It is fair to say that I was dreading the leg from Calais to Pamplona. It was a 10 hour drive with stops allowed for with almost 600 miles to cover in a day! All to be done in a car with a reputation for not being mega reliable, and high performance one at that getting on for 14 years old! You can imagine my relief that it made it down! Then again you always worry more when it is your own car.
It was then time to explore Pamplona, and what a city it is! Famed for the questionable bullfighting as well as Ernest Hemmingway residing there during the 1920s. Yup, there was plenty to see, but we decided to try something different first, something carcentric. But in Spain? How? This one was simple. We took a 40 minute trip out in the M3 from the great city of Pamplona to Circuito de Navarra.
Experiencing the atmosphere at a clubman level in Spain was very interesting. Interesting enough for me to say that it was fantastic. Sure, there were pit girls and the usual stuff at the bike event but there was more. There were loads of people present to watch the entry level series where the youth would prove their worth by their skill level, not necessarily by what the bikes could do. The bar was rammed with people ordering Jamon bocadillos. Beers, soft drinks and the odd coffee were being ordered too, all being sold at reasonable prices! There was no overpriced bar here, just loads of people having a great time and watching the racing their mates and loved ones.
It was strange how the entry level events were more fun to watch than the bigger Super 1000s. There were more chances being taken and more rawness present during the racing! If there is an event on here it is well worth the visit.
After this day however we decided to chill out in the city itself. The second day was mostly spent looking at Café Iruna, a lovely café that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, as well as a bar in the same square, again another one of Hemingway’s haunts.
From then on thanks to some local Spanish company we ended spending quite a bit of the day indulging in many canas and quite a lot of tapas! From mussels to strangely fried eggs it was all lovely,
The day would come however that we would move onto our second destination, Valencia. In comparison to driving down to Pamplona this trip was quite a bit shorter! It was however as hot as Bordeaux the closer we got to Spain. At one point it did go hotter, 35 degrees centigrade to exact! The car’s viscous fan fully locked up on a number of occasions on the way down once the temperature went north 30.
However, Valencia does not have a reputation of being kind on traffic. I had heard from a few sources that Valencia could be a pain to drive in! How would we cope? By the looks of it some cars were forlorn already at Valencia Airport! Our fingers would be crossed.
From where I last was with the the old girl it was fair to say that it was busy redeeming itself. For the next 3 months it was nice where the car had been spend free for once. It was 3 months in come August when I would broke this rule. Why? I needed cupholders and an SMG relay. While the relay could be justified what about the former item? This was easy ; I was going to drive the M3 down to Spain for a bit of a trip.
Given their reputation these days for many things going wrong I was apprehensive about doing so. Thoughts about the head gasket, SMG pump, VANOS and bottom end issues all went through my head. I had taken £200 shitters previously across Europe so why worry so much about this trip? I guess when it is your pride and joy that has cost you a few quid to maintain this feeling is quite normal.
Since the car had a service during the oil cooler saga only months before I left I knew it would be a case of checking the car over. Before I knew it there was little else to do but fit the new cupholders. While there was a mixup with the colour of the cupholders being delivered to me Cotswold BMW to their credit bent over backwards to get me out of this jam.
The correct items in place. The colours actually OK despite the photos showing otherwise
I did not hesitate to fit the grey cupholders and to pack my tools and spares for the trip. Little did I know the time for me to leave the UK for Spain would creep up very quickly! But at least the car was a joy to drive down, with me having some great company in the form of a good friend for the trip. Leaving at 6pm on a Thursday night however would hamper how much progress we made in France that day, especially when the Eurotunnel had a delay on of an hour until we actually would get onto the boat. With that in mind we made ourselves comfortable and attempted to sleep on the train and while waiting for the train with limited success.
Once in France and the time now being past 12AM we decided to call it a night and stopped off just outside Calais to rest and hit the road the next day.
