With the team pretty much back to full health, Einstein ran strongly to 6th in class; and Tom Daub joins us as team manager. MC has his 15 mins of fame in the drivers’ briefing.
18 May 2014
We all gathered for the Friday T&E session for VLN4 on a beautiful early summer’s day. The truck was back in its normal position; we even had our usual box #13. Car #32 is nowhere to be seen; MC is walking normally, and Carsten is no longer the rattling chipmunk: what could possibly go wrong?
MC and Carsten literally bumped into each other at the truck, looking forward to a good session of documentation or two; with MC determined to tell Carsten all about his new mini stills camera. Einstein looked just fantastic in proper RPR colours, the ghost of Kermit having been laid to rest. Carsten had just been with Jürg, the head of Opel Motorsport, who had been asking about the crash in VLN2. He told Carsten that MC’s write up to the VLN, which Carsten had shared with Stefan Kissling, had been circulated to the overall Opel board, who were very pleased with MC’s hopefully short career as a crash test dummy, and the strong and selfless performance of the Astra. Fame indeed – or is that infamy?
In a severe break from form, Einstein, with MC in it, is ready to roll at 1600hrs. MC has abandoned his comfy foam, another good sign on his recovery; and sits there admiring MEC’s steering wheel, which has now been transferred, and a new foot rest. All mod cons. Julius, sadly, couldn’t be with us this weekend, playing with Porsches in the Supercup (I mean, who on earth would want to do that?), so Pascal and Michael are wielding the spanners.
The tyres were cold, so the first half lap is with traction control, but then MC gets the TC off and the hammer down. Even for old tyres, there is no grip anywhere: so, suspecting over pressure in the tyres, MC pits for a check. The tyres are adjusted and off down the pit lane he rolls. Its busy out there, but MC gets one good lap, avoiding all the slower drivers and those weighed down with passengers. He even nails a 991 Cup, who must be pretty chastened by the experience. Then red flags appear and at Steilstrecke, the reason becomes apparent. A silver BMW, #570, has had a big smash, and the marshalls appear to be doing CPR by the trackside.
MC radios in that the session is red flagged, but he and Einstein are fit and well. The BMW in front seems to be determined to imitate the Pied Piper of Hamlyn and proceeds at a stately 60 kmh for the rest of the lap. Under the bridge on the main straight, the entourage was so long that MC couldn’t see the end of it in his mirrors.
Back in the pits, the tannoy is announcing a long delay, as we pace around worrying about the driver. Before too long, there is an announcement that the driver had a heart attack, but is now in Koblenz hospital and out of danger for now. The passenger is also OK, but that will be a lap to remember. The session is over, though, so sadly, Carsten didn’t get out in Einstein. MC’s debrief is reassuring, though: Einstein is on form.
Carsten and MC repair to the Opel tent for a cup of tea; where Einar appears somewhat furtively shortly after, hoping to be able to sneak a cup of tea in to appear with. You will never beat an Englishman to the kettle….
In the absence of any further documentation, its soon time for the Drivers’ briefing, given this week by Karl Mauer, the ever affable head of marketing for the VLN series, an ex-VLN champion and an all-round good guy. It’s a packed briefing, and after the usual rigmarole on flags, Karl gets very stern on speed limits and quite right too. We get a big upgrade on the usual video with some frankly highly-disturbing videos of a factory Audi driver shaking his fist at other drivers, hurling abuse at them and going for gaps that weren’t there. Hopefully, he’s been sent home for a sit down and some quiet contemplation, as his behaviour was distinctly unedifying. There is then another compellation video on overtaking in yellows that gets a slightly unusual reaction of applause. The silent majority appears to have awoken.
Then in an unusual twist, Karl asks MC to come up and speak; Olaf Manthey is apparently doing the same in the German-language briefing. After a quick introduction and vaguely alarming brief description of the crash, MC asks rhetorically: why he is here? “Its not Playstation out there” is his explanation, which meets with thunderous applause; which he follows with a slightly emotional commentary on the historical level of co-operation between teams and drivers in the VLN series, which sets it out as unique in the racing world. This is met with two more rounds of applause, so the massive clearly think the same way. As we leave the briefing, bereft of wrist bands to get soggy, Uli Bez, the chairman of Aston Martin buttonholes MC briefly, whom MC reassures that Aston Martin have behaved completely impeccably throughout, and a further half a dozen or so people came up to congratulate MC on his sentiments.
