5th September 2005 A Weekend At The Races
So we had quite a weekend in Germany. For those of you who want to know about it, here it is! It isn’t all cars…
Thursday didn’t start off too well, with the damn car having another nervous breakdown, and me ending up having to coax it to the local garage after I dropped Lynne off at work. At least I had already planned on working from home for the day, but it meant I lost a couple of hours from the day that I could have made good use of. Anyway, Robert arrived reasonably on time, we picked Lynne up from the office, and trekked cross country from there to Stansted airport. Apart from a desperate phone call from Megamarshal and the others, who were already in Germany, there were no alarms en route and We made decent time. The call was because the landlady of the wonderful Gasthaus Rodarius speaks no English, and the rest of my friends speak no German, and they were failing utterly to communicate. After I’d sorted out who was in what room, and that we would be arriving very late and she should give our keys to Megamarshal or Andrea, we made what now seems to be our habitual restaurant stop at the Seafood Bar for dinner (seafood platter this time, made more attractive because they were out of oysters and were replacing them with massive prawns).
Germanwings got us off the ground in pretty good order and we were nicely on schedule landing at Konrad Adenauer airport (Koln/Bonn). The trouble was that on time was 23.00 hours and according to the Michelin route planning software we still had an hour and twenty minutes driving to do – and that in a VW Golf Automatic. Now I don’t like automatics. I find the lack of a third pedal disturbing in the extreme, and this was a particularly temperamental version of the breed, which tended to hunt through the transmission of its own accord, often in the wrong direction! So that was fun as we tried to find our way across the Eifel mountains. We finally arrived at Oberbaar a little after midnight, which meant we had enough time to unpack and fall exhausted into bed, cursing my employers because the shortage of holidays is what meant we had to go out so late on the Thursday.
Anyway, we didn’t get as much sleep as we would have liked, but we did at least manage to postpone any real activity till after breakfast. I’d warned the others that the breakfasts were pretty enormous that last time we’d stayed there, and so they proved. Lots of rolls, hams,cold meats and cheeses, and various jams and spreads, a semi-compulsory boiled egg, fruit juice, cereals, yogurts, you name it pretty much. And this for an amazing 24 euros (around £16) a night! After escaping from Frau Rodarius, who is one of the World’s great talkers, we arrived at the circuit in good order, got set up in a corner of the press office, and settled in for the long haul. There was a bit of cursing involved, because to get to the press office at the Nurburgring, you have to park on the other side of the main road and walk in. There was a shuttle bus waiting, but he reckoned it was no distance at all to the press office, and declined to take us. So we flogged across the footbridge to the circuit side of the road, across a second, much higher footbridge and along miles of corridors, dragging laptops and cameras and all the other peripheral stuff you need, thinking deeply uncharitable thoughts about the shuttle bus driver!
I was also soon thinking uncharitable thoughts about Dell keyboards, because my space bar was beginning to stick and I wasn’t looking forward to a weekend of reporting in gibberish! Anyway, it’s a very smart press office and the wifi access was available pretty much all weekend, which is a first this season… We settled in, watched testing, and then took a wander to find a lot of people in the paddock in various states of excitement because they’d been round the Nordschleife, which is the long, twisting old circuit, that is mostly considered too dangerous to race on now. As it’s too dangerous to race round, it’s open to anyone who wants to to drive on, on payment of a handful of euros! The hire car companies would be getting some very worn tyres back on Saturday evening, and would probably be wondering why…
We had a fine afternoon, gossiping with the Kimballs, and with all sorts of other people, and eventually, after qualifying, left the circuit, planning on eating at the Restaurant Pistenklause, in the Hotel Am Tiergarten in Nurburg. The others had been the night before, and were quite reasonably raving about it. They specialise in Italian food, including pizza, pasta, and meat cooked on a hot stone. It was very good, though the stones did make it more than a little smoky as the evening wore on. We found ourselves in the middle of the restaurant, which was rapidly filling up with all sorts of racing people (Michael Bartels, Duncan Huisman and some of the other sports car drivers), including all of the Carlin team. We had a chat with Alvaro, with Christian and with Charlie, and spent some time abusing Stephen Jelley on his Dad’s instruction. Oh, and it’s possible Mike Conway smiled at us, though a driver of our acquaintance claims this is one of the signs of impending apocalypse (the other being Daniel Clarke making an intelligent remark). We also acquired a couple of photographers in need of a room for the night because they couldn’t find the place they’d booked into. We sorted that out though we don’t plan on making a habit of it… I’d though the days of the the “Stella, can you…” phone calls were over, but clearly they aren’t. And so, to bed earlyish.
