All posts by Steven T. Snyder

24 Hours of Nurburgring 2015

The legendary Nürburgring – a massive motorsports complex within which exist entire towns. In it’s combined Nordschleife and Grand Prix course configuration, drivers face over 25 km (15.5 miles) of asphalt and over 1,000 feet of elevation change each lap.

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Every year since 1970 (with only a few exceptions), the 24 Hours Nürburgring race has turned this track into a giant motorsports party. Numerous races are held on the track in the week preceding the flagship event, and thousands fans show up early to construct makeshift housing to live in for the week. With so many miles of track, there are plenty of places to set up camp and have a few of the action all day (and all night). The fans build structures that go far beyond basic campsites, including observation towers, beer huts, gardens, and dance halls.

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When the Nürburgring isn’t being used for races, the public can drive it for a fee. While there are some speed limited sections, it’s still quite fast and dangerous, but motorists have to follow the normal German driving laws — such as only passing on the left. On public days, it isn’t just sports cars that show up, but everything else from delivery trucks to mopeds and tour buses.

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For many visitors, the first sign of the track isn’t the catch fences, the red and white curbing, or the graffiti-covered tarmac — it’s the sound of uncorked race engines roaring through the forest. From public roads, there are very few places from which you can get a visual indication of the track, but the roads come close enough that you can easily make out the distinct sounds of the cars.

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For the race start, we hiked out to the Nordkehre turn and arrived just as the green flag dropped. The race start is one of the only chances you have to see lots of cars bunched up. With a 15+ mile track, there’s a lot of room to spread out as the race goes on.

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Unfortunately, fans were packed around the fence in this location and I couldn’t get close enough to a hole in the wall to fit my lens through, so we had to hike on to another spot.

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We hiked a few kilometers past Nordkehre to Hatzenbach and Hocheichen. Equally mesmerising were the passing race cars and the massive fan-built encampments lining the track. Some of these were quite elaborate, with temporary grandstands, cranes hoisting up chairs, and playground slides.

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And of course there were the thousands of beer bottles and cans built up into every sculpture imaginable. The Germans never run out of clever ways to use their empty beverage containers!

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As we hiked past turn after turn of this immense track, we began to notice the track darkening and reflecting more of the bright lights of the GT3 cars. I checked the time and it was still many hours before sunset. Moisture was condensing onto the track, and soon it began to rain.

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As the rain fell, we hiked our way back toward the Grand Prix circuit to find some good German bratwurst to warm up with and see some of the exhibitions in the visitors center.

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In the week preceding the 24 Hours race, the track is constantly in use for supporting races, VIP ride-alongs, and time-trials style events. Even while the main race is running, side events are happening throughout the facility, such as this drift demonstration sponsored by Falken. We found it by following the smell and taste of tiresmoke in the air. For all I know, these guys have been drifting for spectators every day for the past week. I wonder how much rubber they’ve gone though?

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After picking up some souvenirs in the visitor center we moved on to the Grand Prix circuit, which connects to the Nordschleife to form the full course used in the 24 Hours race. It’s interesting to see the stark contrast between the concrete and gravel traps Grand Prix circuit and the green, hilly, country-road-turned-race-track Nordschleife.

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As the sky darkened, you could begin to make out the subtler lighting on the cars, such as the red-hot brake rotors coming into the braking zone for Dunlop-Kehre.

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The lights on the faster cars were stunning at night — the yellow-tinted lamps make it clear to slower drivers that faster cars are approaching in their mirrors, and the top qualifiers have the addition of bright blue strobes in the corner of the windshield to further facilitate easy passing of outclassed cars.

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After a dinner break, we returned to the track with full stomachs and full darkness.

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Some small professional fireworks gave life to the outskirts of the track in some areas, but as midnight passed you could tell that most people were hunkering down and getting some sleep before morning.

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Except in the dance club tents of course. Yes, there were tents with DJs at turntables blasting beats through the night for those that refused to sleep in the presence of such a grand race.

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On day 2, we hiked to the Karussel. Access to much of the track by car requires driving on dirt roads and logging trails, which are off limits to travel by the general public during the race, except on foot. It was a beautiful walk through the forest, with the sounds of race cars in the distance.

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When we reached the Karussell we found out we couldn’t actually get a view of it without a media pass, because there was no catch fence on the outside of the track.

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Unfortunately, there is no high ground on the outside of the Karussel beyond the restricted zone,  so the best we could do was watch cars exiting the turn.

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If we wanted to see the concrete slabs of the Karussell itself we’d have to hike 45 minutes back to the car and then drive an hour through traffic to park on another trail, where we’d have to hike a few miles to get to the inside of the turn.

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Instead of heading back, we hiked further up the trail running parallel the track, and found some tree stumps to stand on and get a better view. Standing on a stump by the left kink after the Karussell, we were incredibly close to incredibly fast cars without a fence blocking our view. Awesome!

