Tortoise and the Hare…..a story of high speed driving

Thoughts of driving in Germany always conjure up images of barren, limitless Autobahns with never ending targets on many horizons. Combine this with a party of cars including 2 GT3’s, a GTR and an Evo8 and you’re guaranteed an interesting trip.

For those who’ve never been, you’d think it was driving nirvana. And you’d be somewhat right. Germany has some of the most breathtaking roads in the world, combining fast autobahns with awesome mountain passes.

The reality of it does include the fantasy’s above, but there are setbacks. Traffic being the main problem, but 2 lane motorways and zero night-lighting means you have to be at the right place at the right time to put your car in its paces. The steep mountain roads can be deadly if not treated with a modicum of respect and driving through them in the rain at night can be treacherous, but insanely rewarding. The Evo 8 in our party was in its element on these roads and comfortably left everyone behind. Having a 400bhp lightweight car, powering the rear wheels with it’s engine behind the rear axle makes for potential entries to the yearly Darwin awards ‘ the GT3RS doesn’t suffer fools gladly and will consistently remind you that it IS better than you will ever be.

Most of the time, you’re looking a kilometre ahead, noting all the bunched up cars and waiting for them to pull out with no warning whatsoever. It really is an exercise of study, requiring a pre-emptive examination of the behaviour of all cars ahead of you. When you’re doing 150MPH +, you approach the rears of cars quicker than your brain tells you.
But the flip side is that any resident traffic quickly vacates the fast lane immediately after, making progress swift and painless. Still, opportunities to max out your car are frequent, but almost impossible to plan.

But this is a story of the Tortoise and the Hareâ?¦

We’ve been doing the Ring24Hr race for a number of years now and despite the great attraction of the race itself, the drive up there and back is the highlight for me. Happy to see the start of the race for a few hours and some nighttime racing, give me then a number of de-restricted roads and I’m in my own heaven.

My love of driving cars fast in Germany (I’m terrified of doing it in the UK with the fear of losing my licence being clear and concise enough motivation to keep things real) often means that our small convoy is often split up. With varying degrees of comfort and vehicle practicality, it regularly means that distances between convoy cars can sometimes span miles, requiring frequent stops and 30MPH autobahn cruises.

Thus did the conversation start after a bleary eyed dinner at the hotel with a magnificent Chateau Briand followed by a number of the local Pills beer. Opinions expressed and experiences relayed, we came to the rather obvious conclusion that our levels of performance on the road are vastly dissimilar, leading to the many convoy separations touched upon above. Where I was claiming that the party was moving too slow in the fast sections with no efforts to maintain high convoy speeds, I was backhand volleyed with comments that a healthy cruise at approximately 100MPH was more than enough to ensure good progress and fun driving. I wasn’t convinced.
Considering the next day marked our departure from fine Koblenz, plans were now afoot in organizing the ‘Whacky Racers-esque’ trip back to Calais. Convinced that I was more comfortable piling on the miles in a Gumball Rally style fashion, I exclaimed rather proudly that I’d be setting off first thing in the morning and would see everyone back in England. Auf Wiedersehen mon petit enfants.

‘I’ll be leaving at 9am sharp folks, lovely seeing you all!’

10:30am, Q strolls out of bed claiming that he’d be man enough to follow me at my pace. ‘Fine, stick with me’, I says to him ‘You’ll go far’

Oh how the young are easily fooled.

By the time everyone is fuelled up, there are 3 different parties on the road. Ian in his GT3 had petrol enough in his tank so didn’t need the fuel stop. Alex in his R33GTR was first to fill up and first to leave the forecourt, which meant I was the one waiting for the fine German specimen of a man (approximately 20 stone) to ease his un-waif like physique into his driving seat ‘ an incredible show of dexterity as it took no less than 20 minutes, by which time everyone else had at least a 20 mile head start. Not a fine way to prove a point. Doesn’t matter, I’m in a GT3RS, I’ll make up the time.

Heading out of Koblenz on the autobahn, I’m on a mission. I’ve got a point to prove and now’s not a time to be eating humble pie. I pile on the revs and aim for the horizon. 3rd, 4th, 5th and finally 6th ‘ I’m cruising at speeds of 120-150mph, Q in tow in his Evo8. The car’s proving to be more than capable at these kind of speeds, but the GT3RS is incredible. Simon and I are sitting at 150mph and I’m tuning into a radio station during a conversation. The flat 6 singing to me time after time, driving this car at anything less than 7/10’s is an exercise in reservation. But I’m unable to keep this desire to go fast in check, so I go another 20mph. I’m now sitting at between 150 and 170mph. The following Evo8, impressive looking with its xenons, is now losing breath and I see it slipping into the distance.