The team retired to pits enjoying the warmth of the late sun to find a wonderful surprise. Tom Daub, who is a highly-experienced, long-term Manthey man, is team chief not just for weekend, but for the whole of the rest of the season. Morale, as they say, chuffing rocks!
We settle into the various admin jobs for the evening: Einar fitting a new camera, Michael appears brandishing some huge shiny new brake discs; and MC appears with some more tea. Some time later…. Einar suggests there is time for one quick glass of wine before bed in the Motorsport Hotel. Carsten says he will join in 15 minutes. That will be a Goldman 15 minutes, then. 2 hours later, just as Einar and MC were about to give up, Carsten appears all smiles, so the boys have a proper male discussion about tactics, what to do next year, and whether anything is recoverable from MEC? Then, as Zebedee said: “Boing, its time for bed”, so Einar retreats upstairs, Carsten to join the rest of the team and MC to the welcoming lights of the Agnesenhof.
Oh what a beautiful morning; oh what a beautiful day… Eifel mornings don’t come much better than this; and what better place on earth could a boy want to be? We hold our usual Chinese parliament and decide that we will stick with our usual order of Einar, Carsten then MC for qualifying. My, my, its busy with over 200 cars: must be the 24hr soon. There’s a huge variety as well, with plenty of familiar N24 cars appearing for a quick shakedown before the big event itself (didn’t they notice the N24hr 6-hour qualifying race? We did: it was epic).
It takes some time before Einar can get out of the pit lane into what turns out to be another troubled session. Einar doesn’t get to set a decent time, as two slower cars trip up over each other in Metzgefeld and slither off into barriers. Back in the pits, the team didn’t know whether Einar was OK, for some reason the radio hadn’t been connected properly or not turned on, so there is a very long, nervous wait until Einar came in. Smiles wreathe the teams’ faces when Einstein’s gorgeous nose comes down the pit lane. Of course, finding a place to park by then wasn’t so easy, but eventually, with a bit of jiggling around, we all manage
here’s a bit of a wait, and to spice things up a bit, Einar hasn’t done enough documentation so the kind man from the documents centre comes for a personal documentation session with him in our pits. Although we all agree this is much more convenient, we probably won’t try that tactic again: he didn’t seem terribly pleased with us. Eventually the warning order goes out, so Carsten saddles up and heads out. Again, with so many cars, it’s a long wait actually to leave the pits. The tyres are stone cold, so Carsten takes one GP lap to warm them up, cracks off a lap and heads in: there are various rumours circulating about how long the session is going to be extended for, so we take no risks and send MC out with a brief to lap until the session closes. On the radio check, MC says its busy, busy busy with many faster cars, and many slower cars. MC has two laps in tight formation with a Z4 & a pair of M235is, ebbing & flowing through the other traffic. Neither lap is at all clean, so MC is frustrated at only clocking a 9.39. The sub 9.30 remains elusive for now.
Meanwhile, there’s a ticket from Clerk. 366 doing 80 kmh in the double yellow at post 103 (Adanau Forst – Metzgefeld). Einar looks somewhere between mortified and confused. He had only seen the red, no double yellow. Thankfully, the camera was working, so the entire team troupe off to the Clerk of the Course with Einar’s trusty laptop and run him through the few hundred metres before post 103. Unperturbed, the CoC asks to look further back; but his position is looking weaker by the moment as we scroll back past Adenau Forst, back down the Fuchsrohre and still no double yellow is in sight: only a high viz waistcoat at Adenau Forst, so the ticket is torn up. Phew!
That’s burnt up most of the time between the end of Quali and the race, so Einar goes off to get car to grid while Carsten and MC adopt the “eat while you can” routine and go to grab a bite in the Opel tent, where the Agnesenhof chefs have treated us to some nice salads & the usual delicious bread, which we know we shouldn’t eat, but we do. Its just too good: especially the crusty bits. With vinaigrette.