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As last hour of the race was winding down, we decided it was time to hike back to the car so we could miss the huge crowds on the way out.

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Our last walk through the beautiful Green Hell took us past our final view of Nurburg Castle, which has overlooked the region for nearly 900 years.

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For years I’ve dreamed of driving on the Nürburgring and attending the 24-hour endurance race. This year, I finally had the opportunity to watch the event during a 3-week trip to Europe. I had only a limited amount of time at the Nurburgring itself, so I wasn’t able to stay long enough before or after the race to be able to make it on track during a public day, but I know I’ll be back someday.

Fiero RallyCross

Rallycross a road course track car? Are you crazy?! Oh YES!

I borrowed some gravel tires mounted on 15×6 GTI wheels from my friend and took my DOHC V6-powered Fiero track car out to a RallyCross practice event. I have been very successful competing in the all-wheel drive Apocalypse Wagon but this was my first time on the dirt with a rear wheel drive car.

With the low-hanging aero bits, lowered suspension, and almost-slick tires, this configuration won't cut it in the gravel.
With the low-hanging aero bits, lowered suspension, and almost-slick tires, this configuration won’t cut it in the gravel.

Conversion from my track setup to rallycross involved the following:

  • Swap wheels over to the gravel setup, removing the front wheel spacers
  • Remove fieroguru lateral link relocation brackets (15″ wheels will not fit over them)
  • Raise front and rear suspension by 2 inches using the adjustable coilover sleeves
  • Remove front splitter
  • Remove rear wing
  • After these adjustments, toe remained at zero front and rear. I didn’t measure the camber but it is not critical for rallycross.
The car looks a lot more mundane without all the tarmac-oriented aero upgrades!
The car looks much more mundane after removing all aero upgrades and wide wheels!

The car behaved VERY well. Surface irregularities were easily soaked up by my springs and dampers (800 lb/in front with custom valved Bilsteins, 475 lb/in rear with Koni reds at full stiff) and even the largest dips did not upset the chassis or result in tires losing contact with the ground. The fast steering made for very easy corrections. The 3.4 DOHC makes enough torque that 2nd gear can be used for almost the entire course. First was only needed if I messed up and lost a lot of momentum. Even in second gear at 2500 RPM I could spin the tires at full throttle. Even on a freshly-wetted surface, handling was predictable. The torque delivery is so linear that it’s easy to control the rotation of the car by feathering the throttle and making minor steering adjustments.

It could certainly use some more grip.. the tires I used were heavily worn, hard compound, and hardened more with age. Some fresh gravel tires should help quite a bit.

I would definitely like to make it back out on the dirt, perhaps with some fresher tires. I also had a minor issue in the form of right strut tower separation.. but as scary as it sounds it was because of some work I had done in removing some brackets and adding clearance for the power steering pump, and I forgot to re-weld some spot welds that broke while I was hammering it out. Doesn’t look too hard to fix though.

Here’s a video of one of the runs. Sorry about the sound, I didn’t have my external mic:

And some photos:

DRIVE channel made a film about my Fiero project car

A few months back, The Smoking Tire posted a request for interesting local cars and I posted a photo of my car. I guess they liked it, because in late September, Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire and /DRIVE channel spent the day track-testing my Fiero at a Speed District event at Buttonwillow Raceway. They were originally going to film it up Angeles Crest or another canyon road, but I insisted on taking the car out to a racetrack so it could be driven to the limit.

It was awesome seeing my car covered in cameras, and nice to hear that the car was fun to drive from someone who has driven everything from Lamborghini Aventadors to the Hennessey Venom GT.

The resulting footage was turned into full-length 10-minute video on /DRIVE+ for subscribers, and a 5-minute version (not trailer, just a shorter edit) on the free /DRIVE channel.

The videos turned out AWESOME. I didn’t think I spoke well during the interview, but I guess I did alright. With clever editing, I narrate a large portion of the film!

For once I came home from a track day and didn’t have to edit any videos myself!

Here’s the full length version for /DRIVE+ subscribers:

… and the free, shorter version:

Big thanks to Matt, Thaddeus,  Zack and Nino for making the film, to Speed District for hosting the track day, and to my friend Chris for long hours spent helping to make the car ready for a flawless day at the track!

Here are a few pics of my car covered in cameras:

NASA Buttonwillow Enduro April 2014

I visited California’s Buttonwillow Raceway on April 5, 2014 for the NASA / WERC 3-hour endurance race to capture some photos. Endurance races are fantastic photo opportunities due to the variety of cars and lighting conditions (they nearly always run through sunrise or sunset) .  Here are a few of my favorites.

 

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(c) Copyright 2014, Steven T. Snyder, All Rights Reserved.