Monday, December 24, 2007

Saturday, 18 August: Giant Jumps, Twisting Turns & Rapid Repairs

We were thrilled to discover that this year’s Rallye schedule slated the first running of the Panzerplatte stage for 11 a.m. this morning, so we didn’t have to get out of bed unreasonably early. As you may recall, Panzerplatte (named after the German Panzer tanks) is run on the concrete-paved testing grounds of an old military base and is one of the most famous – and longest, at 30.5 km – stages in the WRC lineup. The stage is also home to the “Gina” jump, the best-known jump of Rallye Deutschland. Seeing the cars catch huge air here was one of the highlights of our Rallye experience last year and we wanted to try to arrive earlier this time to get an even better viewing position. Of course we slightly underestimated how long it took to drive to the stage, park in one of the huge lots near the barracks, get on a shuttle bus, and then make the long trek over the undulating fields of the military grounds to finally arrive at the gently sloping “Gina” viewing area. We were dismayed to discover that all of the best spots along the fence were already claimed, but we managed to stake out what were essentially second-row seats. We brought our camp chairs along and settled in for yet another long wait. A group of people sitting next to us had huge beach umbrellas set up to block the sun, which partially blocked our view and the view of everyone sitting behind them. As start time approached, we began to wonder if they were ever going to take the umbrellas down. It wasn’t even hot out. I finally worked up the nerve to ask them in German to put their umbrellas away, and they complied. Some of the spectators behind us gave me appreciative looks. The WRC cars didn’t catch too much air, as usual, but the Super 1600s didn’t disappoint and the Evos made some fantastic jumps. There’s nothing quite like seeing an Evo flying through the air and thinking, “That’s our car!” I don’t think anyone topped the little Renault Clios and Citröens from last year, but we saw plenty of great jumps.

You can see my best photos from Panzerplatte here:

We didn’t stick around to watch the historic rally cars because we knew from last year that they wouldn’t get a lot of air going over the jump. Next we decided to go off the beaten track to the Bosenberg stage. We were attracted to the description of an “S”-curve viewing area but had some trouble figuring out where to park. We finally made our way through cornfields and rolling meadows to the viewing area, which was only sparsely populated with spectators. I decided to take up a position right along the road for close-ups while John stood on higher ground for videotaping. After watching all of the WRC cars go by we decided to hike along the road a short distance and found another great viewing area where we could see the cars coming through a twisty wooded section. I wish we’d been there to see the WRC cars, as it was a fabulous location for photos and video. Most of the spectators left after the WRC cars finished, so we had plenty of room to move around for good shots of the Super 1600 and N-class cars. It was especially fun to watch the less-experienced drivers trying to maneuver through the tight uphill S-turn, narrowly missing a road sign in the process.

Here are photos from Bosenberg:

We decided to end our day at the Service Park, where you can get up close and personal with the drivers and team mechanics, who work furiously to repair the beaten and battered cars during their strictly-allotted 45-minute service period. The Rallye organizers wisely moved the location of the Service Park this year from the Bostalsee (a good 45-minute drive from Trier) to the large fairgrounds near downtown Trier. This made getting to and from the Service Park a lot easier, although parking was a bit of a pain. We had to park on the street and then walk quite a ways through a rather sketchy industrial area to get to the Service Park. En route we passed a whole line-up of Subaru WRX wanna-be rally cars. We arrived in time to see the first WRC cars arrive, and stopped to watch a couple of them getting a quick wash before entering the park grounds. We watched the Stobart Ford crew working on Latvala’s car and saw the evening press conference with Markus Grönholm, Sebastian Loeb, and Dani Sordo, the current top place-holders, from afar (I got a darn good photo of them with my zoom, considering I was several hundred yards away!).