With a few minutes still to the parade lap, the whole team is on the grid to check on Einar, who is surreally calm in car. He seems to like it in there. He likes starting too, which is a good thing, as the grid is all over the place because of the qualifying session’s being paused because of the red flag. Around Einar, there is a Cayman, a Z4, three more Astras and his old favourite, car #404, the SLK. Helfers raus away from the grid, leaving Einar to himself and a couple of hundred other adrenaline-filled racing drivers.
The start groups seem to go on forever with so many cars: first group rumbling and screaming past before it coalesces into a more consistent roar. There is definitely more variety in the first group. Silence descends again until start group two powers down the main straight, with Einar bang in the middle of the pack, in P8 out of a class of 14. Heading towards the first corner, Einar edged towards the outside and managed to pass #342 while looking wide eyed at how #360 threw up a huge cloud of dust as he squeezed past several V6 cars ahead of him. By the end of the GP circuit, V6 cars surrounded Einar; #360 and the rest of the fastest Cup1 cars were gone, and there were several V6 cars between Einar and the rest of the Cup1 cars behind.
As Einar approaches Flugplatz for the first time, there’s a double yellow – “Already?” he thinks "oh my, red mist already" - and carefully watched the speedo doing 60 kmh, while the V6 cars ahead edged slowly away; obviously there’s a different 60 kmh in V6, then, and as soon as the stranded Porsche was passed, they all floored it immediately while Einar, good as gold, crept towards the green flag; costing him more than 100 meters, but the V6 cars lost 2-3 places in class as penalty. There is a God!
With clear air ahead, and a slow V6 car holding up the pack behind, Einar could settle in and drive at his own pace for a while, catching a brief glimpse of #339 that had run out of talent and wasn’t going anywhere. On the next lap, coming towards Quiddelback, he spies an SLS and Z4 GT3 in the mirror and thinks "this can get interesting at Flugplatz" with the GT86/Z4 accident from VLN #3 fresh in the memory, so he slows well down to give them both the inside passing line, but in doing so, Einar finds himself on the marbles at the outside of the turn; uh oh, not much grip there, but he scrambled through losing time of course, but avoiding a starring role in yet another YouTube VLN crash video.
As the laps pass, little by little #343 is catching Einar, and on Döttinger Höhe he passes as easily as if he was in a higher class, hmmm; thought these Astras were supposed to be identical. Next #342 is slowly catching Einar, and on Döttinger Höhe he passes as easily as if he was in a higher class, hmmm. Seems like some of the Astras are more equal than others…..
#342 can't pull away though, so he and Einar have a good run together for a while. #342’s handling might politely be described as “lively”, and under pressure in Kurtzanbindung, he overcooks it and ends up in the grass on the outside, but with a miracle avoids the tyre wall, and manages to get back on track in a way that Einar can't exploit his mistake. Patience, Einar, patience, he might well overdo it again.
Einstein is by now understeering badly on corner entry, so Einar focuses on trying to reduce the tyre pressures and driving smoothly, but at the same time not letting #342 get away. That worked pretty well and soon the two cars have caught up with #343, but it is time to pit and all three come into the pits line astern.
Nothing like a bit of competition to get the boys focused so, with Tom watching over them, the boys do a record pit stop in 1’52”. Way to go, so MC does and goes out same order & right with other two Astras; and as they exit the pits they are joined by yet another Cup 1 car.
What followed was like a bad movie car chase: cars in the mirror weaving side to side; nosing half past; and looming large in mirrors. All four cars stay within one or two seconds of each other for three laps, until a double yellow in which the front two cars pull the old green flag trick & gain 150m; and repeat the same trick in the next double yellow to pull out a 300m gap: hopefully the VLN officials are watching? Its clear that this has spurred MC on; and he can’t close the gap quickly enough. Next lap, he is miles quicker through MutKurve (just a lift, is it then?) and Klostertal, where no demons remain from VLN2 apparently, and momentum is on his side out of Hohe Acht, so he is able to squeeze up the inside on the entry to Wipperman and keep his foot in into the meat of the complex; so gets past the first; and repeats the trick in a brave move over the big crest of Pflanzgarten 2 down into Stefan Belloff; only to watch a repeat of Einar’s mugging down the main straight. Are we eating enough spinach? Maybe too much and we all need to diet; but one thing’s for sure: not all Astras grow up equal.
