and parked up by the truck. It turns out that Julius actually slept in the car on the hoist, since he couldn’t find anywhere else. True dedication.
Its with much relief that some 10-15 mins into the session, HH fires up again, with the tracking set; we know that the ABS needs resetting, but fingers crossed everything else is good. MC has been “volunteered” to test the car; he always switches all the electronics off anyway and seems to have blind faith that everything will be perfect in HH: that or he has no imagination, it’s not entirely clear which. Carsten checks the radio; and briefs no more than 4,000 rpm and cautions that HH is on cold slicks. HH rasps off down the pit lane and everyone waits in a tense silence for first report.
“Lap One complete, engine good, brakes good, tracking straight, no vibrations” comes over the radio in calm crisp BBC tones. Relief floods the team waiting in the pits. Lap two complete, lap three and the box, box, box call is given. HH comes down the pit lane, the unfamiliar white front apron confusing the crew momentarily, and then they swarm all over the car. A thorough check reveals nothing untoward, so HH is dispatched again: once engine temperature reaches operating levels, 5,000 rpm is authorised, and MC promptly performs a full 360 in the first corner to celebrate. Guess the rear tyres are still cold, then.
Danny is swapped into the car for a couple of laps, and gets out with big smiles. HH feels normal. Torsten heads out for the final couple of laps of the session; and returns commenting on a lack of power and a small vibration in the rear, but otherwise HH feels solid. Tyres checked and fuelled up, HH is pushed back into the garage & the team head back to the truck for breakfast, where a quiet silence descends on the tired crew, broken mostly by the sound of munching. Again, Michaela has done us proud. Just as we are finishing, Pascal appears looking like he’s had 12 hours solid sleep; engulfs a couple of rolls and a banana almost instantly and disappears back off to the pits. The joys of youth!
The drivers settle down for yet another Chinese parliament on tactics, driver order and many other important issues, while the team head back to check the car over once more. Frustratingly, HH can’t quite make 9 laps, and 8 laps is fractionally too long to be able to double stint, which is what TK and MC had planned for the night. When the white smoke emerges, the running order is planned as: DB, TK, MC, ET, TK, MC, TK, MC, DB, ET, DB, ET, TK, MC, DB; and a target lap time of 10:40-10:45 has been agreed on. However, as General von Clausewitz didn’t quite say: “No plan survives first contact with the Ring”, so let’s see how things pan out.
To be continued...