If we ever find out whose idea it was to run the second qualifying session at 8am, there’s a number of people in the F3 paddock who want a word or two, possibly with a baseball bat studded with nails… We had to have breakfast at the unspeakably early hour of 6.45 and were at the circuit by 7.30, the first people in press office before the lights had even been switched on… It was not my idea of a good thing and the right answer, I know that much. The pine trees were still mist-shrouded and the sun was just beginning to burn through it before the cars came out. It seemed like cruel and unusual punishment, we just couldn’t figure out what for. Anyway, once everyone had woken up, we were able to get on with a good day’s racing, which got ever more satisfying after a bizarre first win for James Walker. The points position at the end of the first race meant that only Alvaro or Charlie could actually win the championship any longer, and Alvaro only needed 12 more points to wrap up the title.
Much as I like Charlie, I’ve been telling Alvaro since April that he was going to be 2005 champion, and as I explained to Charlie I don’t like to be wrong! And by the end of the afternoon it was all over, and Alvaro Parente is the 2005 British F3 International Series Champion, to our great delight – even though I did shed a tear or two as he crossed the line at the end of the race. Everyone was kissing and hugging wach other, and lots and lots of photos were taken of the new Champ with all the people who had supported him, no matter how tenuously. Eventually we tore ourselves away, and went back to the hotel, where we celebrated in style with a couple of bottles of sekt (German sparkling wine), before we split to go our separate ways for dinner. Lynne, Robert, Megamarshal and I fetched up at the Dorint back at the circuit, where the Pfifferlinge (wild mushroom) menu proved wildly tempting (the soup was wonderful, as was the rump steak with lots and lots of mushrooms) and we had a relaxing evening, prior to more sekt back at the gasthaus, where we reflected on what a long strange day it had been – as if James Walker winning wasn’t strange enough, I’d actually managed a conversation with Mike Conway after months of trying to get him to communicate, and was still in shock!
I woke up still smiling on Sunday, and finished the last little bit of reportage before breakfast! We had a late sekt breakfast (Frau Rodarius knew things had gone well for us, and said she’d like to offer us a bottle to celebrate), before we packed and finally checked out. We meandered back to the circuit to try and send the last report off, only to find there was no connectivity and no one had any idea when there would be any. We stuck around long enough to enjoy the sight and sound (and the rumbling coming up through the floor) at the start of the LMES race, then took ourselves out of there and on a short drive to Maria Laach for a wonderful lunch at the Seehotel Maria Laach, which started with 3 of us and eventually became seven, when Andrea and Megamarshal joined us after a lap of the Nordschleife, and then Cassandra and Al arrived about half an hour later.
We couldn’t get a table on the terrace (it’s tremendously popular in fine weather), but we did manage to get one in the main restaurant just by the huge French windows that opened onto the terrace, so it was cool and pleasant and we could still see the garden and the pine forested hills beyond. The chef was celebrating the potato, and so I had crispy potato cakes with a pork and mushroom ragout – you can never have enough mushrooms, say I. The desserts were scarily proportioned, and very delicious (we watched a nun tackling an enormous iced coffee with ice cream and wondered what sort of penance she was going to have to do), and all in all it was great way to spend a Sunday.
Afterwards, we walked up to the Kloster, and nosed around the abbey, which was started in 1093, and rebuilt several times, but that still retains a number of splendidly Romanesque features including a fountain that looked very Carolingian to me, even though it would have been too early for the building and anyway it was in too good a state of preservation. Photos will follow, just not immediately. After we’d poked around the building we had just enough time for a short stroll by the lake, and then it was time to drive to the airport for our flight home. We got in just before midnight last night, in a storm that made us wonder if that might have been the start of the impending apocalypse we’d been talking about, but then we realised that no one had heard Dan Clarke say anything intelligent – or intelligible for that matter – so we stopped worrying about it and went off to bed!