The story so far…
Day one When we first laid eyes on the pearl yellow Megane we though WTF, that is not a car you can hide away, this car demands attention and we knew it was our job to make sure that, that attention was justified. Our first aim was to find out what it could give in its standard form, the spec sheet says 227bhp with 229lbft of torque, this car was in need of a service so we were not expecting too much. We quickly got it onto the Dyno and it did not disappoint the readings were as follow 235.9 bhp and torque made 227.5 lbft. Great start not bad for a 38,000 mile 2006 car in need of some TLC. Our next step was to flush the engine & injectors with Forte cleaning agents and change the spark plugs, oil (Fuchs Titan Pro Race the red one) & filter and add Active8 friction reducer. Once all this was done it was back onto the Dyno – Wow what a difference the readings were far better than any of us had hoped for, 246.4 bhp and 234.3 lbft torque, fantastic news, all this from just good maintenance and great products. Just to mention the temperature that day was 23.9 degrees, so it could have been even better on a cooler day?
The car was now ready for its first track day, a Renault track event at Bedford Autodrome, all was OK except for the tyres and they were a set of Michelin XYZ which had seen better days. We knew there was more to do, but for now slightly worn Michelin’s had to do. The track started out dry and the weather was a mild 18 degrees C, the track at Bedford is well known for its wide smooth tarmac, smooth sweeping bends, and most importantly the grass and gravel run off areas, perfect for drivers new to track day events this makes for a forgiving track and hopefully no expensive repair bills…after the briefing we were off. I wa so the next stage was to upgrade the tyres after much investigation Gabs opted for the Hankook RS2 Z212, these tyres are designed to withstand the stresses and demands of track days, which was what we were planning for the Yellow Peril. The Hankooks also look very different from most tyres and the side walls are re-enforced so that they can take the abuse that was coming there way.
We then focused on the stopping power of the R26, we opted for brake pads supplied by Carbotech the XP8 type was chosen, which is the mildest pad they do as most of the cars use is everyday car driving and not track days. The Carbotech pads need a lot of bedding in and to help with the bedding in we chose to skim the front discs as well to help with this process. The trick then is to take the car out and run in the brake pads by braking hard form 70mph to 10mph we did this 4 times…after that they need to cool down and repeat again with longer cooling intervals, the final part of the process is driving the car for 15mins with medium to hard braking, then finish off with light braking and a cool down session…we were now ready to take the car to Rockingham…for a full day of track driving, so what would need the next upgrade?
The car or the driver?
Upping the Ante
The plan was to take the R26 on a tour de force, a trip of a life time… Nurburgring in Germany and SPA Francorchamps in Belgium these two race tracks are considered the toughest and the best track in the world respectively, if that was not enough the plan was then to tour round Europe firstly, Chamonix in the French Alps, then cross country to La Rochelle on the west coast then back via Rouen and home to the UK via Calais. This trip would take 2,500 miles, two race tracks, five counties and lots of driving…how would the R26 cope, more importantly how would Erkan cope? To get the car ready for this trip we decided to change the air filter to a K&N free flow filter and upgrade the exhaust system to a K-Tech Racing stainless steel 3” pipe, we even bypassed the Cat to get the most from the car.
We even dropped the oil and replaced the filter…the car was now ready for the next adventure, but was the driver? After fitting the exhaust and the air filter we then got the car back on the Dyno, it now measured 254.4 bhp and 238.7 lbft torque ambient temperature was 24.6 degrees…it was now ready for the mammoth trip…
Preparing for Nurburgring
The ring is 13miles long, has 73 bends and legend has it that 80% of the bends are blind, add to this that the Ring is a public toll road and there is about 6-8ft of grass and either side of the track and after that is there is Armco, so not much space for error none of the Bedford Autodrome luxuries here. There is about 1000ft from the highest to the lowest parts of the track this makes it everything that you feared, hoped and wanted the green hell to be. Oh by the way If you crash or if someone crashes into you your insurance does not cover you, add motor bikes, cars of all types and drivers with varying levels of ability, confidence and track experience then you would have to agree the Ring is not a place for the faint hearted. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon; the weather was warm about 25 degrees very unusual weather for October.
The track was closed
Apparently there had been a fatality (we found out later a biker had been killed) and the incident was being investigated as you would expect on any public or private road or track. The dangers were becoming very real, very clear…people die at Nurburgring…I had to ask myself why am I doing this? We never made it on the track that day so we chose to adjourn to the spa in the hotel after all it had been a long day and the drive from home had taken its toll…after the spa and pool it was down to the bar for some track stories and then off to a restaurant, then to bed.
