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chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Sunday 23rd September 2012 quote quote all
Chaps,

In my usual self-indulgent style I have chosen to write about the jaunt my dad and I took across Europe this summer. It's quite long so feel free just to look at the photos but hopefully the words will offer some vague interest too. Sadly I've only got as far as Belgium so far but I'll update as and when I can. I realise this isn't your usual PH content in some respects but hope the trips proves interesting to some of you.

Chev.


It started out as idle banter, then gentle persuasion, then belligerent insistence. By fortuitous calendar fluke, 2012 saw the Belgian and Italian Grand Prix taking place on consecutive weekends. The world’s foremost motor racing championship over its two most historic and significant circuits. With an under-utilised Aston Martin nestling in my dad’s garage, it seemed inappropriate not to hit Continental Europe for the road trip of a lifetime. And then we realised the Goodwood Revival was taking place the weekend after Monza. You couldn’t even dream it...

The trip didn’t start well. Dad and I were converging - from our disparate homes in the north - at my grandfather’s house in West Sussex on the Wednesday evening. Buoyed by the kind of self-congratulatory smugness only the chronically inept can muster, earlier in the week I truly believed I had fixed my beloved Exige’s misfire with kitchen roll and WD40. I decided to start the trip in the old nail, recognising that it might be one of the last proper drives before winter rolled it. My mechanical conceit bit me hard as the car spent the entire day sat outside my office in the rain. Sure enough, as I fired the old girl up to set off for Sussex at the start of a two and a half thousand mile trip the misfire returned.

So I headed home, took all my (now sodden) possessions from the broken Lotus (did I mention the boot leaks too..?) and decanted into my even older and barely more reliable Peugeot. This was not going well.

Eventually, via myriad diversions, average speed limits, middle lane hoggers and - worst of all - the M25, I arrived at my destination where our stead for the fortnight was waiting. Fortunately, the guys and gals in Gaydon know how to build a sports car which doesn’t leak or break when it rains.

One sleep later and it was departure day – the one we’d looked forward to for so many months. And it was my first turn behind the wheel of the car my father worked his entire career to earn. No pressure then. Once accustomed to the fly-off handbrake and sheer heft of the mechanicals, the Vantage became a trusted and predictable friend over the trip. With a focus on interaction and feel rather than absolute fleetness of foot, this isn’t a car you might approach like a mid-engined flyweight, but it’s refreshingly honest in its approach and the noise when the exhaust valves open above four thousand revolutions is glorious. Capable of maintaining a comfortable three figure gallop all day while still compelling company on the Alpine passes, it’s hard to think of a better vehicle for such an ambitious jaunt.

Making the Euro Tunnel in plenty of time calmed our nerves and it started feeling like a proper racing road trip when we followed a Vanquish S onto the train, with Mercedes-Benz SLS directly ahead and a McLaren MP4-12C just a carriage in front. As if by some kind of submarine miracle we were on the Continent within half an hour and let loose on the flatlands of Flanders. This was the most visually uninspiring drive of the whole trip, and it was simply a case of clicking off the kilometres until we passed Brussels and could enjoy the rolling forests of the Ardennes.





Sure enough, once off the autoroute and into the countryside, our base for Grand Prix weekend loomed ahead. Set in dense woodland high above the road, Chateau Bleu is an imposing traditional chateau and owned, as it transpires, by a particularly amiable couple who also happen to share our passion for the motorcar. We knew we’d landed on our feet when we noticed a pre-war MG racer nestling in the hotel garage. Several other guests were in the area for the Grand Prix including several Brits. One couple had driven their Elise from Leeds – evidently not every Yorkshire Lotus is currently broken.
The omens for Friday were not good and the rain which had started on Thursday evening had apparently not relented overnight so it was waterproofs and umbrellas to the fore for practice day of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. The former only available to those who’d remembered to pack them. So dad remained dry while I was soaked. The famous Spa Francorchamps rain seems to move in dense curtains across the valley and remained in force all day, finally easing for the last practice session of the day in the early evening.

Following some fairly amateur navigating – compounded by some fairly ambiguous signing - we followed the majestic sweeps of the ‘old’ Spa circuit into a grassy car park, irritated by a late arrival but excited by the prospect of the best drivers in the world tackling the daddy of all modern European circuits. Well, on that basis we were left somewhat disappointed. Two 90 minute Formula One practice sessions saw barely a handful of laps between all competitors. We took the opportunity to follow the entire circuit length, but it was a struggle to really get to grips with the expected spectacle as there were so few runners out on the track. We watched some of the first session from the entry to Les Combes. With the long Kemmel Straight signalling the cars’ approach as they nudged the limiter in top gear, it provided a visceral reminder of the capabilities of the modern Grand Prix car – and the modern Grand Prix driver. Aided by an uphill approach, even with standing water and appalling visibility, all the pilots were braking impossibly late. Banging it down a couple of gears and turning in relying on blind faith in their downforce and the water-moving abilities of those Pirelli tyres, it was great to be back at Spa and great to be watching F1 cars at full flight again, irrespective of the precipitation.








If the lack of running from the F1 boys was frustrating, the GP2 competitors went some way to allaying our disappointment. They hit the track with customary gusto and treated the now-depleted crowds to a terrific show. I hadn’t seen GP2 live since Spa 2008 and was reminded of what a great formula it is. Being a self-acknowledged motor racing elitist, I generally have a dislike for one-make formulae but GP2 really works. The cars are no less handsome than any other in the modern era and they sound fantastic – close your eyes and honestly it could be a pack of DFV-motivated 70s F1 machines in front of you. Their slight lack of downforce compared to a contemporary F1 car means they slide around and particularly in greasy conditions this means you can see the drivers’ car control, especially from those who are greedy on corner exit where the kerbs are at their greasiest. They also spit flames in the most dramatic way on the overrun; maybe not the most efficient approach but definitely the best for those on the spectator banks.
















By the time the Porsche Supercup runners hit the track for the final practice session of the day, we decided to head back to the Chateau to dry off and warm up. While the lack of F1 action was a disappointment, there is nothing like the magnificence of Spa to make you fall in love with motor racing all over again. The sheer size and topographical majesty of the place is so unlike anything we see in the UK, not even a bit (or even a lot) of rain could dampen our spirits and enthusiasm. And there was even a silver lining to the literal and metaphorical clouds. Accustomed to rather haphazard British circuit parking and the daily battle to withdraw your car from a muddy car park, the Belgians surprised us with their pragmatic approach.



Those readers who’ve attempted to leave the Goodwood Festival of Speed on a rainy day will know that feeling of vague anxiety which greets you as you steel yourself to leave the sludgey, hilly car parks at the end of a wet day, genuinely worried you will be unable to extricate yourself. We found the Spa car park to be small enough not to suffer from too much traffic over its delicate grass surface. Additionally, there was a stone base at the entrance and, equally crucially, at the exit. The entrance being at the car park’s highest point and the exit at its lowest. This meant leaving the soggy pitch was a doddle and we simply drove out onto headed along the old track towards the terrifying Masta Kink, the corner which so challenged the great drivers of days gone by. Race organisers around the world (I’m looking at you, BRDC), please take note – this is how to do grass field car parking.

That said, you don’t visit Spa to admire the car parks and spirits were raised when Saturday dawned bright and sunny. Avoiding Friday’s chronic navigational errors, we drove straight into the much-admired car park and headed for Rivage corner right at the top of the circuit, where an unobstructed view permitted good photography opportunities, as well as the chance to enjoy the cars barrelling into Rivage downhill at considerable speed, brakes glowing as they scrubbed off speed for the late apex and a slingshot back towards the mighty Pouhon.



The form was hard to judge, but Felipe Massa defied his recent poor results by looking mega committed early in the session while the track was still very green. He showed no fear of the throttle and, in common with former team mate Michael Schumacher, delicately controlled twitchy slides with engine revs flaring as the rear tyres struggled for grip while the tarmac rubbered in. A busy hour of running was over in a flash and, with no big screen to observe, we were none-the-wiser over the formbook so wandered down to adopt our places on the bank high above Pouhon where thousands of spectators naturally congregate on the stony slopes to enjoy watching their heroes tackle the enormous double-apex downhill sweep.











The current qualifying format is fantastic in my opinion – remember those days of Friday and Saturday sessions when the results carried virtually no tension at all? As a result of the extended summer break and the lack of running over the weekend it was something of a surprise to see Jenson Button top the timesheets but there was jubilation among the crowd with so many Brits travelling the short hop over the Channel to enjoy one of Grand Prix racing’s most iconic races. That two Saubers filled places in the top four was even more surprising.







With qualifying done, we wandered over to watch GP2 at Blanchimont. The fearsomely fast, ancient, left-hander is a relic of the old circuit and now safely flat in a modern single-seater but for the humble spectator it remains an awesome spectacle as the engine notes continue to rise throughout the turn as drivers spear towards the Bus Stop chicane and the end of another lap. A small bump part way through was causing the cars to ground out slightly, with a puff of dust from the diffuser adding to the drama.

The race was halted early on after Nigel Melker suffered a frightening high-speed impact at Radillon, necessitating emergency repairs to the barrier and the driver ending up being transported to the local hospital by helicopter. Never let it be said that motor racing – or indeed Spa – will ever be safe.

When the race recommenced, tyre strategies were split, after most drivers pitted under the safety car which was deployed as a result of Melker’s smash. Giedo van der Garde had his turn in the sun for Caterham, staying out on his first set of tyres as long as he could to try and claw back some track position. In the end, the strategy worked and he managed to finish fifth, having started tenth and would’ve been shoo-in for more points had the race lasted an extra couple of laps; such was his pace at the end. Ultimately, though, nobody had an answer for Marcus Ericsson’s speed and he was a convincing 11 seconds up the road from James Calado. The Brit was as committed and combative as ever, but seemed, as is often the case, to be struggling towards the end with tyre wear. Watching the race from the Bus Stop provided highly entertaining viewing though, and barely a lap passed without a move for position and the GP2 Dallaras looked terrific with brake discs glowing and flames bursting from the exhausts on the overrun.

By comparison, baby brother GP3 suffers from being a formula almost devoid of all vehicular excitement. While the racing is often excellent, the cars themselves are dull to watch in isolation and blessed with one of the most anodyne exhaust notes of any racing car I’ve seen. Evidently the series bosses feel the same as next year’s car will be motivated by a considerably more powerful – and doubtless more sonorous – V6.

We watched the opening GP3 salvo from the bottom of Eau Rouge and even with comparatively little power and downforce, they still looked mega as the pack careered down into the compression and out towards the countryside and Radillon. Ultimately it was to be another truncated race with only four racing laps completed after Robert Cregan made heavy contact with the Pouhon barriers, requiring extraction. Daniel Abt kept the pressure on Mitch Evans in the title race with a win.



Sunday was another stunner with more bright sunshine and high spirits among the crowd. Compared to what we found at Monza a week later, Spa is more male-dominated in its demographic and there’s plenty of the local beer consumed over the weekend. Given its natural ampitheatrical nature, generous size and the proliferation of big screens we decided to base ourselves at Pouhon once again for the day. The crowds build up over the morning and soon enough the spectator banks were packed, with a fairly neutral balance of enthusiasms, though it’s clear that McLaren’s British duo carry a great deal of respect among the punters.

It was slightly disappointing that the Grand Prix support bill was the same at both Spa and Monza, with even the timetables being identical. It would’ve been great to see a local championship or Historic F1 take a bow but homogeny reigns these days in Formula One.

The Porsche Supercup race was close but static with the leading title protagonists running in close formation throughout, but there was little in the way of action. Further down the pack, though, there was almost too much drama as Jeroen Mul was flipped onto his roof as they pack headed up the Kemmel Straight on the opening lap. The collective intake of breath from the crowd watching on the screens could probably have been heard across the border in Germany. Fortunately he emerged unscathed but only after the car had completed much of the length of the straight inverted. Nicki Thiim (son of former DTM racer Kurt) took the win in his rookie season under strong pressure from acknowledged Supercup master Rene Rast.




GP2 was chaotic during the opening few minutes but settled into a rhythm with Josef Kral taking a comfortable win. James Calado looked good for second but once more suffered with tyre wear and Felipe Nasr snatched the place into the Bus Stop on the final lap in an incisive move. You can’t fault Calado’s progress though and his debut season has been superb with a combative style allied to strong raw pace. He left Spa ahead of highly-rated team mate Gutierrez in the title battle.




The GP3 guys and girl managed a full race distance on Sunday with Matias Laine taking his first series win. Scot Lewis Williamson looked good for a strong race but ran wide in front of us at Pouhon early on and slide down the order. Further back fellow Brit Alice Powell continues her impressive rise through the single seater ranks and ran well mid-pack. Mitch Evans suffered accident damage and failed to score but left Belgium with his championship lead intact, though with three pursuers behind him all in with a mathematical chance in Monza it was all to play for.

Watching Grand Prix cars around Spa is one of life’s great must-dos. Like watching dusk fall at Le Mans or seeing IndyCars at full chat on an oval, there’s nowhere quite like Spa. The first thing you notice is the size of the place – it is vast. Maybe not spread over so many miles as Le Mans, but the track rises and falls so significantly and every corner has so much room to breathe. The topography is breath-taking with the Ardennes forests stretching out around in every direction. When the cars are on track, distinct to Spa, is the noise. The way it swirls around you and the sheer length of the time you can hear the cars for is quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever spectated. They are on full throttle along the Kemmel Straight for so long and it’s there, as well as the run for Stavelot through Blanchimont and on to the Bus Stop where the haunting sound of the cars hammering the way towards the limiter is most noticeable. Everywhere they travel throughout the lap treats you to a different sonic experience. It adds immeasurably to the spectacle.

