I am sitting in a chair opposite my car – in my garage. Contemplating the beauty of Franco Scaglione’s design under the road grime and face-full of squished bugs – on the car. Today I will tell you about how the first day of drum-braking went on the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
In a previous article I showed the inner workings of my three-shoe drum brakes on the Giulietta Sprint Veloce, and some of you came back at me for promoting the supremacy of Alfa Romeo’s system over the acknowledged splendor of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL: “Yes, yes, but drum brakes fade when they get hot!” was the shrewd comment, “You just wait, square lining per kilogram weight doesn’t give a true indication of quality!” And I must admit, the argument got to me. So I was induced with a healthy potion of doubt all the way down through Germany, and I was going to make sure to start out easy – because the Nordschleife has its own fair bit of braking zones. And after two days at the Ring, I was off to the Ardennes; and Spa Francorchamps. I know that track from three earlier trackdays, and it is even harder on brakes.
You can get a feeling of how the trip went by watching the Countdown videos on the Ultimostile channel on youtube. But long story short: We made a fabulous decision by choosing to cut the 800 km autobahn drive into a 1000 km two-day highway journey. We dived off the dreary caravan immediately after the ferry terminal at Puttgarten and let the GPS guide us through tiny Orts, through full forests and over tall hills with splendid views of the German countryside. It’s a beautiful country – you just don’t see it from behind the concrete barriers of the Autobahn.
The trackday was on two ordinary “Touristenfahrt” days over the weekend where the french (and everybody else, we hoped) celebrates Les 24 Heures du Mans; 14th and 15th of June. And a bunch of Alfa Romeo club-members had also announced their attendance – in modern cars, mind you. They were aiming at a rendevouz near Bremen on friday morning, followed by a mob-drive down to Nürburg, where all had reservations for the weekend at two Gasthäuser right by the old castle – the actual Nürburg. But we, Lars in the Giulia 1300 Super, Henrik in a quite impressive GT 3,2 V6 and myself in the scruffy noise-pot, had already left on thursday morning and arrived friday afternoon via the Kassel hills as the first pioneers and settled in for a smoke and a tiny glass of ice-cold Kölsh. Or a couple – they are very tiny! And then people started arriving: Stefan Vastrup in the Alfa 156 GTA, Gert Sterner in the Alfa 145 Q, Claus Hermann in the Peugeot 205 GTi (his mountain bike wouldn’t fit in the Alfa Bertone), Claus Bøje in the very sleek Alfa GTV (relaxed after traveling in a black car with read leather interior – good style!). Peter Dyrelund reported of delays from the Volvo, trailering his splendid supercharged Alfasud, with friends Peter and Kasper – and his father, Dyrelund Sr. But they would arrive in the evening and would be ready for next morning. Michael Heegaard and his friend Freddy had left Denmark late and weren’t expected before early morning in the Alfa 159 SW.
In usual Eifel order, the following morning was grim, wet and grey. It rained and the clouds hung low over the woodlands. Those with semislick R-spec tires just sat there in silence, and I was wondering if this would be a good time to exercise my drifting skills – at low speed. But also as usual, the whole thing lightened up and the sun came out. Sort of, but certainly enough to dry up the track. The Kölsch had prevented me from doing the clever thing the previous evening: I should have prepared my car and my gadgets for a fast deployment onto the track; I should have checked and replenished fluids; I should have erased and charged cameras and I should have emptied the car of un-necessary items.
But all was easily done and I agreed with Gert Sterner to fully kit up at the Petrol-Ed gas tank; with helmet, Gopro and ticket; drive directly to the barrier and go for a lap. We would film each other, like we always try to do! I must say that I started out nice and calm – the pace was nice and calm, not my own condition. I had a strong nagging feeling about the comments on my drum brakes and their ability to brake continuously from high speeds, and I did not want to be caught in the gravel pits on my first lap.
It’s difficult to explain in words, but I must say the brakes really impressed me. I have been reading 1950s test reports from US and british car magazines, and all hail the Giulietta’s brakes as the best ever. “Don’t fade at all”, they say. But that was of course from the standards of the day; a formula one racer of the early sixties was also “Running like on rails”. Everything is relative! My own experience was that, yes, it takes another kind of braking than with the disk brakes, and especially another kind of thinking. Thinking ahead, really. And always paying attention to how the braking went, in anticipation for the next corners. It actually brings a whole new dimension to the game, and I like it. The car isn’t super-fast; Joakim Bonnier won the 1.3 GT class at the Nürburgring in 1956 in a car like mine with a fastest lap time of 11m38s. That means that he would have driven BTG, Bridge-to-Gantry in 10m07s. Fangio and Castelotti won the race in a Ferrari 860 Monza with a fastest lap-time of 10m05s.
By the way; the Nürburgers doesn’t care much about Les 24 Heures du Mans. We had to politely ask them to change the channel away from tennis, to watch some of the racing in the few breaks we took during the day. And the place was absolutely swarming with fast and furious yutes in splendid driving machines. We had it all … I have never seen a Lamborghini Murcielago on the Nordschleife, until this weekend. And the track was closed accumulated half of the day, because some PS-head thought he could take his orange-and-limegreen Nissan 370 Z through Hatzenbach at the same speed as on his console – back home in front of his TV. This happened every hour, and it meant that we had a lot of spare time, which was spent comparing notes and arranging rides with each other. In the evening they even decided to close 45 minutes before time because the armco-repair would take the remaining time. So we went for a Wienerschnitzel oder Schweinemedaillon mit Spargel oder Bratkartoffeln.