The next day we arrived back at the track but it was still closed we had been informed it would reopen after 10am, the countdown had started. How did I feel? Numb, excited and apprehensive to say the least to be honest all sorts of emotions, what the hell was a 43 year old married with children guy doing here? Having the trip of a life time that’s what…and don’t forget it…I kept telling myself. The waiting around seemed to make my nerves even more edgy, even more powerful and intense, then suddenly we were on, this was it…track time on the Ring, grab your helmet its go go go… Graham (Graham Perkins of GP Cars) drove first, he had driven the Ring before and has had a lot of track and fast driving experience generally, he had even been junior UK Karting champion, but he still did not know his way round the track and that’s what makes driving here so challenging…I was sitting tight holding on to my seat, watching, paying attention..there was so much to take in, too much to handle. The thing that was really surprising was the G forces, the ups and downs the bends, the amount of traffic, oh the traffic. Monday 4th October in Germany was not only 27 degrees C and everyone and his uncle was out, but it was also a bank holiday. The track had never been so busy this just added to the whole occasion. Cars and bikes everywhere, at one point it felt like we were in a convoy…and the speed was full on, GP was just warming up and the stakes were high and not much room for error, no room for error at all. After what seemed like the longest 10mins of my life I breathed a sigh of relief to see the famous Gantry…
We had made it round
We had completed our first lap of the famous, the infamous Nurburgring and now it was my turn… Getting behind the wheel of a car is never as exciting as when you are heading for the track, but this time it was my first time, my first time at Nurburgring and that was something so different, so special and so unique. I drove through the barrier it was just like entering a multi story car park, but this time it was for real, this time it was 13 miles of the most challenging tarmac on the planet earth, this time there was no turning back Nurburgring is a one way toll road. Sitting behind the wheel and heading out on to the track for the first time was exhilarating, I could feel my whole body I felt a heightened sense of aliveness my hands were sweating, my limbs at a state of preparedness I have not felt like this in years, time to put my foot down. The thing is…it’s not just me on the track there are loads and loads of cars, bikes, some faster and slower, I not only had to watch my driving and the where the track goes but had to keep my wits about me and keep an eye on the company… Going fast, by that I mean nothing like fast on a road, proper fast is challenging but going fast round a bend that maybe down, maybe up, left or right or all of the above is really what the ring is all about, the fact that what will be there over the brow or round the bend is an added concern also knowing that the Armco is right there, right by your side to welcome you with treacherous arms just adds to the whole experience, keep it on the black stuff and don’t hit anything…and don’t let anyone hit you…that’s the plan and I am sticking to it.
After a few minutes on the track I started to get into the rhythm and actually started to forget all that internal chatter, I was now just only getting into the zone, there was a silence that only the zone brings, there was me, there was the car and the track. Suddenly I could hear Graham shouting at me “keep your foot down, keep your foot down…break…break harder, harder…turn in!” the zone had been shattered, it was real I was back on the track with fears flooding in, my body was on fire, my brain my senses maxed out and my brain on full alert… I felt like Sam from Quantum Leap, Oh Boy! But what was my mission and who was I here to save? The sense of relief seeing the gantry was awesome, I could have cried, I had made it I am alive and the car is in one piece…Fantastic! Fan-bloody-tastic! Yeah!
Getting overtaken by the Ring Taxi, keep watching…
We pulled in to the car park for a rest and a chat…to talk through the experience and share our stories, I was grinning from ear to ear and could not hear much of what anyone was saying, there was that nervous relief of excitement in the air people laughing and chatting, all I could do was smile and think to myself I did it…I bloody well did it. Up until 4 months ago I had never driven on a track, and here I was just completing my first lap of the Nurburgring…yippee! Now that’s what “Driving Passion with Performance” is all about, maybe I wasn’t here to save anyone, maybe I was here to live my life with passion and enjoy the adventure of being alive, perhaps the mission is the man. All I knew was that I was having the time of my life and it’s never too late now is the perfect time to go for it, there is only now. After a day of open track, closed track due to accidents and incidents we got a few more laps in then it was off to Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, Spa is said to be the best drivers track in the world and a track of legend and myth, for me Spa is very special because my youngest daughter Sena, named after my hero Ayton Senna has the initials SPA so Spa here we come.
SPA Francorchamps – Probably the best race track in the world…
We got to the track a bit late and missed the first drivers briefing, while waiting I had a look around, this was almost nothing like Nurburgring the event was being managed by Circuit Days a company that specialises in track days, there were marshals everywhere, people with coloured florescent wrist bands who had obviously attended driver briefings but best of all there where much less cars, and no bikes, personally bikes and cars on a track together don’t really go, it’s like mixing drinks at some point it’s going to end in tears… The sense of fear and intrepidation had gone and now there was only excitement and a longing to get back out on the track. The briefing covers all sorts of aspects of a successful track day, we are here to enjoy but the key focus is safety and to have that there are rules. One rule is to invite people to overtake you this is shown by putting your indicator on right at that gives the driver behind you permission to go past. Other rules are no over taking on the bends, no timed laps, no racing and the flags are there to keep everything civilised the black flag indicates game over! The other thing with Spa as opposed to the Ring is you can see a lot more of the track from the viewing area, its 4.252 miles long as opposed to 13miles with 20 bends instead of 73. Here there is also the famous Eau Rouge corner which you head down into and then head up hill to a blind left hand bend then onto the straight…I was really looking forward to that.
After driving at the Nurburgring
Spa seamed like more of a treat, more inviting and much more fun as opposed to the terror and fear of incident at the Ring, I felt like I could really improve my driving here and we had all day, no track closures hopefully plus I had booked 30mins tuition with Chris Monkey Harris of Evo Magazine, now that’s not something that happens every day, that was worth the time and effort of making it all the way to Spa.
Now for the break
Off to the French Apls, Chamonix here we come….the relaxing part of the trip.
More information and updates coming soon!