At some point while we were standing between the Citröen and Ford tents, John and I got separated. I literally turned around and he was gone. I stuck to the fence where I had last seen him, took some photos of cars coming and going, and waited. And waited. I was the only one with a cell phone and we didn’t have any contingency plan if we got separated. I tried not to panic, except I had no way of knowing if John had noticed my absence immediately, or if he had walked halfway around the Service Park before realizing I was not at his side. The Service Park is a very big place and there were thousands of fans milling around, and it was getting dark. There was a guy with a microphone walking around doing roving interviews and I was half-tempted to go up to him and ask him to call out to my wayward husband. Some fifteen minutes later, we found each other again, about ten feet from where we had last seen each other. John claims that I am the one who suddenly disappeared.

Together again, we left the WRC area to check out the less-crowded Super 1600 tents. I daresay we recognized the Japanese crew leader at one of the Suzuki tents (the guy who came out and said, “Ten more minutes!” last year). After a lot of searching (and even asking someone for directions) we finally found the independent N-class cars tucked away in a forgotten corner. It’s always fun to see the guys working on their Evos, away from the crowds, with no barriers between you and the cars. I was also happy to finally see the tiny yellow Fiat with its frizzy-haired German owner/driver furiously working away on his pride and joy.

Here are photos from the Service Park:

It was pretty much dark by now and most of the WRC cars had left, so we made our way back to our car and drove back to the hotel. Except we hit a bit of a roadblock – literally. We knew some of the streets in downtown Trier were goint to be blocked off for tomorrow’s Circus Maximus stage – a new addition to the Rallye Deutschland schedule. Every rally features a special “spectator stage” that takes place in an arena or in town. It’s usually a very short stage and the cars run the circuit two or three times, which means the spectators get more viewing opportunities, hence the name “spectator stage.” Last year, the spectator stage was in a small village near Trier; we didn’t go because we’d heard that the viewing locations weren’t all that exciting. This year they moved the stage into the heart of Trier for the first time, and it was going to run right past the Porta Nigra and our hotel.

What we didn’t realize is that they had already blocked off the streets in preparation for the stage tomorrow morning, and we found a concrete barrier barricading the main access route to our hotel. We tried to use Susie’s navigational skills to approach the hotel from other angles, but we kept ending up back in the same place. We couldn’t find any other places to park nearby and we became increasingly frustrated, since we were literally across the street from our hotel. Finally I told John to stay with the car while I ran over to the hotel to ask for help. I tried to explain to the woman at the reception desk what our problem was, but my German failed me and I had to switch to English. She pulled out a street map of Trier but it was not nearly as detailed as Susie’s map, so that wasn’t going to help us navigate the maze of streets. An older, well-dressed gentleman was standing next to the desk and the woman turned to him and asked his advice. I figured out after a few moments that he was somehow connected with the hotel.

The gentleman said he was going to his car and that he would drive me back to our car and then we could follow him to the parking lot, but I thought that sounded rather complicated since he would have to get over to where John was parked and then drive all the way back. I suggested that he come with me instead and be our navigator. He told his wife, who was also waiting in the lobby, that he would be back in a few minutes and then walked with me out to our car. We started chatting along the way (in German, of course), and I quickly learned that he was actually the owner of the hotel! I think John was rather stunned to see me show up with the hotel owner in tow. The gentleman was very nice and wanted to know all about what we were doing in Germany and how we liked living here. We talked about Mercedes and he told us that he drove an S-Class and his wife had an SL convertible. So not only was he the hotel owner, he was also quite rich. And here he was sitting in our car, amiably navigating a couple of wayward guests to the parking lot! He guided us with ease through a series of dark, narrow streets, some of which were barely wide enough for our car to pass through, and finally we ended up back at the carpark. We thanked the gentleman profusely and then went in to eat a very later dinner at the hotel restaurant. Our servers were a bit snippy with us at first because it was quite late and they had to keep the kitchen open for us, but while we were eating the hotel owner came by and gave us a little guidebook to Trier. After that the servers were much nicer.

No comments: