Matters of moment, June 1998

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148

Two weeks ago I found myself hurtling through the Karussel on the Nürburgring’s legendary Nordschleife with one Porsche 956 filling my Windscreen and another in the mirrors. At first I thought it was one more variation of a recurrent dream. Cars of this calibre stopped racing around the 13-mile track over a decade ago and, even had they not, it was hard to think of circumstances to place me on the track with the sportscar which, to this day, holds the lap record of the most challenging circuit in the world. And yet it happened. For a glorious moment, I was indeed the meat in a 956 sandwich.

It was one highlight of two days at the Nürburgring Festival, an event held each year by Wheeltorque, a company specialising in organising time at the finest circuits in the world. This is not, you understand, merely a matter of booking the track and asking your customers to turn up and do their worst. Not only do you have literally unlimited access to the ‘Ring, you take to the track knowing experienced marshalls stand at every critical corner, course cars patrol the circuit and, God forbid it goes wrong, there’s a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in the pits. And, for the driver who did get bitten by this treacherous circuit, it was this professionalism which quite possibly bridged the gap between life and death.

For the rest of us, it simply meant you could enjoy the challenge as safely as realistically possible. Cars spanned the ages from pre-war racing Alfas and Maseratis, past C and D-type Jaguars to Ford GT40s, any amount of racing BMW saloons and Porsche 911s and on to the titan 956s. Road cars were in abundance too from Lotus and Caterham Sevens up to Ferrari F40s and 50s.

The best part was the lack of pressure on the drivers to push harder than was wise. Despite 190 entrants, there is so much space you could complete entire laps without seeing another. You could go at your own pace and savour this extraordinary circuit on your own terms. It was Willie Green, who put it best: “I’ve had more fun in two days here than in two seasons of motor racing. Driven more miles too.” Coming from him, that was saying something.

• • •

Thinking about it, it’s not been a bad month. I also spent a day at Silverstone for the launch of this year’s Coys Historic Festival and found myself in a position to give a passenger’s eye view of the comparative merits of a Maserati 300S and a Ferrari Testa Rossa. They were precisely as I had expected, the Maser composed and fluid through the curves, the Ferrari exultantly dominant down the straights. I suspect the 300S is better to drive but I think the noise of Maranello’s unsilenced V12 would prove decisive. Just as well it’s not a choice I’m likely to have to make any time soon.

• • •

At Silverstone, I took the chance to scout around the building the BRDC has completely refurbished for its members. Among the various rooms there’s an office for its archive, a dining room for peckish members and a library bulging with volumes of Motor Sport and Autosport. There I stumbled across Howden Ganley, a man for whom I have considerable respect. When you read the story about him and Maki on page 64, you’ll know why.