I guess there’s no better way to continue this story, than by just jumping straight back in.
Previous to this, we had made the journey from Ireland across the seas to France before covering France, Belgium and Germany in a single day to get to our first destination; the Nürburgring. We arrived late on a Sunday night, but just in time to take in a full day’s action on Easter Monday, a national holiday in Germany and across most of Europe.
Then, Tuesday came around.
Where Monday had seen the Nordschleife open to the public all day, Tuesday would only offer a couple of hours of touristenfahrten in the evening. This was a good thing, actually, because it offered me the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do.
We were greeted with more sunshine on the Tuesday morning, and somehow had successfully avoided rain since leaving Ireland. Still, for what I had in mind, I wanted to give the car a quick rinse to remove the grime and the thousands of innocent flies & insects that I had collected along the way.
I didn’t realise it before I left, but it’s quite tricky to find a jet wash in Germany as the rules around car washes are quite stringent. Most are either self-contained brush washes or waterless washes, both a big no-no to anyone who values the paint on their car.
I know I’m not that precious about it, but even I have standards.
What I had set out to find that morning was the lesser known Nürburgring Südschleife (the South Loop). It’s not that difficult to find, although most of it has been reclaimed over the years, but it does give you an incredible sense of what the Nürburgring used to be, prior to the introduction of trackside safety features.
The surface is fine in places, but awful in others as nature has taken chunks out of the now unused portion of the circuit over the years. When it was good, it was fine but when it was bad, it was time to air up.
I wanted to come here, not just to see and explore the old part of the circuit, but to create something which I would be able to both remember this trip and Project GTI by.
I’ve been working towards this end result for my GTI for so many years, that I wanted something special to have should the day ever come that I no longer own it. Hopefully, that’s not any time soon, but I wanted to take this opportunity while it was in front of me.
I won’t be winning awards any time soon, but I did enjoy the challenge of trying to shoot video. It’s strangely similar to shooting stills in some ways, but also completely different at the same time.
It can be frustrating when you can’t immediately convert the idea inside your head into footage, and there are so many more things to worry about afterwards.
My sincerest respect to the real video people out there.
It took a little longer that I thought it would, but we were still left with some time before the track re-opened to go and explore some of the driving roads around the area, one of which is documented at the end of the video above.
The Nürburgring is so much more than just the track itself, the whole region is special. The area just embraces motorsport and the automotive world. It might be one of the few places on earth where we’re not treated with distain.
With the track due to re-open to the public, instead of heading for the entrance gate, we made our way towards Hocheichen, to watch the world go by for a bit. This is just a casual Tuesday evening at the Nürburgring. Amazing.
With the clock ticking, and the concern that an accident could close the track for the night, we made our way back to the main car park, unloaded Project GTI & I headed back out for the last laps of this trip. It was quieter on track when compared to the day before, which allows more time looking forward and learning, as opposed to watching your mirrors for incoming traffic.
No articles, no videos and no games will ever hold a candle towards actually driving the circuit itself to gain experience. It’s an absolute rollercoaster. You can’t feel the blood leaving your head through ‘Fox Hole’ from the comfort of your couch with a controller in your hand. There’s no oil spills to worry about on YouTube and if it does go wrong, there’s no reset button.
From the amount of cars I witnessed being recovered away from the circuit over two days, it does go wrong much more often than you would think, and it happens to people who are far more experienced with the circuit than you are.
It’s not a place for egos or bravado.
Content to have used up the remaining laps on my card, I was both thrilled and relieved to call it a day. As much as I enjoyed my time on track, it was always in the back of my mind that if it went wrong, I was a very long way from home.
I would still love to go back and I would still love to break into 8 minutes. The car is capable, but I just need the time to learn the track and build confidence. I don’t think I have driven even a double digit number of laps yet.
While I couldn’t drive and take pictures of myself driving at the same time, I was able to purchase some images from other photographers which I’ve shared on my social media accounts. I’m unsure if I can share them here, otherwise I would have done but respect to the photographers, regardless.
With the track finally closing for business for the day, I spent some time walking about and taking everything in for the last time. Watching the cars come in from their final laps, and people just standing about talking, all with a shared passion is one of those simple, good times.