But, I’m now part of a team, leaving the soldiers behind is not acceptable behaviour. Oh and Q doesn’t have a map. So I’m on the slow lane at about 80 and the now familiar xenon headlamps have appeared over the brow of the hill. From 6th into 3rd I go and I bury the throttle ‘ I love this sequence, going from gear to gear full throttle, the engine sounds fab with a hot engine and exhaust ‘ the wail going operatic from 6000rpm to the 8200 redline and coupled with a final breath shove in the back. Each up shift is met with a ‘blip blip’, and then all over again.

Just as Q is catching up, a BMW 5 series cuts in behind me, blocking any line of sight I had with Q behind. Another exec saloon on a German autobahn. I’m sitting at a steady 120mph so he’s dropping back and I’m getting annoyed at the fact that I’m going to have to pull in again to wait for him to catch up [EDIT 1 – See below]. But I’m mistaken. The 5 series BMW is game for some action and he’s fast closing in on me. What the hell, let’s have some fun. I drop it into 4th gear for some singsong. Haha, that’ll teach him to mess with Stuttgart’s finest. I’m now pulling away quite confidently but I’m amused at his tenacity. That’s what I love about German drivers, they play a good game and don’t give in easily.

Then his blue lights come on.

There’s always a feeling of utter dread when faced with this situation. A million excuses start to run through your mind and you’re totally prepared to lie, cheat and steal to secure any chance of walking away scott free. ‘The dog ate my speedo’ comes immediately to mind, but the warped sense of British humour would be lost on my German hosts I feel.
Pulling over, Q drives up beside me and attempts to stop too. Discretely, I usher him to ‘sod off’ and get away whilst he can, saving him from whatever outcome I’m about to face.

Stepping out of the car, I know straight away that stepping out of a GT3RS, white with bright red stickers and wheels, just aint gonna pull his sympathy strings much. No amount of butt smooching is going to work here, so out comes the Amex and I’m 365 Euros lighter of pocket. Shockingly, I was only caught at 150kph in a 100kph limit, despite the slightly more aggressive reality. Still, I was surprised at how polite and professional the officers were and in no way did I feel threatened or intimidated. I was also privy to a 10-minute lesson in German road signs.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’m positive about the whole affair. We’re not angels on European roads and I’ve been over at least 10-15 times now with no police problems. So I’m happy that we’ve had a good spell and I guess I had it coming.

My passenger and I are now miles behind everyone else and despite our earlier enthusiasm, we’re now pretty keen to just cruise at a sensible speed and get home without any further Euro casualties. A quick phone call to Q confirms he is at the next service station, so, with a look of doom and gloom, we casually roll into the service station. Q has a map, which is good ‘ or is that bad? Now that we’re no longer responsible for the navigation, is the temptation too great for us to speed off again? Who knows! Stay tuned!

We pull out of the service station and start an easy cruise at 100mph towards the new motorway, E48. With zero speed restrictions. And it’s barren. And brand new. Oh dearâ?¦

RS goes into serious mode again and we’re sat at 150MPH the whole way. It really is a joy, with that lovely dual tone engine note ‘baaaaaaaaarp’ and a feeling of solidity through the steering wheel, the very design of the autobahn eradicating any potential tramlining. The road is practically empty and it’s only the odd occasion when we come up to traffic that we slow down to 120mph. Ahem. The scenery is magic too, with massive banks of coniferous trees and beautiful, gargantuan bridges that go up hundreds of feet. Typical German engineering. Its pure function makes it beautiful.

Coming over a fast sweeping bend, I’m faced with an even better sight. The longest, straightest bit of autobahn you’ve ever seen. I can’t help myself but drop a gear and nail the throttle. 5th gear goes on forever, I slick it into 6th gear at 160 and nail it again. My previous record is 185mph indicated on the Nur speedo (183 in this car) so I’m keen to hit 190mph for a new personal best.
160mph comes and goes and I look into the mirror, Q is slipping slowly away and I’m reaching for 170. 180. Q is now nowhere to be seen in my ‘Days of Thunder’ mirror, complete with shaky-cam effect. Bingo! I’ve hit 190MPH. But I’m not satisfied, plenty of room still left and I’m gunning for the big one. For a moment, I felt like Marty McFly at 88.5mph, I don’t remember anything between 190 and 200 apart from sweaty palms, millennium falcon style blurring stars and the baboon like shouting from my passenger after every incremental digit on the speedo. And then bang, it hits me ‘ 200mph on the digital read out. My heart cries out as I’ve just realised I haven’t been breathing for 60 seconds. Approaching traffic means I have to start slowing down and I’m reluctant to use the brakes, as I don’t want to turn the wheels into 4 blazing fireballs. Eventually, the wind resistance does a good job of slowing me down to 120mph, at which point it feels like we’ve stopped. Incredible. What a feeling.