Our little piece of banking was as uncomfortable a perch as one might possibly imagine. A steep, muddy, rocky bank is not conducive to a comfortable stint, but at least there was no danger of falling asleep in the afternoon sun.

The drama of the opening corner took place a mile away from us at La Source and we could only watch the big screen with disappointment as clumsiness from Grosjean decimated the field. That all emerged unscathed was some consolation. The race itself was intriguing rather than thrilling, with different fuel strategies harder to call from the trackside than when Martin Brundle is calling it for you on the telly. What we could see was how beautifully Button drove. Virtually every driver had a twitch or ran wide or made some form of mistake in front of us at some point, but Jenson was fluid and millimetre perfect throughout. Our last Grand Prix as spectators was Canada 2011 which showcased the other end of his talent. Never be in any doubt about the guy’s class – on his day (of which there are plenty) he is very special.







44 laps and it was all over. Behind Button’s imperious march to victory there was plenty of scrapping for the minor placings and Vettel put in a sterling day at the office to take 18 valuable points in the title race. Differing tyre strategies had added to the intrigue of the race but the real prospect of a fight for the win was probably lost with Grosjean’s misjudgement at the start. Queues to emerge from the circuit were bearable and a different route allowed us to explore more of the old circuit, only further increasing our respect for the guys who did battle round there in the circuit’s early days.

Belgium had one final treat in store as our kind host at Chateau Bleu, Nortbert, took dad and I for a ride in his fabulous old MG. I was unable to glean much about it beyond learning that it dates from 1938 and features a buzzy little 1300 supercharged engine. Perched high up without seatbelts and no protection from the elements, it’s a particularly visceral experience. The gearbox whines below you and it was noticeable how Norbert scribed a very broad and clean arc through every corner, presumably in deference to his skinny tyres. I doubt it would trouble an Exige in the twisties but what an elemental way to travel and what a wonderful opportunity to ride in such a glorious machine. It was a great way to say goodbye to Belgium before we headed off on the next leg of the trip and Germany.




TerzoNeil

228 posts

83 months

[news] 
Sunday 23rd September 2012 quote quote all
great write up

was on pouthon bank on sunday

great race


Great Dane

1,595 posts

46 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
If you want good racing - go to the WEC instead €30 with pits and grandstands

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
Love WEC too but thought this year was a bit nauseating - a trio of Audis filling the LMP1 podium with the self-congratulatory fireworks from the Audi banner across the finish line! It's on the list of must-dos but so many great races I want to attend in my lifetime, it's hard to prioritise. Next year is Bathurst 1000.

bicycleshorts

1,748 posts

41 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
TerzoNeil said:
was on pouthon bank on sunday
Same here. We got there at about 7am and it was already starting to get busy. Managed to get a half decent spot then use some stones to dig away seats.

We were lucky as a river formed coming from the toilets and missed us by a couple of metres to the right of us.

It was a great atmosphere and you could see so much more than at Silverstone (though the last time I went was 10 years ago).
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chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
My old man took this panorama from Pouhon on Sunday morning. Great seeing sunshine after Friday's disaster!


TerzoNeil

228 posts

83 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
see the screen in your picture on the left

was sitting opposite it

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
Great choice, mate!

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Monday 24th September 2012 quote quote all
Part 2: Germany.

If Spa is the daddy of continental road circuits then the Nürburgring Nordsliefe must be some kind of patriarchal overlord. Given the pair’s geographical proximity, we decided to head over for a wander round the day after the Grand Prix. Sadly a tourist lap was off the cards, with our delicate stead having another two thousand miles of motoring ahead of it, we took the decision that discretion was the better part of valour.

Unlike so many, I don’t specifically have a fascination with driving the mighty north loop myself. I first became aware of the place as a child when I developed an obsession with the flat-12 Ferraris and knew it as the place which almost took my hero Niki Lauda. Being a driver virtually bereft of all talent, my fascination with the circuit stems from the legend of the guys who have raced and won there: Nuvolari hammering the Silver Arrows in 1935; Jackie Stewart’s titanic 1968 win in the Matra with a broken wrist; Stefan Bellof’s famous outright circuit record in the 956 when Group C took its final bow at the track in 1983...

I’m happy to admit that the circuit is beyond my abilities but I love that it exists and was eager to see the place in person to try and gain a little understanding of a circuit which scared my heroes.

Heading from Spa over the border we found ourselves overtaking the McLaren team’s convoy of enormous camions en route and wondered whether Jenson’s race winning car was aboard, and whether it could win again a few days later at Monza. We took a cross-country route and discovered pleasing countryside with quaint villages and big vistas, a useful contrast to the monotony of Flanders from the previous week.



The Nürburgring has attracted considerable press recently after it was revealed to be heading for administration, with crippling debts. The place is very large, but over recent years has grown exponentially, with expensive efforts to draw year-round tourism to the area. To this end, around the pits for the Grand Prix circuit has sprung a huge new complex dedicated generally to the motorcar in its various forms. This includes a karting circuit, dramatic (but apparently out of operation) rollercoaster, museum, kids’ area and a boulevard of shops. Across the road, numerous motor manufacturers house permanent development facilities. There’s no lack of things to see or do.

Not overly blessed with time, we elected to do the guided tour but were left disappointed that the museum was closed. The tour takes you behind the scenes around the Grand Prix pit complex. It gives an interesting view of a modern F1 track – you stand on the podium high above the startline, see the room where the famous hat and watch man hands out his wares and take in the enormous media room. Best of all, you are accompanied up to a roof-top terrace six floors above the startline, offering a panoramic view of the entire Grand Prix circuit and the Nordsliefe as it arrives and departs at the top of the GP loop. It’s a privileged view and gives some idea of the sheer scale of the place, with Nürburg castle silently presiding over the entire area.










When it was opened in 1984, the new Grand Prix circuit was lambasted in some parts as a shadow of its illustrious neighbour. Maybe in the context of the time it was, but with the modern proliferation of so-called Tilke-dromes, the current GP loop is actually quite a pleasing circuit. Blessed with some natural topography and a decent blend of corners, it feels decidedly old school when compared to some. We enjoyed watching a disparate band of drivers tackling the circuit including a couple of Radicals and a Ginetta G50 lapping together in an open session.




As news of the circuit’s perilous financial situation filtered through recently, I was intrigued to gauge the success of all the new facilities. Perhaps an autumn Monday with no tourist laps ongoing is not the best time to judge but, based on what we saw, the dramatic new building works might be politely described as a white elephant. The enormous new retail boulevard was deserted; not just quiet but completely empty. There was no atmosphere and the whole place felt like a ghost town. They will need to sell an awful lot of Nürburgring bumper stickers to justify the place’s existence. And pity the retailers who have adopted franchises there – Aston Martin’s shop was clinical in its approach, but utterly bereft of customers.