Its ding dong all the way round the next lap, with MC clearly the faster car, but the car in front has suddenly got very, very wide indeed and with the traffic, there is no way past for a while, so MC hangs back on the entry to Galgenkopf and exits a good 5-10 kmh faster, gets a good draft, closes and pulls past the other Astra, runs out of revs in 5th and grabs 6th; only to watch the other Astra pull alongside and away again. MC has clearly had enough of this; and is in no mood to give in, so as the two cars arrive at Antoniusbuche Bridge almost side by side, he toughs it out around the outside and leaves it planted through the compression. The other Astra is clearly a bit surprised to find MC still there on his right, and bottles it before the right apex, finding himself 20-30m behind on the exit from Shikane. Again, he closes down the straight, but MC brakes later and gets a strong exit from the first corner, and that’s the end of his challenge: MC is off.
Next up the road is Einar’s favourite, the V6 SLK #404, who is borderline dangerous. MC is clearly much the quicker car, but #404 slams the door, with MC already in it, five or six times over the course of two laps, an accident only being avoided by MC’s slamming the brakes on massively at the apex. Is the visibility that bad out of SLK’s? You have to assume that such behaviour isn’t deliberate, but with the pattern of its happening over and again, MC isn’t so sure. The SLK is annoyingly that bit quicker on the straights; but MC closes #404 down in the early part of the GP circuit and is 15+kmh faster through NGK chicane, so is able to sit along side #404 into entry to Nordschleife, so hung him out to dry; and then quickly pulled away. How much time was lost getting past though? MC now really has the bit between his teeth and over the next half lap catches 343, who has no double yellows to play with; for the next two laps, the two cars have a massive to and fro. MC overtakes twice, only to be passed again on the main straight in a carbon copy of the earlier incident; this time returning the compliment on the braking into the first corner; then finally loses him on Nordschleife. ET calmly posts MC that the next car in class is only 40secs up the road, but then Tom comes on the line with the “box box box“ call from 6th in class and calls the end of a good solid stint.
The team is ready for another lightning pit stop, but a few seconds are lost as MC stalls the engine before getting out, so has to restart Einstein to avoid any risk to the turbo. MC out, Carsten in; and he’s rolling down the pit lane again in 2’02” – way to go again boys! Tom’s huge presence is clearly having an effect.
MC has put so much time on #343 that Carsten comes out only 300m behind it; and soon also closes him down, but loses 50m, while being overtaken by three front-running cars. Nil desperandum, Carsten uses some smart slipstreaming to catch up again, only to watch #343 nail the gas immediately after an accident in a double yellow and gain another 50m. “Ne illegitimis carborundum”, thinks Carsten (of course he thinks in Latin, doesn’t everyone?) and catches #343 up again. That is right up until the double yellow in Hohenrain; in which, #343 repeats the trick all over again and gains another 50 m. Completely out of Latin epithets, Carsten swore mightily in German and set off again after #343.
“Red, red, red” calls MC to the team in the pits. Somehow he seems to spot them first in the garage. Carsten radios in, approaching Steilstrecke, that he’s fine, so Einar counsels him to bring the car home safely. On Doettinger Hohe Carsten radios in again, reporting of a very serious accident obviously being the reason for the red flag; so that’s the end of the race. Carsten’s had a bit of a short time of it, with only one qualifying lap and one and a half race laps, so let’s hope the 24-hour gets him some more seat time.
Despite the disappointment of the red flag’s ending the race, so cutting Carsten’s stint short; its been a good weekend. Einstein is going well; although we have to find the magic spinach that allows some Astras to be slower out of Galgenkopf and yet still overtake us. Einstein has a bit of rest now; as it’s the 24-hour next; and we are running HH in that. Bring it on!!
Thanks to all track-side photographers for great pictures; watermarks are preserved for identification and rights protection.
Special thanks to Dale Lomas, Frank Lehnert, Nico Stockmayer, Patrick Funk, Rolf-Dieter Koch.