Get comfortable, this could be a long one...
I'm going to tell you the story of my first road trip abroad - and what a trip it was. 5 days, 3 countries, 2 track days, and a lot of fun.
Greg from Weekend Racer asked me if I wanted to come on this trip 1 month before we planned to leave. I went away to think about it, and about 4 hours later, I figured that I'd be stupid to say no to such an opportunity. So I said yes, and we were on.
The trip began on the Friday afternoon in Oxford, at a friend of Greg's, Charlie. Charlie would be driving his white 997 GT3 out to Europe, and also coming with us was his brother, Todd - an experienced freelancer. Greg and I would be heading there in his 2008 JCW Mini. The plan was to catch the ferry from Dover early in the morning, and then head straight to Germany once we hit Calais.
We got up at 3am on the Saturday, and after pulling the GT3 out of Charlie's garage without waking the neighbours (we hope), we were on our way into the night. At 8am we boarded our ferry, shortly after departing for Calais. It was a beautiful morning for the crossing - we were sat in the lounge right at the front of the boat, with the sunshine and coffee helping to wake us all up.
Landing in Calais at about 10am, we disembarked and hit the road, headed for the fabled Nurburgring. On our way we passed through Belgium to get there, but other than that, there isn't a lot to say. Just miles and miles of motorway...
It was a long drive and I could tell Greg was itching to get off the motorway and onto the famous twisty roads that surrounded the Black Forest. After about 8 hours, his prayers were answered and we finally exited the highway, only to immediately pull over again...
The water sensor on Charlie's GT3 was playing up (a common fault apparently) so he had no idea how hot his engine was. Not ideal. After running a few tests with his code reader, he was confident enough with the car to keep driving and we continued into the hills. Now this is where it starts to get interesting.
The roads on the way to the 'Ring really are good - twisting in and out of the forests, up and down through trees - acting as a little teaser to what the Nordschleife would bring. Following Charlie and Todd in the GT3 is something Greg and I would become very accustomed to over the course of this trip, and seeing it wind its way through the trees (even at half-pace because of that sensor) was a great start.
We were staying in Adenau, no more than 60m from the famous Adenau bridge - the 'halfway point' of the circuit. Here, you can get on and drive around half of the track for half the cost.
We arrived in Adenau at about 3pm, and after checking in we naturally went straight up those steps you see in the above image and started walking up the track. For Greg and I, it was our first time seeing the 'Ring in real life and neither of us could stop grinning or shouting out cars as they came past.
I would be pointing out any Porsches, Hondas, Nissans or Clios I spied, whilst Greg was yearning after the extremely common E46 M3's and less common Minis he would see. All are decent choices for tackling this circuit.
The plan for Sunday was simple - see as much of the track as possible. Charlie had left in his GT3 to try and get that water sensor fixed (not an easy task on Easter Sunday) so that left myself, Greg and Todd to explore the area. With Todd as our guide, we first headed to the top of the foxhole, and the infamous Adenaeur Forst chicane which catches so many people out. We got there and, well - it was pretty quiet. We saw a few cars come by but then nothing, closed circuit we assumed.
At this point Todd told us about what everyone at the 'Ring was talking about that weekend, the A45 AMG crash at this very corner. The day before we arrived, a white Mercedes A45 had lost control at the foxhole and was actually upside down before even reaching Adenauer Forst:
Luckily both the driver and passenger walked away, but this crash was a stark reminder to me that we were in a legendary, but dangerous place. The Nordschleife is a circuit that demands more respect than most.
Throughout the morning, the three of us must have walked about 5-6 miles seeing various elements of the course - Fuchsröhre, Bergwerk, Adenaeur Forst, Kallenard and Metzgefeld 2. All great viewing locations.
After our little adventure Todd, Greg and myself headed to the car park to meet with a couple of Todd's friends, James and Lee - also known as Barney and Gams. Don't ask, don't know.
They had both driven over in Gams' recently purchased black E46 M3, and as Greg and I had never been to the Nurburgring before, they offered to take us round. Greg went first, and I did a lap shortly after.
Below is a video of my first Ring lap. Now, I only started recording about 1/3 of the way round, just into the foxhole. No idea why I didn't start before; adrenaline, amazement - I don't know. Either way, if you want to see a fairly quick lap in an M3 with the occasional giggle from me, here ya go! I'll try and explain my experience afterwards.
At around 1:25 you can see our hotel, Hotel an der Nordscheilfe as we approach the bridge. Shout out to them - fantastic hotel, great room facilities, full cooked breakfast and that location is hard to beat.
Before this trip, the only experience I had of the Nordschleife was Forza. Now Forza provides a decent experience (to the extent of me knowing roughly where I was on track) but that's about it.
What the game doesn't provide is the vast elevation changes that the track brings; it can't replicate that 'holy shit!' moment as you fly down the hill at 100mph into the foxhole and see the ascent on the other side approaching you like a brick wall; and it can't throw you about in your seat as you bounce your way around the Karussell, almost losing the splitter as you do so.
The most accurate way to describe the track is like a rollercoaster, and a good one at that. Bars-over-the-shoulder, Space Mountain kinda thing, no lap belts here. It's truly a bucket list item for every petrolhead and I urge you to go there yourself if you ever get the chance. It's awesome.
On Monday morning, we headed to the famous 'Ring car park. Previously it would have always been full of people turning up at the track and parking up, without even venturing out for any laps. Posers, you could say. But now it's different - the only way to enter the car park is to exit from the track itself, so you can't park in there without driving round now. Better I think, you get some much better cars filling the spaces.
As a Porsche fan, I was in my element. This place is GT3 heaven, with what feels like every other car you see being a special edition 911 of some sort. We spent about 2 hours here, time that flew by for Greg and I - the array of cars was just epic.