There was of course time for another trip to Pistenklause afterwards for a celebratory ‘we didn’t die yet’ dinner.
This was our last evening at the ‘ring, before we would leave the next morning. We took one more trip around the circuit’s perimeter roads before another fuel stop and straight back to the hotel for sleep.
Wednesday would be the longest day of the trip.The Road To Stuttgart
When you’re planning these things, it’s very difficult to really envision just how far a particular distance is. This is especially true when you live in a country where two hours will get you to just about anywhere, so it was hard to appreciate the scale of Europe despite numerous trips in the past.
I mean, how bad could it be?
We waved goodbye to the Nürburgring at around 08:05AM on Wednesday morning, with Stuttgart set as our first stop of the day. This was a drive that I have made before, and at three hours or so, I knew it wasn’t the worst.
There’s a surprising lack of de-restricted sections of autobahn between the two places, but I was eager / hopeful of at least getting one decent run in considering the daylight and good weather. That opportunity did eventually come, albeit it was a pretty brief one due to traffic. Before I got out of the throttle, the needle had just reached a section of the speedometer that I don’t believe it had ever seen before; 270km/h or 168mph in old money.
A couple of things struck me; An indicated 168mph is still fast, but doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick as half that speed on a proper driving road. It did get there quite swiftly, and I was impressed with how stable the car was. As a form of comparison, I recently took a rental car to 205km/h or 127mph and it felt like I could have died at any moment.
That wasn’t all it could give, as I know the car is geared for approximately 300km/h in sixth gear at 7,100RPM but that’s very much an indicated speed, rather than actual. Although, my speedometer has been fairly close to GPS speed since I changed the tyre sizes on the front axle. I am still curious as to where the car’s v-max is with wind resistance etc. but will have to wait for another time to find out.
It is only when you need to slow down that you really appreciate how fast 168mph is.
And onwards we continued.
Despite it being such an efficient way to cover ground, travelling via any motorway system is always a chore as you’re never really driving. You’re just aiming for the horizon. We didn’t have the luxury of taking an alternative scenic route as our schedule was tight, so we had little choice but to keep on trucking.
Our first stop in Stuttgart was to one of my favourite places on earth, the Porsche Museum. This was my third visit here, but my father’s first. Despite having a terrible affliction for Fords, I think even he enjoyed the visit here. The displays are continuously changing and I’ve never had the same experience twice. The gift shop is also very successful at emptying my pockets, too.
It’s been nearly 18 months since our last Porsche Museum story on Speedhunters, is it too soon for another?
Our second stop was again, an automotive one. It’s less than a 20 minute drive from Porsche, but this was my first Mercedes-Benz Museum experience. I’ve never been a huge Mercedes fan, but this visit was an eye opener.
This you will see more of in the coming days.
It feels strange to condense a whole day into two short extracts, but from Stuttgart we had to leave Germany and start making our way back across France, so there wasn’t much time to kill.
My idea when planning was to try and break up the return drive home as much as possible, but I think this Wednesday ended up being the longest drive of the whole trip, or it at least felt that way.
It was fitting then that it started raining heavily with thunder and lightning storms as we crossed into France, just to make the journey that little bit more challenging. Once the sun finally set, the camera was put away and all of our focus was on just making it to Reims that night.
Obviously we did make it, but it was a pretty tough one to complete when you consider the amount of time already spent driving so far that week. It’s always difficult to gauge an area when you arrive after hours, in the rain and then having to park outside. As an added precaution, I removed the Air Lift Performance 3H controller from the car after I had aired it down (with ‘Rise On Start’ disabled).
Best of luck trying to move the car without making a scene when the body is on the floor and the wheels won’t turn. That’s a feature I don’t think they advertise.Viva La France
As it turned out, when the sun came up (sort of, just behind the clouds) it was actually a pretty nice area with lots of restaurants and shops that were closed by the time we had arrived the night before. Sorry for the assumption, Reims.
Those of you familiar with the name Reims will likely know that we didn’t choose this place by accident…
Circuit de Reims-Gueux is a former Grand Prix circuit, now abandoned on the side of the road in the French countryside. Fangio, Brabham & Clark are just some of the names that took victory here during its heyday, but it’s been a long time since a racecar hurtled down this start / finish straight.