Being brutal, the whole place looks like expensive folly. My personal feeling is that the developers badly misjudged things. What draws people to the Nürburgring in big numbers is its elemental nature. It exists without even paying lip service to modernity and the dreaded ‘elf and safety’. Barely upgraded since the major revisions completed in 1970, it’s a monument to days gone by and drivers love it for that. What the place does not need is to be Disneyfied out of all recognition. What happens from here is in the laps of the Gods – or at least the politicians. Let us hope the correct decisions are made and the two circuits are able to continue normal operations.





Having explored the Grand prix circuit and resisted buying a bumper sticker, we went off to see a little of the old track. There are numerous public viewing areas so we headed up to Brünnchen to see what all the fuss was about. We found a large group of Porsche 911s of various ages lapping with various degrees of commitment. GT3s proliferated and the pilots, for the most part, were really attacking. What was striking as a spectator was how long you could hear the cars for before you saw them. What preceded our spectating point was evidently an extremely fast part of the track. The drivers headed hard downhill towards us, crested a rise which caused a brief flare of revs before a distinct scrape as splitters grounded out in the compression before they were into a very fast uphill right hander and out of our sight. The quickest guys were absolutely flying and it made for entertaining viewing. With run-off at a minimum and that famous graffiti decorating the tarmac, it could be nowhere else and the place has a distinct atmosphere all of its own. Truth be told, it looks frightening and enticing all at once. I left quite wishing we’d been bolder and considered completing a tourist lap. That’ll have to wait for the next trip.









We left Nurburg and headed almost due south, bound for Sinsheim. It was a surprise to find several manufacturers using the local roads to test automotive prototypes, dressed in black and white camouflage wrap. Sadly we struggled to identify very much, but evidently it is more than just the use of the Nordsliefe which draws them to the area for vehicular development.

It proved to be fairly uneventful motoring down to Sinsheim and it was still light when we arrived at our hotel for the night. The only note-worthy sighting being the Hockenheimring, biennial home of the German Grand Prix; its main grandstand rising high above the autobahn as we passed. It was fairly tortuous passing without calling by but that’ll have to wait for another trip. We also took advantage of our first sections of derestricted autobahn. We didn’t record any particularly big speeds but the little Aston was happy cruising along 125mph all afternoon long. It made covering distances remarkably relaxed.



From our very brief observations, Sinsheim is a fairly nondescript German industrial town, but has become a major tourist hotspot off the back of housing the remarkable Auto & Technik Museum. The museum, and its twinned facility a few miles away in Speyer, holds a remarkable array of transport-themed exhibits. If your interests include cars, motocycles, tanks, planes and trains then Sinsheim will be akin to ascending into heaven.

Really, it’s hard to know where to start and which items in the collection are most meritorious. For us, the brace of supersonic passenger planes sited on the roof stole the show – an Air France Concorde sitting behind its Russian equivalent, the Tupolov TU-144; the Sinsheim ‘Concordski’ being the only example outside Russia. An enormous number of other planes are exhibited indoors and outdoors including Lockheed Starfighter, Messerschmitt ME109 and an eerie Stuka dive-bomber which had resided under water for many years.







In terms of cars, the most famous resident is probably Brutus, the pre-war behemoth powered by a BMW aero engine which has recently appeared on Top Gear, having earlier starred at the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power. Sadly Brutus was absent making an appearance but the museum is host to scores of other exciting automotive exhibits. Most fascinating is the Blue Flame. This pencil-thin rocket-powered contraption set the world’s Land Speed Record in 1970, driven by Gary Gabelich. To spend time in its company, it’s impossible not to marvel at the bravery and pioneering attitude of Gabelich and his LSR colleagues. The Blue Flame is stark in its simplicity and frightening in its potential.





Throughout the museum are hundreds of amazing exhibits, it simply isn’t possible to do justice to the collection in a few paragraphs. Suffice it to say, we were so overwhelmed that we had to sit down for a coffee half-way round to relax. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures. What is apparent is that there place has a sense of humour and looks great for kids. Some of the planes are fitted with slides so children climb steps into the planes then slide all the way back down and straight back into the museum. It’s interactive and fun, in spite of the sometimes geeky subject matter. Perfect for geeky big kids too.



From Sinsheim it was a decent drive down to Bavaria for the next leg of the trip and the next activity. This provided the finest autobahn driving of the three days we spent in Germany and, usefully, it coincided with one of my stints behind the wheel. We finally found some decent three-lane autobahn and were able to cruise for long stints at 120mph plus without impediment, though always aware of a weight of traffic in the nearside and middle lanes with the potential – and sometimes propensity – to change lanes without indicating. One useful section allowed a blast up to a steady 150mph which was rather more exhilarating than I might’ve expected. It seems the pressure of driving your dad’s pride and joy at more than twice the UK speed limit carries a burden of responsibility I hadn’t previously envisaged. Still, the car felt fantastic and pulled beautifully above 4,000rpm in top; exhaust valves open, comfortably on the cam and stable as a rock. I came away with total respect for its capabilities.

Bavaria seems to have a personality of its own; it felt like entering another country again. The tall forests and big valleys are as expected but the suburb of Munich which was our home on Tuesday night was full of picture postcard views. The Royal Bavarian font is everywhere and it gives the place an atmosphere all of its own. Our hotel was comfortable and gated car park scored top marks for automotive security.

We chose to eat at a local hostelry and were delighted to find warming regional food, great foaming steins of beer and waitresses in traditional local dress. It was a real surprise, but entirely welcome and a trip to Oktoberfest immediately went on the bucket list after we enjoyed a terrific evening – and all within 2 minutes walk of the hotel. Of course when we stumbled upon a hydro electric power station the next day on a nearby river and could geek over the civil and mechanical engineering involved in its construction, Munich was cemented as our new favourite city.





Remarkably, though, we hadn’t come to Munich to enjoy its resident’ revealing garments, nor its sustainable energy solutions. We had, in fact, come to visit the BMW museum housed opposite the Olympic park, built for the 1972 Games. BMW was quite a visionary in realising and understanding its heritage and the museum dates back to 1972, opening shortly before the Olympic Games. It sits as part of a suite of buildings which includes the company’s administrative centre, manufacturing complex and BMW Welt – a kind of giant showroom displaying all the current models, along with shops, a restaurant and a concourse where proud new owners can collect their latest automotive acquisitions. The architecture is stark, modern and complex, with every corner turned revealing something new.







The museum is similarly architecturally impressive and throughout much is made of the design aspect of the company’s cars and motorcycles. The cynic in me therefore rather wonders why most of the modern range is generally so visually uninspiring.





Housed effectively over two wings, the museum gently tracks the company’s heritage in aeroplanes, motorcycles and cars. It is far from exhaustive, but tries to explain the company’s vision and ethos as much as simply its model history. Motorsport is well covered with delicate little 1940 fixed head 328 juxtaposing brutal Brabham BT54 turbocharged Grand Prix weapon. A fine array of tin tops charts the marque’s progress in touring and sports cars from 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’ to the E46 M3 GTR which did battle in the ALMS GT2 category during the last decade.