This day would be testing. We would be driving from Boulogne-Sur-Mer to Pamplona, Spain. In a day. Yup, it was not going to be a short hop. With that in mind we jumped into the car and hit the autoroute. The M3 did come into its own here
Despite it being 14 years old and with a few miles on the clock it literally cruised all of the way down through France. 4 hours felt more like 2 and even the weather was cheering up for us. This would all change when he hit Bordeaux at 4pm that day. Going through the hot traffic you could hear the car’s fan operating at maximum speed as the heat went up to 33 degrees centigrade. The car by this point had been running for 7 hours with us only stopping for lunch and fuel. Before 5PM with the car crawling around Bordeaux a few warning lights came on! It was running cool (albeit the oil temps going to over 100 degrees centigrade) and generally fine however. With this in mind I decided to stop off and let the car cool off for ½ an hour and let the traffic die down. Oh, and treat myself to an ice cream.
You have to love the French motorways. Quick and stress free driving!
The M3 certainly was a great companion in France
With that done it was then time to hit the road again with our next stop being Pamplona. After Bordeaux however this leg would drag on a little. However, we made it to Pamplona for 9:30 to meet up with our friend who had been there for quite some time. Not a bad time to get there really!
After having a beer and a small meal we all knew it was time to get to bed and to see what sights Pamplona had to offer. The truth is it was more than I was expecting!
Events. They can be funny old things. When you book the events 6 months prior to go and spend the remainder of the time preparing for them they seem so far away. Little do you know the event you have booked has crept up on you like a warm kitten and it’s your time to shine. Only then do things seem to slow down.
It was no different for me here. After previously being invited to one of Darren Langeveld’s superb Destination Nurburgring (DN) events a few of us decided to go along to one! Here we would see what makes his events so different to a Terroristsfah., I mean, Touristfahten (TF) event.
What was so different about about a DN event? Quite a lot. A lot of it is down to being briefed in a great and understandable way before hitting the track. As is less traffic and the emphasis of having good etiquette on track. Oh and free breakdown recovery should the worst happen, even if the expense of crashing is still present, albeit far less so. This was just as well as the meeting up for the driver’s briefing a day before had one word being said quite a bit. Rain.
For a few track days rain can make or break the event. In a 340BHP rear wheel drive car it did not sound like a great combination. But I did at least have experience of driving wet track days previously and refreshed my memory by looking at a few known YouTube video guides including Rent-RSR’s mistakes, and Dale Lomas’ driving the ‘ring in the wet with a RWD car; The only wet track day I had done was at Oulton Park. Didn’t someone say fail to prepare and prepare to fail?
With that in mind it was time to hit the 13.5 mile circuit. With it being dry for a part of the morning I went around relatively calmly, trying to get a feel for the car in the dry. I looked forward to seeing what it would do in the dry after a few laps. Before I knew it there was drizzle present. This would soon turn into a very wet track and have me being a little fearful of crashing!
Another perk to a DN event is getting tuition by following an instructor in their car in with walkie talkies to communicate with. At least I would be prepared for the conditions. With a few laps of tuition my fear of the track slowly began to ebb away with caution present. The chap gave me some great pointers and certainly helped me in getting to grips with the track. Every time I go to the Nurburgring I always learn more and more and notice more things about the track. This tuition certainly helped there! Enough for my lap timer in my glove box to claim that I did 10:29 BTG lap by following him. In Auto mode (D4) for the SMG owners wondering; Yup I admit I wasn’t taking chances. Quite a step up from my 12 minute laps when I was bothered to check the lap times after going out!
It was then time to see what a proper driver could do in the wet. Who? None other than Nigel Pinder with his superb Pinderwagon. While on the face of it this car may look like it has crashed through Halfords and the Demon Tweeks catalogue it is actually the result of 10 years blood, sweat, tears and cash culminating into one fantastic package:
With him taking me out for a lap it was a real experience. Here was a car with no driver aids and full wet track tyres I would not have been anywhere near as brave as him in the wet! Man this guy was quick in the wet! It seemed that we were overtaking everything! M3s? Not a problem. 991 GT3s? Eaten alive! This car was a seriously good contender! In the dry he puts down a mid 7:30 to around 7:50 depending on traffic. In the wet? 9:30. My rather slow time didn’t seem too terrible after than (I was more in the 12s for the rest of it!). But seeing how smooth he was in the car was an absolute joy! If you get an opportunity to have a ride out in the car you really should! It’s a testament to Nigel and his immense skills behind the wheel!
