As we get out of the car balancing onto static ground, the driver apologises,
"I am sorry I only drove at 229 kilometres per hour - there were 3 passengers in the car".
I have just completed a lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a Safety Car and my body is shaking from the exhilarating and somewhat enlightening eight and half minutes of my life.
A track that was built in 1927, the Nordschleife has, along with its more recent addition, of the Grand Prix Circuit, become known to many as the 'Green Hell' a title that I have started to appreciate. My passenger ride, courtesy of Falken Tyres, is something that my memory will always keep tight, with the 'crazy' people in the tree houses the undulating, I mean really steep undulating track and unforgiving corners, the Carrousel and the long straight at Dottinger Hohe, the passenger lap in the safety car albeit at a slower pace than a race car, certainly had me at the first corner.
I had heard about the people in the trees, but little did I realise that the forest would be so large and that it would be full of really enthusiastic racing fans, living there for two weeks previously, setting up their small villages and compounds, plugging in television sets to generators, and plumbing up hot water bathrooms from a simple camp fire.
The forest lifestyle is a far cry from how I travelled to the ring, in a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S luxury all the way with, I might add, some speed, 'pull your knickers off' fast, so fast that when I put the car into Sport mode on the Autobahn, I felt my head push back against the head rest and I was flying.
Which I think was exactly the case on the Nurburgring Nordschleife with Falken Motorsports in their Porsche 911 GT3 R 997. Starting from a qualifying position of 20th, the team gradually made their way to finish the race in 4th position. Wolf Henzler, Peter Dumbreck, Martin Ragginger, Alexandre Imperatori have all raced together for some time and together along with speed, skill and I certainly think a considerable amount of grip from the Falken tyres, they secured their outstanding place.
This is the only race team who have their own tyres manufactured for them, in fact Falken Tyres only make tyres for this team, although they make street car tyres, they use this team as a sort of research and development for their racing division. Their result clearly shows how good these tyres are.
A total of 180 cars entered the Nurburgring 24hour race with sixty cars in each class, the Falken Motorsports team started in the first grid, setting off minutes before the other two. With only a few retirements from their class, the team did a fabulous job of not only driving superbly, but keeping their car out of the garage was a great achievement (they did however, come in for minor rear suspension work). From what I could see from my Safety Car lap, this place requires a substantial amount of Gaffa tape.
The road surface at corner one for example, by the inside curb, has a terrifically threatening tarmac mound that for any car manufacturer, would dread driving over it, let alone at speed. The Carrousel in the rain is a case on its own, with the Graffiti covered strips of tarmac fanning out around the corner, I overheard Falken driver Peter Dumbreck saying this is a point on the circuit that can "take you for your life", where the Graffiti becomes slippery glass.
The Green Hell it certainly could be with a 24 hour race. Luckily I only witnessed two crashes and one spin, with all the drivers perfectly fine. On my walk around the Breidsheid section of the forest, just before the break of dawn I found the Falcon black Mercedes with the head of one mechanic inside the back drivers side wheel arch, fixing a thoroughly jarred off differential, and the other mechanic Gaffa taping a considerable amount of bumper back onto the car, whilst the driver sat patiently snoozing waiting for his magicians to conjure the race car back to life.
I made my way up through many a dishevelled campsite to find a curve littered with photographers stealing images of cars as they cascaded towards the double corners and onwards through the trees up the hill into the distance. I found my place, close to the track and able to spy on my Falken Motorsports team Porsche. The sun slowly rose from behind the forest directly into my lens almost as if I too had realised an awakening. I had survived the night at the Nordschleife.
Back in the land of buildings and hot coffee I wanted to tell everyone of my bravery, of how I was now a fully - fledged endurance race photographer, but instead I collapsed on a chair and set my mind to the long drive home in the deliciously comfortable 991.
I reached the Porsche headquarters in Reading UK almost wanting to burst into tears. I didn't want to hand my 911 Carrera 4S back, it had been mine for the past 3 days. The figure hugging sport seats, the beautifully detailed leather with immaculate stitching, the Sport Shift gears that fitted like a glove to my hands and the perfect space for my camera kit made me happy. Not only had the Nurburgring broken me, seeing the Falken team race in a GT3 gripping the road like a hawk, and driving the 991 home, I had been teased. Everything else didn't matter. It took my breath away. I really want a Porsche.