The second wing is the more visually obvious from outside and looks a little like a giant brushed aluminium bowl. It is circled internally by a narrow concrete ramp which is broken up by interim landings before opening out into a large display area at the top. Pedestrians then descend back to ground level by a long escalator which spears straight through the middle of the entire building. It’s nothing less than dramatic. The exhibits are all given room to breathe, which was a pleasing contrast to Sinsheim where thousands of exhibits vied for recognition from their peers. The content and general thrust of the place might best be described as quirky. Certainly interesting but maybe not the whistle-stop touring of the company highlights you might expect, nor quite the historical story-telling effect either.







We both came away impressed with the facility and intrigued by it but perhaps a little confused by it.

Still, we didn’t have much time to ponder as it was time to hit the road again as we had a hotel booked that evening in the foothills of the Italian Alps and to get there meant leaving Germany after a tremendous few days and crossing Austria. Countries five and six of our trip beckoned.

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
Hi chaps,

I realise this isn't necessarily core 'motorpsort' content but the next installment will be all about the Italian GP and perhaps it'll offer a bit of an incentive for others to perform a similar trip in 2013 as the GPs are on consecutive weekends once again.

Hope this is of interest, anyway.

Chev.

Part 3 - Into Italy.

As the old chap had graciously volunteered the use of his car, as well as funding the trip almost in its entirety, we figured he should do the interesting driving. With that in mind, we pointed the nose towards the autobahn and headed south for Austria. Once more, derestricted autobahn greeted us and we settled into a gentle 130mph cruise, occasionally vacating the outside lane to allow the passage of thundering black Audis sat on their imposed limiters. It’s an unreal way to travel but before we knew it we were heading off the autobahn and into glorious countryside.

The further south we proceeded the more picturesque the landscape became. We stopped at a service area just across the Austrian border which would rival even the mighty Teebay in its beauty. It was quite an introduction to an amazing country.

We found ourselves running through a verdant gorge, apparently a plateau among the peaks. The land evidently rich in minerals and even richer in rainfall, we ended up ploughing through heavy precipitation for a couple of hours. Sadly this coincided with the best driving of the trip so far. Exciting roads in fine condition, surrounded by beautiful countryside, punctuated by pretty fortified medieval villages. It was just a shame that progress was interrupted by the weather.






Eventually we emerged in Italy, though by all accounts a very Austrian part of Italy as everything was in German and it looked like Austria. I guess the Italians don’t worry about anything north of Lake Como.

We were staying in a small town called Prad am Stilfserjoch. This sits within the Stelvio National Park and just north of the famous pass of the same name. The town itself is an intiguing mix of ancient, subsistent farming juxtaposing modern facilities and tourism resulting from the town’s spectacular location. Once again not being blessed with time we stuck to our hotel, which was central and scored highly for an underground garage. We spent most of our time here bewildered by which language to speak, but German seemed to be reasonably effective and we got by. In fact by the time we got to France a week later we barely knew how to speak at all, having battled valiantly with schoolboy French, Germany and Italian in a single day. Even English was becoming a struggle.





Thursday morning was, mercifully, fine after the deluges of the previous day and the roads were dry. We were heading for our four-day rest point in Milan and had decided to cross the Passo dello Stelvio to see why it has become so legendary, not just in car circles but also among committed cyclists and motorcyclists.

Well, based on the evidence we found, the cyclists should be committed. We were starting on the north side which seems to be the more touristy and busy. Once we’d worked past some joggers and their convoy of support vehicles we found ourslves in a crocodile of cars as the road meandered up through the trees, the hairpins increasing in number with the altitude. The driving at this stage wasn’t too slow and the views fantastic so we enjoyed working our way higher through the arboreal cover until eventually popping out above the tree line.




Wow! Having only ever seen the Alps from the seat of Boeing’s finest before, the sight of the Alpine peaks disappearing into the distance briefly took our breath away. Epic doesn’t cover it. The sheer enormity of the landscape is mind-boggling to a newcomer. It disappears in all directions – up, down, left, right…you name it.





Above the tree line and we weren’t too worried about the speed of our ascent, we simply sat back to enjoy the ride and the stunning views. On the northern side of the pass, the hairpins come thick and fast, they’re tight and generally lined with stone walls to stop you falling off. We found on the left handers we could get a better swing if I glanced up the hill to see for any down-coming traffic, and the old chap would do the same on the right handers. It worked well and we enjoyed running with the windows down with that seismic exhaust sound bouncing off the mountain beside us.

If I might be cautionary, there were moments of frustration on the first half of the journey. The cyclists are, perhaps understandably given their endeavours, a little wobbly sometimes and need a very decent wide berth. It helps tremendously having two pairs of eyes on the look-out for potential hazards. The motorcyclists can also prove troublesome as they see no issue with going three-wide as you pass a cyclist. With that in mind, we came to the conclusion that perhaps the Aston was a little big for the northern face, but it came into its own on the descent.

We saw a few interesting motors on the pass itself including a couple of Lotuses and a sonorous Ferrari 308 GTB, being driven as intended. However, it seemed mostly to be populated by holiday-makers. I suspect if we’d attempted a dawn raid then things might’ve been different but given the relentlessness of our schedule we elected to play it safe and just revel in the experience.

Once at the summit, we elected not to stop and instead started our descent. The southern side was considerably less busy and progress was far more brisk, with space to overtake safely and easily. The brakes held up well to the hairpin abuse and before we knew it we found ourselves at a popular viewing spot next to a waterfall where the whole world seemed to open up in front of us. The road wiggled its way down the valley before disappearing towards the horizon, flanked by bleak mountains. It really was the most phenomenal view and we stopped for a few minutes to try and take in the enormity of it. We were so lucky to pick a clear day with the clouds high above the snow-capped peaks.






After much open-mouthed wonderment, we remembered that the spectacular ribbon of tarmac was ours to enjoy so we hit the road again. The pass continues dropping through sinuous hairpins before leveling out, following the hillside and clinging on through glamorous and evocative galleria tunnels. Many of them were damp and narrow so oncoming motorcyclists were an occasional cause for concern but open-windowed bursts of throttle soon made up for any momentary heart-stoppers.



As the road levelled and opened out we found ourselves in Bormio and the end of the pass. As we entered the town, a group of Italian-registered supercars with door roundels headed towards us. Scores of exotics evidently headed for the pass streamed past us including Ferraris, Lambos, Merc SLS, Vipers and even a Koenigsegg. As tempting as it was to turn round and blast back over the pass with them, we pressed on towards Milan and the surroundings turned from rocky to pastural to, well, a bit dull and flat.



Finally, though, it was starting to feel like Italy. Having completed the best of the day’s driving we paused at a roadside cafe for an espresso before I took to the wheel for a stint. It was when consulting the map to check the next leg of the journey that we noticed how closely we would be passing Lake Como. It seemed rude not to call in for a look so we speared off the autostrada and headed for the water, into a desperately pretty little lakeside village.