Driving the wet ‘ring (silence now folks!) was interesting. I was very glad that I had new Michelins all round with the suspension and gearbox improvements in place; the car felt at home! That said I was a lot more cautious and seemed like I used my indicator quite a bit to let others overtake! I even had the track all to myself on one lap as others started to go home!
By the end of the day I actually did begin to overtake a few others and was having a good time behind the wheel while not going idiotic! Although Darren did claim that I wasn’t trying hard enough! The cheek!
With the DN being held the same day as my birthday I decided to go and celebrate with a meal and a few beers in Adenau. With a hazy head it was time to go to sleep for the 5AM start the next day. The only thing? I wouldn’t be leaving at 5AM!
I woke up in my humble abode at 7am, two hours later than I should have, giving me 2 hours less to get to the Eurotunnel! It’s a good thing that Haus Sonja in Adenau provided a great night’s sleep and at a great price.
I had to be at the Eurotunnel by 12:25 the latest. A bit of a tall order when Google Maps tells you it will be a 5 hour trip!
With the car stuffed full of my gear it was time to set off:
But with a 1/3 tank of fuel in a tired state I was never going to make it to Calais on time! With than in mind I made a dash to the Aral. While meaning to pickup some 98 I ended up filling up with 102 RON! Whoops! I guess it is only money!
However, I took an executive decision to not stop. With a 2 litre bottle of water and a bag of Haribo sweet and sours I was set! This would be a bit of a test of man and machine!
Going through Germany wasn’t too bad at all! The roads while being very wet were clear. From doing a steady 75MPH on the motorways I soon easied my speed up. All I will say is that when I had the cruise control set it was set to less than 100MPH. Sure, the contraflows, traffic etc. slowed me down but they would anywhere in the world in busy areas! With me getting closer and closer to Brussels I could see the traffic building up and up! However, the car soldiered on relentlously, running surprisingly smoothly.
What did annoy me at times much to the amusement of the proper ‘box fans was the SMG’s auto shifting in auto mode. Say you were going up a hill on the motorway. I’d put my foot down and it would go to 5th when I wanted to stay in 6th. I initially found this annoying. Right until I put it back into manual and found my mistake ; the engine doesn’t really want to do much at 50MPH in 6th while climbing a hill on the Autobahn to overtake a few people. Yup, it was careless throttle action and user error in my sleep deprived state.
But when I got my head around that I found the car as a package an absolute joy to bring back to Blightly. I was eventually toggling in auto for the roadworks and reverting to manual elsewhere, a perfect combo and certainly a quick and relatively relaxing drive. Yes if I had a more careful foot I wouldn’t have needed to but I guess we as humans are flawed things.
The car was wonderful. It proved that as a complete package it did have elements of a GT car about it! And what a soundtrack to come back home in! By some miracle I managed to get back to the Eurotunnel in Calais for 11:55! Not bad for rush hour at all! I did not even feel tired! I did however need the toilet, badly!
Yup, the ‘ring and the return trip really had me bonding with the car more! It seemed that my hard graft on the car had been worth it! The rear end being planted gave me the ability to put my foot down as did the Michelin’s performance in the wet passing trucks where the spray thrown off them could have you barely seeing where you were going! Yup, maybe that expenditure was worth it after all. It wasn’t even that taxing on the fuel count!
How untaxing? If the trip computers are to be believed:
-The M3 did 28MPG ; it did drop on the laps but rose again ; it averaged 29MPG on the trp when I did the calculations on pen and paper! That includes it doing 15MPG on track ; it was wet remember.
-The Clio 220 Trophy EDC did 31.3MPG ; No I am not joking and that was with him doing a sedate 75 all the way back ; he left before me remember
-The Clio 172 Cup however unsurprisingly was ahead of the M3 but surprisingly ahead of the 220! 38MPG! Man I miss those figures for the power!
It seems then that after this trip the M3 certainly had earned its respect from we as well as proving itself very well! Damn, I guess I was getting a little smitten with the old girl!