After I allow some time for Q to catch up, we set out on a easy pace at 120 for a couple of hours. We make fantastic progress and despite me leaving last from the petrol station back in Koblenz, I’m convinced I’ll be first onto the channel train. A quick phone call to Alex in his 33GTR confirms that we’ve somehow managed to get 40km ahead of him. Super. But that pesky Ian in his GT3 managed to keep ahead at his almost dangerous 100mph cruising speed. I’ll get him.

Eventually, we arrive in Calais. Ian is in the vicinity and I’m keen to catch up with him. I’ve been driving with god as a passenger for 400 miles and I’m keen to get over to the UK now. But it wasn’t to be. Queuing up at the Eurotunnel booths, I’m asked for a paltry £30.00 fee to pay to get on to an earlier train. I’m trying to explain how I’ve already paid a fee on my outbound journey, which should have made it a flexible ticket, but she’s not listening and is keen to remind me of her working policy. Stubborn Cem steps into place and I refuse to pay the fee. Cue her manager.

I’m trying to be reasonable now, and I’m asking him questions as to why they change times when they see fit and when it benefits them, but when it suits me I’m charged £30 for the privilege, despite my insistence that I’ve paid the extra fee from before. I may as well be talking to a door that’s just been slammed in my face. The rear of the lane is now blocked off and Q and I are trapped in the booth entry. I’m being asked to now leave the premises. Incredible. My passenger is now trying to convince me that paying the £30 fine is probably a better bet, and curse me for being this way, as a man of principle I’m being stubborn as hell. Throughout all this, an SMS from Ian tells me he’s on a train and he hopes I have a good journey home. Hmmâ?¦

Then the police arrive. Not sure, but has anyone ever had to deal with French police? Deal being the wrong word, my passport is snatched from me and I’m ordered in no uncertain terms to move my vehicle to the side of the police control centre. Great. The weather is now scorching and we’re in full view of the entire Le Mans fraternity now. I step out of the car as I now realise we may be in a spot of bother. The policeman was a fully clothed and armed officer who made absolutely no eye contact. I was after this point in, as good as a murderer and treated as a criminal. Foolishly, I assumed that if the Police arrived, I’d be able to conduct a civil conversation based on the civility demonstrated by not only the fab British Police, but also the German counterparts who pulled me over for speeding only a few hours earlier. Meanwhile, Q drives past, shouts that he’s boarding the train and says he’ll see me later. Bye Bye Q.

20 minutes pass and I’m now getting a little worried. My passenger has been pacing the road up and down and generally curses at me for not curbing my ‘fantasy-land’ iron principles. I’m slowly starting to agree with him. With thoughts of dark dungeons and anal probes, I quickly pick up the mobile and start to dial the wife back home ‘If you don’t hear from me in 2 hours, call the consulate’ I say. ‘Oh and don’t panic’ I lieâ?¦

Just then, he walks out of the office, Robocop style ‘Monsieur, Prennez votre voiture et partez d’ici maintenant’. He’s not in the mood for a laugh. His sidekick manager friend walks over, like the monkey he is, and tells me my ticket is no longer valid on the Eurotunnel as he doesn’t want me on the train in fear of me causing more disruption. Of course, based on my violent background and string of criminal records 3 books thick, he made the kind of decision I would expect from someone who shared a brain cell with a biro.

So, we’re now kicked off the terminal, no tickets, it’s Le Mans weekend in Calais, we have a 365 euro speeding fine, I’ve got a certain amount of humble pie to eat back home and I’ve some explaining to do to the wife who probably thinks I tried to smuggle 4 kilos of pure white into the country. Certainly sounds more dramatic than ‘I didn’t want to pay the extension fee’. All in all, it’s been a bloody good day.

Just had a phone call from Alex in the GTR, he’s also just boarded the train and is about to drive off, despite some heavy handling of his car by the authorities there.

A short drive over to the Ferry port confirms a space for us in 90 mins, the same amount of time it takes the ferry to cross. So we’re now 3 hours behind schedule. The sour experience I gain from the tunnel means I savour the moments on the ferry. A superb meal and some nice coffee on the outside deck later, I’m ready to get in my car and kiss planet England.

My journey back from Dover is conducted at 80mph and I enjoy it like I’ve never driven before. It’s a beautiful day, my company was superb and I get back home for 7pm, hours after everyone else.
There’s a bleedin obvious moral to this story, but I’m too tired to come up with something witty.

This is as literal an adaptation of the tale, Tortoise and the Hare, as you can get. It was an adventure, some good, some bad, but an adventure none the less.