Monday afternoon was our time to leave Nuburg, but head to somewhere just as cool. Spa.
On our way down out of the black forest, Greg and I followed a couple of 991 GT3s through the trees which made for a cool photo opportunity. Wanted to mention this because the shots are awesome.
So, Monday afternoon brought us to our second track of the trip, and it's no less legendary than the first. After only 1 hour (I thought they were much further apart than that?!) we arrived at Spa Francorchamps. What. A. Place.
If anything, I became more excited to see Spa than the Nurburgring, because all that infrastructure really adds to the 'racetrack' atmosphere. Back in the Black Forest we stayed in Nordscheilfe area, and didn't really venture in the GP Circuit complex - so seeing the giant Spa pitlane at the top of the hill overlooking Eau Rouge was EPIC.
Arriving at Spa at about 4pm, there was nothing for us to see on track, so we headed straight for the hotel. Like our hotel in back in Adenau, Hotel De La Source is also a stones-throw from the circuit. Located just off-site behind the main pitlane, it's ideally located and is a fine place to stay. Not least because there's currently a 993 Cup car sitting in the lobby...
My favourite part of the hotel though, is the underground car park where people store their racecars, obviously. We figured that there must be a curfew for starting cars in the morning (for obvious reasons), because whilst I was in the shower at 7am, I suddenly felt the floor vibrate to the ominous sound of a loud, highly tuned racing engine. I should also explain our room was on the ground floor. Either way, put a smile on my face and is definitely a cool memory.
The only way to describe the track-day experience at Spa is nothing short of epic. Take a UK track day, multiply everything by 10 (including the weather) and then you have Spa. The pits are a wonderful place to be, and the track, well, that just speaks for itself.
The morning started in a rather wet fashion on Tuesday, with some pretty substantial rain meaning some slow sighting laps, then a handful brave souls hitting the track for some laps after that.
Eventually though, it did dry up and people started heading out. There was a great selection of cars to be seen, everything from the typical track-ready Clio 172, all the way up to a Lamborghini Huracan Performante. Highlights for me included a Guards Red 911 GT3, Subaru Legacy and a DC2 Integra Type R on 5-spokes - it was absolutely filthy, just how a track car should be.
Throughout the day we spent all our time in and around the track, venturing up to Eau Rouge too, watching the cars attack the famous corner. Up there you get a great view of the entire paddock area, and you can see what a mammoth task it must have been to build the place. The terrain is so steep, the pitlane is built on top of what you could call a multi-storey, but built into the hillside. Maaaad.
By this point in the trip, Charlie had finally managed to get that damned sensor fixed on his GT3, which was good news for everyone. Greg and I were particularly pleased, as this meant passenger laps! Again, Greg went first and the pair of them spent about 20 minutes lapping Spa, with Greg emerging afterwards with a grin on his face.
Then after a quick break for Charlie and the car, it was my turn.
Spa may only be 1/3 of the Nurburgring's length, but it is not any less thrilling, nor is it any less of a workout when you're in the car. Charlie is a really good driver, and he does not baby his GT3 when on track.
Heading into Eau Rouge out of the pits for the first time was memorable. Similar to the foxhole at the 'Ring, you're flying down the descent. You're inches from the wall on the right, then at the last second you dart left to hit the apex, forced down in your seat as the car sinks into the tarmac at the lowest point. Then, darting right again to ascend up to Radillion blind, which is just incredible. I can understand why so many drivers lose it here, it's a properly scary corner. Charlie didn't though, kudos to him.
It did start to drizzle a little bit whilst we were out there, which made for an interesting moment at La Source. Exiting the corner, the back stepped out a bit due to the rain, and instead of backing off, Charlie rode the slide all the way out, with both the engine and myself screaming. Yeah Tuesday was a good day.
Wednesday was our final day - so after spending the morning at the track again capturing those last few pieces of content, we left Belgium and headed on our recently agreed detour.
Our detour would put us a couple of hours out of our way towards Calais, but it'd be worth it. We now had a Cayman GT4 travelling with us too, driven by Logan, another of Charlie's friends. He joined us on our return journey, and travelling in our little Mini/Porsche convoy was very cool, as we headed towards Reims-Gueux in the best weather we'd seen on the trip.
What remains of the old Reims-Gueux circuit is absolutely magical. There is no other word to describe it.
It was established back in the 1920s and used to be an 8km triangular road course that was used for all sorts of events, including motorcycle racing and even Formula 1 from 1950 to 1966. The circuit was closed for good in 1972, and now all that remains is the pitlane and grand stands, vintage sponsors and all.
The sense of nostalgia, history and even mystery you get when you're there hits you like a truck, it's just instant. Heading to the 3rd floor of the tower, looking out of the window frames and imagining drivers fly past in their cars down below is something you need to experience. Plenty of huge names have won here; Fangio, Ascari, Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart and even Bruce McLaren to name a few - this place has so much history that any racing nut would lose their mind here, and rightly so. This is the place I'd want to go back to most, to spend a bit more time there in a classic of some sort would be absolutely mesmerising. Who knows...
So that, pretty much sums up our road trip to Europe. After Reims, we shot to Calais, grabbed the return ferry and I ended up home about 1am I think. It was an epic, exhausting and down right ridiculous trip, and it's not something I'm going to forget easily. Big thanks to Greg from Weekend Racer for bringing me along.
WR merch, like the crew neck and T-Shirt will be available on the website soon, so make sure you check that out.
Thanks for reading this rather long blog post! If you made it this far, well done, and I hope you enjoyed it! Hit share if you're feeling generous, and keep an eye out for new content. Plenty more to come, thanks people!