As the locals sat by the shore chatting we grabbed a gelato and admired the view. What a stunning location – no wonder the great and the good choose to spend their summers there. Sadly we couldn’t pause long asMilan was waiting and we had an appointment with rush hour traffic.



Sure enough, the Milanese traffic jams were as crazy as we expected. Major ongoing roadworks meant sat-nav fooling diversions so tempers were on the verge of being frayed when we arrived at our hotel. One saving grace was the unexpected popularity of the car. The Italians apparently don’t only have eyes for Ferrari and we enjoyed numerous waves and camera phone appearances. Shame the car’s occupants probably lacked a little of the usual Milanese glamour.

The central Hotel Vittoria was to be our base from Thursday until Monday and we were looking forward to putting down roots for a couple of days and getting stuck into another great weekend of motor racing – our first trip to Monza.

_Batty_

12,078 posts

130 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
What a trip!
thanks for taking the time to post.
It's on my wishlist to do something like this.

M

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
_Batty_ said:
What a trip!
thanks for taking the time to post.
It's on my wishlist to do something like this.

M
A total pleasure. I'm pleased if anyone out there is interested.

If you possibly can do a trip like this, I urge you to! We had such a fantastic time and what a great thing to do with my dad as well. So many memories to cherish.

HowMuchLonger

2,767 posts

73 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
binned

Mod note: Moronic post removed

IAM Joe

16 posts

46 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
Excellent write up (and photos not too shoddy either) Mr Swift. A splendid Continental trip which covered so much. I didn't read it word for word but see you had an awesome time and in such a magnificent car! The Italian Lakes (and surrounding roads/scenery) are amazing. Wish I was back there!

You'll have to visit the 'proper' BMW factory in Bunchloe next time

Edited by IAM Joe on Wednesday 26th September 13:17

burriana

16,249 posts

134 months

[news] 
Wednesday 26th September 2012 quote quote all
Great diary - do you mind if a post the following on a cycling club website please? A group of us are going to the Alps next year and one of the guys has never been. I was trying to explain the majesty of them but your words and pics does the job superbly straight from someones mind that is seeing them for the first time smile

al


"Wow! Having only ever seen the Alps from the seat of Boeing’s finest before, the sight of the Alpine peaks disappearing into the distance briefly took our breath away. Epic doesn’t cover it. The sheer enormity of the landscape is mind-boggling to a newcomer. It disappears in all directions – up, down, left, right…you name it."




chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Thursday 27th September 2012 quote quote all
Please feel free - I'd be delighted.

HowMuchLonger

2,767 posts

73 months

[news] 
Thursday 27th September 2012 quote quote all
HowMuchLonger said:
binned

Mod note: Moronic post removed
Sorry for the juvenile post.

burriana

16,249 posts

134 months

[news] 
Thursday 27th September 2012 quote quote all
I don't think it was so much the smiley, smileys are good; but the fact that you copied an extremely long post in its entirety, just to add a smiley smile

burriana

16,249 posts

134 months

[news] 
Thursday 27th September 2012 quote quote all
chevronb37 said:
Please feel free - I'd be delighted.
Many thanks smile

chevronb37

Original Poster:

5,739 posts

66 months

[news] 
Monday 8th October 2012 quote quote all
When I was a kid, watching F1 on the telly was a Sunday ritual – as it is for so many junior car enthusiasts. The tracks which stood out for me then remain the same today – Mansell Mania at Silverstone, Senna on a quali lap at Monaco, or a red Ferrari streaking past vivid yellow Agip signs and diving under the towering old banking at Monza. As something of an amateur Tifoso, I simply had to get to Monza and see the red cars at home, feel the passion of the crowd and enjoy the cars on the fastest circuit of the year.
As I hopped in a cab at 7.00am on the Friday practice day, all the enthusiasm in the world was struggling to fight the cumulative effects of a long week on the road. Still, a cheeky espresso at Milano train station and I was starting to feel vaguely human once more as I crowded onto a train bound for the suburb of Monza, surrounded by scores of other fans. Amid the sea of red caps and shirts, the British McLaren duo of Hamilton and Button seemed well-represented and there was a mix of languages bouncing around the train as we ambled out of the city.

Hitting Monza rush hour on Grand Prix weekend meant jams and it seemed to take an age for the shuttle bus to drop us off somewhere approximating the circuit entrance. I followed the crowds and soon enough was greeted by that much photographed sign: ‘Parco di Monza’. I was in!


Commentators and pundits often talk about the circuit’s long straights, but on TV, as F1 cars pummel them at 200mph plus, they never look all that long. However, emerge somewhere in the middle of the start-finish straight and squint towards the horizon left and right, and you realise that run from the Parabolica down to the Variante de Rettifilo is enormous – far bigger than any TV pictures can adequately convey.

I wandered up to the top of the Piscina grandstand, with the old swimming pool behind me and that vast straight stretching out in front. The GP3 runners were enjoying their opening practice session and they came blaring past at maximum revs, changing up again just past my sight, still accelerating. I must confess at this point that the magic of Monza struck me. The smell of the trees, the excitement of the spectators everywhere, just being at a circuit that remains much as it was in 1922 when it was first constructed. It was an emotional moment I can’t explain, but I had goosebumps and my bottom lip was quivering. No amount of hyperbole and cliché can do justice to the sensation of simply being there – like Maranello the place just has a little sprinkling of magic which sets it apart.

Having suitably composed myself from that rather pathetic display of automotive emotion, and with the GP3 drivers back in the paddock, it was time to find a seat for the opening F1 practice session. Ascari seemed as good a place as any. This ultra-fast chicane was so-named after the double world champion Alberto Ascari who perished at the same spot in a still-unexplained accident behind the wheel of a Ferrari sports racer. I took up a seat in the grandstand and enjoyed the atmosphere building as the tribune slowly filled – locals gossiping excitedly; sharing the moment with home-made sandwiches, espressos and Marlboros. The whole thing was totally Italian, but remarkably civilised.

And then they were released – 24 gladiators back out on track and probably the most productive practice session they would’ve enjoyed since Hungry, after the wash-out of Spa. The big cheers went out to the red cars, of course - and Alonso in particular - but Schumacher is evidently still widely revered among the home crowd and he drew an appreciative whoop from the ‘stands. As Alonso toured through Ascari for the first time, the global TV audience let out a collect groan as my ugly mug shot up on the TV screens for a split second, tracking his progress.
[img] http://www.motorcardiaries.co.uk/wp-content/upload...
The session was a busy one, with all drivers out on track, anxious to bank some laps and learn more about their summer upgrades packages as the circus prepared to leave Europe and head east and the climax to the season. Big news was the replacement at Lotus of Romain Grosjean with Jerome d’Ambrosio, as the Franco-Swiss served his ban resulting from the infamous La Source misjudgement a week previously.







