Back to the Ring – take three
While spring had barely started here in Finland, a group of freaks decided to take a head start to the summer. A group of 10 cars headed to the Finnlines ferry terminal in Helsinki, with a very clear goal in their minds – the Green Hell itself. This would be my third time there, or the second “proper” one – but who’s counting anyway
Plenty of events colored the trip, and as there would be too much to write about it all, I have to focus on my own view. Undoubtedly others will let you know of their own experiences.
First, lets fast-forward past the rather uneventful (but nice none the less) drive from Travemünde via Köln to the Ring. The first day on location was spent watching a VLN race, and as a bonus, Nick Heidfeld taking 3 laps around the Nordschleife on the BMW-Sauber F1. Not a bad way to relax after the 650km drive – not at all.
Sunday morning came quickly, and expectations within the ‘freaks were hitting the roof – for the next three days, the track would be open for nearly full hours, promising a good amount of fun. Unknown to me at this point, Mr. Murphy had other plans in his mind.
The first lap on Sunday was ofcourse a rather cautious one, but fun none the less. The car felt good, and I was definitely looking forward to further laps. As I hit the parking lot after the lap, my brother spotted something strange – the driver’s side front wheel had what looked like small fluid stains. At first I thought that maybe I had hit a pool of some fluid, but this started to look rather unlikely as small amounts of the fluid were also found from the underside of the brake caliper. Shit.
Although the brakes still felt good, I wasn’t ready to start taking any risks with them, and decided it was time for the first (but not the last..) visit to Ring Racing. RR confirmed that there indeed was a small leakage, and suspected that the caliper may need rebuilding. As it was a Sunday, we decided that I would take the car back to them later in the day, and they’d take the caliper apart and see what parts needed to be ordered on Monday morning.
The rest of the day was spent taking passenger laps with the rest of the group, and waiting for word from RR. I had already gotten used to the thought of not being able to drive during the next 1-2 days, and was very happy to get a call telling that the car was ready. After my initial “Huh – what – already?!” reaction, I managed to ask what the problem was. It turned out that the caliper was fine, and the leakage had come from a loose connection between the caliper and the brake hose. I have no idea how this could have gotten loose, but to be honest, I wasn’t really interested in that at the time – I was just happy to be able to drive again the next day! Luckily I didn’t really lose that much on Sunday – the place was a circus, with several closures causing even more hassle.
Fast forwarding to Monday morning, I was more than ready to get back to driving. This time I actually managed some 4-5 pretty nice laps before lunch, which was when my next problem hit. Driving to Adenau for lunch, I felt the brakes vibrate – a lot. What I at first thought might be severe pad transfer, turned out to be something different – a cracked disc on the front passenger side. The weird part is that I had just measured the disc thickness prior to the trip, and both discs were still in near-to-new condition. Go and figure.
After the initial disbelief, there was only one course of action – to find a new set of front discs, and fast. Tuesday was going to be a bank holiday in Germany, so finding the discs during the rest of Monday would be important – otherwise I’d lose Tuesday too. After some digging, RR managed to find a Brembo dealer near Köln who by luck happened to have these in stock. Taking the Smart FourFour (don’t ask), it was a quick hour’s drive to the dealer. Surprisingly the dealer had both drilled and slotted discs available. Given that a drilled one had just cracked, it shouldn’t be a big surprise which ones I chose this time :). A bit over an hour later I was back at RR, and an hour or so later, I was running brand new discs with brand new Pagid RS29’s. Life was good again!
Tuesday, surprisingly, was a very quiet day at the track. We were expecting a second Sunday in terms of traffic, but in the end, the day was actually really enjoyable. The brakes felt good, and I finally managed to get a full day with 10 or so laps. BTG lap times, as measured with the PerformanceBox, were a bit below 9.00 at this time.
On Wednesday I took a look at the brakes, and was puzzled by seeing a huge amount of hot spots on the discs. Uh-oh. Time for a quick visit to RR again. We took the pads out, and noticed that they had simply been running too hot – even though the RS29’s can handle temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius. Oh well, the pads were history, so it was time to give the Carbopad’s a try instead. RR couldn’t guarantee that they would work any better, but there was a good chance that they might. Clearly I need to keep working on the cooling improvements. Thinking about it, this starts to explain also why the drilled disc cracked.
Wednesday through Friday the track was only open on the evenings, which also meant that it was very very quiet. This in turn meant that you could easily drive 4-5 nice laps per evening, and still have time for the car to cool down in between. As the Carbopad’s seemed to work very well, now I was finally able to start pushing the car a bit harder.
Lap after lap, the car, the track and the driver started to become more comfortable with each other, which began to translate directly into better lap times. In the end, I clocked an 8.39 BTG time, which I feel is a decent time for the A3 with regular tires. 8.30 might be just barely reachable, but would require cutting down on the safety margins, which I don’t feel really comfortable with. Not at this place.
All good things come to an end, and so Saturday meant the beginning of our return trip. Despite the problems I had, the trip was simply amazing again. The people, the cars, the weather, and most of all – the place – simply stunning. Huge thanks to Ring Racing for taking care of all my problems with a swift and professional style. If there’s something to learn from this trip, that’s to make sure that your travel budget has some slack for unexpected costs – trust me, you’ll need it
For reference, you can download the 8.39 lap GPS data from here. The file is in PB binary format, and the software to view the data is downloadable from performancebox.co.uk. Please don’t mind the slow section at Pflanzgarten – I had a convoy of 4 bikes to overtake there.