Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, 16 August: Return to Rallye Deutschland

We have been looking forward to our second trip to Rallye Deutschland for some time now. I won’t bother with the long drawn-out description and analysis that I wrote last year, particularly since I am writing this four months after the fact (whoops, didn’t mean to let that slip), so I’ll simply provide brief highlights here.

We made the drive up to Trier in the E-Class this evening. We got off to a late start – after 6 pm – and I was driving because John had already had a long day at work. I was making good time on the empty Autobahn as we approached the Mosel Valley, maintaining speeds of 180-200 kph. As I came around a long, sweeping bend in the fast lane, passing a BMW wagon that was going a tick slower than me, John suddenly shouted, "Watch out." My gaze jumped ahead to the right side of the road just beyond the bend, where we could see that a couple of semis were parked on the shoulder. I immediately let off the gas, and the BMW next to me simultaneously began to slow down. Only after several seconds (and several hundred yards) had passed did my eyes return to my lane, at which point I registered the fact that a police car was ahead of me with its flashers on (but not its police lights). It took another split second (and a few more yards) for me to realize that the police car was at a DEAD STOP. In the fast lane. On an unlimited stretch of Autobahn. With no flares, emergency triangles, or anything else to give drivers like me any advance warning. The BMW was still next to me in the right lane, so I had nowhere to go. I hit the brakes, hard, but not hard enough to set off the ABS. After a second, I realized that we were still approaching the police car at an alarmingly fast rate. I had never slammed on the brakes before at 180 kph, but this was the big moment to find out what the E-Class could do. I gripped the steering wheel and slammed my foot on the brake. The ABS went wild, the tires squealed threateningly, and it seemed to take an interminably long time for the car to come to a screeching but controlled stop, about 30 feet from the police car. It gave me quite an adrenaline rush. The only time I've ever had a scare like that was when I almost ran over a howler monkey that tried to cross the road in front of me in Costa Rica. This time the stakes were a tad higher than just a flattened monkey.

Meanwhile the BMW continued merrily on its way in the right lane. I slowly moved over, passed the police car, and proceeded down the road. I was so shaken up that I didn't think to look as we passed the trucks on the shoulder. John said it looked like they were clearing up and accident, but that didn't explain why the police car was parked in the middle of the Autobahn. He said the two Polizei officers gave us a funny look, as if they were thinking that perhaps they should move their car.

We made it the rest of the way to Trier without incident, and navigated ourselves smoothly to our hotel, the Römischer Kaiser, where we stayed last year. This time we knew the drill, so we pulled up on the sidewalk, checked in, brought our suitcases inside, and then John took the car down the street to the hotel's gated carpark. Our room was not quite as spacious and bright as our corner room last year and we had a tiny dormer window overlooking the rooftops instead of a nice street view, but it suited our needs since we didn't intend to spend a whole lot of time there. We quickly settled our things and then headed out into a light drizzle to find a good spot to observe the Rallye Start.

We chose a position along the straightaway, within sight of the Porta Nigra and one of the big video screens so we could see the drivers giving their interviews under the Red Bull arch. A group of Czech fans came by, dressed head-to-toe in Czech flags and shaggy red-and-yellow wigs and blasting toy trumpets. Unfortunately I was surrounded by people who kept sticking their cameras out in front of me (dangling neck straps and all), plus it was overcast (and still trying to rain), so my photos didn't turn out great, but it was fun to watch the cars rumbling past. John got us some french fries (slathered with mayonnaise and ketchup, of course) and a Coke to tide us over until we could have a late dinner. We watched all of the WRC cars go by and some of the Super-1600 class and then walked down the street towards the huge fortress-like cathedral to see the Evos and Subarus up close and personal. Just like last year, there were no crowd barriers here so the fans could get as close as they wanted, sometimes lying down in front of the cars to take pictures and rushing up to shake the drivers’ hands. After the action came to a close, we wandered back towards the hotel and stopped for a late dinner at a bistro-style place just around the corner from our hotel.

You can see pictures from the Rallye Start here on my Flickr site:

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