Today, it’s just local traffic and the occasional tourist coming to check out this piece of bonafide motorsport history. Of course, I plan on going into much more detail on this in the coming weeks, too.
With some 36 hours left on our adventure before our ship (quite literally) sailed, there was one more overnight stop to make. With more fuel taken on-board, for both the GTI and ourselves, we made our way across France for the last time.
Our route took us north of Paris and back onto the original road we crossed earlier in the week, but we would stop just short of the port town of Cherbourg.
There’s something about the final return leg of a journey where time seems to pass by much quicker, until you hit traffic of course. Our last hours of this trip would be spent doing some non-automotive things, but arguably visiting the most important sites we would see.
We would stay overnight in Caen, before leaving for the Normandy coast early on our last morning. My father served in the Irish military before I was born, which is likely where I got my interest in the second world war from, and it’s a subject that still continues to humble me.
All throughout our trip, we were passing constant reminders of the wars that were fought across France in the early 20th century, from the green fields of Normandy to the Somme. It’s barely believable that such a beautiful part of the world could have been the place of such horror and death for so many people.
Our first visit was to the Longues-sur-Mer battery, situated between Omaha and Gold beaches. It’s one of the best preserved WW2 sites, and still has the original German artillery weapons in place, which have obviously been long since disabled. The installation was bombed by Allied aircraft before trading fire with multiple Allied cruises in the Channel before yielding.
When the British infantry forces arrived, the German crews encamped here surrendered without a fight.
From Longues-sur-Mer, we made our way to Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery located nearby. While Omaha Beach itself features a memorial to those that died on its sands, the cemetery really drives home the loss of life suffered during the invasion.
Almost 10,000 white crosses mark the final resting places of the young Americans that gave up their lives. Another 1,500+ names are listed as missing, engraved on the walls of the memorial. That’s just the US side of things, too.
Pointe du Hoc was the last place we would make it to before the final leg of our journey to the port. It’s another site which has been remarkably well preserved, and perhaps the one which best shows the scale of destruction during D-Day and the days which followed. Bomb craters remain, as do several bunkers and encasements.
Some are still completely explorable, while others have been left in ruin. To see the size of these craters and how these huge slabs of re-enforced concrete were blown to pieces and displaced in every direction is humbling. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to have stood here on June 6th 1944.
It might seem odd to round off a road trip story like this with such a sombre mood, but I really can’t think of anything else more suitable, as it saddens me that many today seem to have forgotten what so many people died fighting for. It wasn’t even that long ago.
The very reason we choose to embark on adventures like this is because we can. There are faster, cheaper and more efficient ways to do these things and visit these places, but it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s the journey that makes these trips, rather than the destination.
To have the freedom to complete this trip however we saw fit, without requiring advanced permission from the relevant authorities, cannot be understated. We crossed into countries without so much as lifting a foot off the accelerator pedal, never mind producing documents and identification. The only checks were in the ports of Ireland and France, and these were token at best.
This trip was the culmination of a nigh-on four year project to build one car that can do everything. There was nothing that raised as much as an eyebrow at any stage of the journey, which I think is testament to the final evolution of Project GTI. There were no reliability worries, no ramps, bumps or access issues that caused concern, no heat management difficulties, no brake fade bothers. Nothing. This is a car that I would have no qualms to jump in and drive anywhere, and never feel out of place. It offers the ultimate driving freedom, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve put together.
Related to all of this, the freedoms we enjoy today are a privilege that we should never take for granted. While you still can, it’s time to start planning your next adventure.
Where are you going?
This journey was brought to you in association with Air Lift Performance, an official Speedhunters Supplier.
Project GTI X Nürburgring Adventure Statistics:
– 7 Days
– 4 Countries
– 2,623kms (1,629 miles)
– 37 Hours 35 Minutes Driving
– 51+ Hours At Sea
– 270km/h (168mph) Top Speed
– 4 Laps Of The Nürburgring Nordschleife
– 10.7l/100kms (26.4mpg UK) Average
– €411.29 ($460USD) On Fuel
– €68.80 ($77) On French tolls
– 5 Normandy WW2 Sites Visited
– 4 Museums
– 3 Hotels
– 1 Blown Licence Plate bulb
– 0 Scrapes