Half an hour in and it felt like time to take a wander so I headed anti-clockwise around the track and to the entrance of Ascari, where a public terrace had proven a popular spot – and I could immediately see why. The drivers approach really very quickly indeed, before jumping impossibly late onto the brakes, hammering it down a couple of gears and hurling the cars across the kerbs. With the possible exception of standing on the outfield at the entrance to Maggotts at Silverstone, I cannot honestly think of a more dramatic place to watch modern racing cars. The sheer bristling energy is other-worldly. As you gaze in amazement at the ferocity of the cars’ movements and your ears shake from the exhaust notes, it seems a struggle to believe any human could be in charge of such savagery. It’s immaculate and beautiful and violent and compelling all at once. I stand in open-mouthed wonder just soaking up the moment, surrounded by the Tifosi. Welcome to Monza – the temple of speed.


Following the track anti-clockwise a little further leads you down to the famous bridge, where the old banked circuit crossed its road circuit brother. The vast concrete banking looms over the site and you stumble upon it numerous times as you traverse the spectator areas. It’s crumbling now, with the surface concrete flaking away, exposing the steel reinforcement behind. Still, for 90 years old it could look a lot worse, and it’s full of scary character – a chilling reminder of how dangerous motor racing once was. To think that in 1969 the International Championship of Makes raced on the full circuit makes you shiver – I can only imagine that a Lola T70 made for something of a handful.


It’s worth dwelling again on the size of the place. The banking is absolutely vast. The radius of the corners is quite unlike anything you might see on a road course and you never quite get used to its sheer reach. I would love to have seen the greats go to work around there but it’s not hard to see why racing ceased around there in 1970. That the whole layout remains so intact is a real treat for the visitor and it lends the whole place a certain atmosphere, especially as you watch a modern F1 machine duck under the bridge; an articulate juxtaposition of the old world of racing and the new.



As you wander out towards the Lesmos, you get a real feel for the parkland vibe. The woods are dense and the crowds thin as you move further from the start line and the paddock. General Admission is actually very generous in terms of views, though big screens are limited so you can’t expect to follow the action too closely. Over the course of the day I walk the entire track, spectating at various times from every corner to try and get a real feel for the place. My feet complained with all the walking but it’s a sensational place to enjoy fast cars.



The Lesmos are super-fast, with a useful camber allowing physics-defying entry speeds. The F1 boys’ ability to pile speed on in the tiny shoot between the two never ceased to amaze. Stood under the trees on the apex of the first Lesmo during GP2 practice was particularly special though. You’re just a few feet from the cars at this point and as they make their final downchange into the corner, generous bursts of flame erupted from the exhausts. Combined with the sheer speed of their entry, it was mesmeric and no matter how hard I tried, I failed miserably to adequately convey the drama in a photograph.





As the last session of the day for the Porsche Supercup started, the crowds had mostly dispersed and it was time to head back to Milano for pizza and birra. I’d rather nonchalantly presumed that it’d be a 5 minute walk back to the shuttle bus stop. 45 minutes of torrid strolling later and I finally found myself at the bus stop. I’d heard talk of the great size of Monza park, but from within the circuit it’s hard to judge. Once out of the circuit confines, you quickly realise it is enormous and similar in nature to Richmond Park in Surrey. So, next time I’ll remember to pack my walking boots and leave a bit (a lot) more time.

After all the walking, I missed my train but blindly headed for the next one to Milano and settled down for the journey. It soon became apparent that the train and I had different ideas about what constituted ‘Milano’ and I was deposited somewhere in the north of the city and facing a further 20 minute walk to get to my dinner. Still, the blisters on my feet were already there so with the grim determination of the truly idiotic I headed towards the bright lights and the end of a remarkable practice day at Monza.

Saturday was a little more successful as we had a shuttle bus booked from our Milanese hotel out to the circuit. This gave a useful opportunity to read the race programme (basically the same as Spa) and meet our fellow travellers. A friendly bunch of enthusiasts, we enjoyed some good banter on the way to the event and everyone had a different opinion on how the weekend might transpire.

Once again we headed out to enjoy various locations for the free practice sessions. The F1 cars were staggering through the Curva Grande. The name doesn’t lie – it’s a massive corner with a wide open radius and it just seems to go on for miles. With the throttles pinned wide open and the noise bouncing off the high concrete perimeter wall, it’s a suitably dramatic name for a dramatic corner.







The Variante Roggia proved great fun for watching Porsche Supercup practice as the pilots experimented with how much kerb to take. Too much and the inside wheels were launched high in the air, limiting traction; too little and the direction change meant progress was slow. The quick guys seemed to blend through with little effort and that distinctive 911 pivot around the rear wheels.


Meanwhile, as the Porsche boys trying to find a clean lap, we were delighted to note a neat snapshot of how the Italians go about doing things properly. Two gentlemen had set up table and chairs at the trackside and were busily making sandwiches from Palma ham and fresh bread. On the table was a bottle of fine red wine, with two glasses to hand; it was civility personified and a useful contrast to the boozy antics on the muddy spectator banks of Spa a week previously.

For F1 qualifying we settled into our grandstand seats at the first chicane. While this spot might lack a little of the visceral drama of the circuit’s fastest corners, a TV screen was right in view and the big brake from 200mph to 40mph meant plenty of opportunity for driver error.



The big news to emerge from the qualifying session was the lack of form in Q3 from the crowds’ darling, Fernando Alonso. Having shown epic speed through practice and the early stages of qualifying, suddenly he was way off the pace and languishing in 10th, with much work to do in the race. His troubles were attributed to a suspension problem, which was little consolation for the expectant crowd. Felipe Massa defied his recent form with a strong run to third, behind the McLaren twins. With wins in the previous two races, the Woking concern was looking ominously strong. Paul di Resta made it three Brits in the top four behind Massa. His team mate Nico Hulkenburg had dropped out of Q1 after coasting into the Variante de Rettifilo with a ‘box full of neutrals.



It was a tense session and, had it not been for Alonso’s uncharacteristic effort, the top 10 would’ve been covered by a single second.

The 2012 GP2 series was precariously balanced heading into Monza, the penultimate round of the championship. It was looking like a straight fight between Luis Razia and experienced Italian Davide Valsecchi. Max Chilton highlighted his much-improved form with a strong pole position, but was unable to match the pace of returning hero Luca Filippi in the race. Filippi cut the chicane on the opening lap, handing the lead back to Chilton, but the Italian was incisive during the pit stops and assumed a comfortable lead which he held to a dominant win. Not bad for a driver who hadn’t raced in almost 12 months.







At this point it was time for us to head back into Milano, our transfers sadly not permitting enough time for us to see the opening GP3 round of the weekend. As a result, we had no idea of the drama which had unfolded, setting up a major title showdown on Sunday. Champion-elect Mitch Evans had earned pole position but retired early on with damage, allowing Daniel Abt to back up his strong Spa performances with a win and an unexpected title tilt. It set up a thrilling finale on Sunday and we were sad to have missed it.
Sunday morning and this was it – the Italian Grand Prix 2012! By this point I was completely captivated by Monza, so different in character to the epic Spa but an equally compelling circuit to watch racing cars and a beautiful place in its own right. It’s hard not to describe the experience in terms of cliché but the passion of the fans, the atmosphere, the sheer presence of the banking and that autumnal arboreal cover. It’s a heady mixture and even another early alarm call couldn’t sate our enthusiasm.

Unlike Spa, where we were up early to grab a favoured spot on the muddy banks high above Pouhon, at Monza we were sat in glorious grandstand luxury at the first chicane once again. It was a surprise that the crowds weren’t greater for the support races, and in fact it was their loss as GP3 and the Porsche Supercup put on magnificent displays in deciding their respective drivers’ championships.

In GP3, Daniel Abt had a mathematical chance of snatching the title if he won with Mitch Evans out of the points. It seemed a fanciful notion but Evans was starting from the back, courtesy of his early retirement in race one. His immediate progress was brisk but when Vainio inflicted a puncture which brought him into the pits, his race had unravelled and he was no longer master of his own destiny. It was cruel luck as Abt had worked his way back into the leading group where four drivers were scrapping for the lead. He found himself in the lead with just a couple of tours to go. An unlikely championship win was looking on the cards, but that did not account for the flying Tio Ellinas and the pair went toe-to-toe over the closing laps. When the chequered flag dropped it was Ellinas ahead and a shell-shocked Abt looked inconsolable. As the Cypriot national anthem rang out across the park (how often do you hear that one...?), Evans’ title celebrations began. As a protégé of Mark Webber, he is sure to have a bright future ahead of him, but it one couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Daniel Abt who couldn’t have done any more to try and take the title back to Germany with him.




After a fairly static encounter at Spa the Porsche Supercup competitors put on a far less sober display at Monza. The leading championship contenders occupied the top positions and it became a showdown between reigning double champion Rene Rast and Kevin Estre. Initially it was looking like the Porsche meister Rast’s crown might’ve been slipping as Estre headed him in third, with Brit Sean Edwards second behind fellow contender Norbert Siedler. Estre ran wide exiting the Parabolica though and Rast was decisive, through and secure in title-winning position. However, a moment of argy bargy between Siedler and Edwards at the Variante Roggia allowed him to really show his class with a clean move past the pair of them and a comfortable drive to the finish. A third consecutive title with a blemish-free drive as his rivals wilted. It was heady stuff and proof – if it were needed – that Rast is the undisputed master of European Porsche racing at the moment.



The season’s final European GP2 round saw a definitive swing in momentum back to Davide Valsecchi. With rival Luis Razia imprisoned in the mid-field following retirement the previous day, Valsecchi was ahead at the end of the first lap and there he stayed to win by a slight margin over Fabio Leimer. Behind this pair, it was all action though with Jolyon Palmer in particular getting his elbows out on both his team mate Marcus Ericsson and Stefano Coletti. A strong drive netted him second. Valsecchi was defiant in victory on his home turf, and as he ascended the podium insisted that one of the attendant ladies kiss him on the cheek. It was a fairly nauseating moment which did little to endear him to the crowd, in spite of a superb drive. Perhaps a little humility next time...






And so the build-up to the big event began. As the clock ticked down to race day, the sun burned ever brighter and the grandstand slowly filled with excited spectators. Just 5 minutes before the green flag signalled the cars to leave the grid, it was bedlam as marshals anxiously tried to find homes for everyone in the tribune. There were fans everywhere throughout the stand and fire marshals would’ve been having palpitations from the hazard of so many raving enthusiasts filling ever inch of seating and circulation area. However, as the grid assembled for the final time, everyone was politely sat down and we all had a fantastic view of the first corner ready for the opening lap carnage.


In the build-up, a mob of incredibly friendly but obsessive Tifosi had been conducting proceedings on the crowd’s behalf. All members wore bright red wigs, red Ferrari shirts and emitted a delightfully feel-good vibe with singing and dancing in evidence. Their chairman wandered along the front of the ‘stand, addressing the assembled crowd initiating Mexican waves – cigarette in hand and Ferrari flag draped over his shoulders. In a desperate bid to get themselves on the telly they handed out pieces of red paper to everyone sat in the tribune and we held these aloft during the Mexican waves. It was fantastic theatre and so sincerely well-meaning. By the time the green lights heralded the start of the race, I was actually quivering with excitement. It was an absolutely golden moment – one I’ll never forget and quite unlike any other race experience: the magic of Monza.

The start was tense and after the silliness of Spa, it was relieving just to see the whole pack hit the Curva Grande relatively unscathed. Massa was right alongside Hamilton off the line but mercifully they put their 2011 altercations behind them, with Lewis hitting the front for a lead he maintained imperiously all afternoon. Behind, there was jubilation from the crowd as Alonso immediately started making up places – his practice pace evidently very real. One felt there might’ve been a real motor race between him and Hamilton had he qualified higher up.

As the race wore on, Alonso’s progress became the crowd’s focus and his rise into a podium-paying position was evidence of hard work and perseverance; not to mention some cooperation from his team mate. However, the spectators were very even-handed in their affections and as Sergio Perez commenced one of his epic attacks following clever tyre strategy, each overtake was greeted with sincere appreciation. Even as he swept past Alonso’s Ferrari, the spectators showed their appreciation for a fine drive. Perhaps they’d have been less effusive if they’d known Perez would be signing for McLaren a few weeks later.




If Alonso’s rise up the order was impressive, his composure during battle with Vettel was evidence of a man playing the long game. In 2011, the roles were reversed and Alonso had offered the young German just enough room for an awesome, kamikaze attack around the outside of the Curva Grande. It was the other way around in 2012 and there was no quarter given, with the Ferrari being forced wide on the exit of the fearsome ‘Big Bend’. It was an unpopular move in the grandstands and there was little disappointment when Vettel’s Red Bull went lame. In contrast, Jenson Button’s unfortunate retirement was met with a collective groan from the punters.

Sadly there was no prospect of a grandstand finish as the laps ticked down before Perez could get too close to Hamilton, but it was still an intriguing race and imbued with more action than Spa the previous weekend – opening lap notwithstanding.

As soon as the race was over a mass track invasion swept over the hallowed tarmac and there were delirious fans swarming the circuit. They immediately picked up anything which wasn’t tied down and ran amok in a faintly silly way. Sadly our passage onto the track was blocked by the ancient banking but it was fun watching the carnage acting out in front of us as the fans headed to the amazing cantilevered podium over the pit straight.




And then it was over, time to spend fiendishly on merchandise in the famous Libreria Autodromo and prepare for the next leg of the trip. I make no bones about it, I adored Monza. The atmosphere, the scale of the track, the passion of the crowd, the proximity of the spectating, the looming banking...it’s intoxicating. Must get planning a return visit.









Edited by chevronb37 on Tuesday 9th October 07:50

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