Following the huge success of last summer’s trip to the Nordschleife, I spent much of last winter dreaming of being back in the magnificent amphitheatre of the Eiffel mountains, queuing up at the ‘toll booth’ barrier for one more lap. Oh what I would have done just to do one more lap! Having fallen in love with the circuit so much, and truly now understanding exactly what I had built the GTA Replica for, the wet Devon winter gave me a chance to upgrade the car further to make it better suited for ‘Ring Work’. The car needed to be more trackday focused, but still remaining perfectly usable on the road, not only to drive out to the Ring, but also to take to events such as Goodwood, as well as other driving weekends into the Welsh mountains and the like.
The Alfa ZF differential had served the car well last year, but by the end of the year was starting to feel weak as the increased lock up from adding extra slip plates had worn down from heavy track use. I built up a 4.3 1750 Berlina diff that we fortunately had, enabling me to use one of our new trackday Gripper LSD units that we exclusively offer along with smaller, lighter 1750 halfshafts, thus improving acceleration response and reducing unsprung weight.
A new twinspark engine was built. Staying with the superb tried and tested mapped ignition system and 45mm carburettors that gave the engine bay such a beautiful blend of modern and old, but now with 17bhp more and an extra 15 lb/ft of torque. This gives figures of 199bhp and 162 lb/ft! These engines are available at special request to clients who really want the very best engine money can buy.
The standard F&S clutch had worked well last year, but the torque of the new engine made the clutch start to feel weak and the new engine deserved to be more responsive than the heavy clutch would allow. Thus one of our new-production, race paddle clutch kits, with flat flywheel was fitted. Instantly the new engine felt like yet another one! So responsive and willing to rev, down changes could now be made in half the time, as the response of the engine to heel-toeing was instant.
High speed testing the car (140mph!) proved that a doughnut doesn’t really appreciate such centrifugal forces. With the speedo reading well off the clock at over 150mph (the GPS box giving the real speed) its no wonder the doughnut had problems staying round, even with a GTA cage fitted! Thus the car was upgraded to the same system developed several years back for our race 2.0 Sprint GT. A solid aluminium ring for the gearbox, mated to a UJ on the front of the propshaft. The vibration problems were instantly solved and response of acceleration to throttle inputs was vastly improved – no longer waiting for the doughnut to wind up. This upgrade is being productionised as I write and will be available in the coming weeks from our race transmission page.
With all these upgrades on the Alfaholics GTA Replica, the car feels so tight and purposeful now. Road trips to the Alfaholics trackday, Goodwood Festival of Speed and numerous ‘weekends away’ proved the car still to be very road-able, still easy to live with. Track work at the Alfaholics Castle Combe Trackday showed the car to be extremely potent, with serious potential for very fast laps at the Ring!
This year, our group had a much stronger Alfa tone to it. Alongside my GTA Replica, Alfaholics clients James Wheeler came with his trackday/race prepared Black & White Garage 1600 GT Junior, Howard Twine with his lovely 147 GTA 3.2 V6 and friend and client Peter Mullineux with his 2.0 T/S 155. Also in the group, my brother Andrew, who caught the Ring bug so badly last year with his 3.0 V6 GTV, he thought he had better go out and buy a proper Ring machine – a Caterham Superlight R400! Yes the Ring bug exists and is very contagious… we all have severe strains that we cannot cure, for life!
Due to the chosen weekend being the start of school summer holidays, and the forecast of a baking hot weekend, we decided a very early ferry would be essential. This would ensure our being at the circuit for the 2:30pm Friday opening, whilst avoiding last year’s dreaded Brussels Ring Road rush hour chaos. At Dover, it seemed that fellow Ring-goers were of similar opinion, as we lined up behind a Ferrari 360 and a Lamborghini Gallardo making their annual pilgrimage. The run through Europe was easy this year, aided by beautiful weather, and before we new it, we were winding our way through the Eiffel mountains and on to Nürburg.
Convoy heading through Europe and up into the Eiffel mountains
The paddock was full of cars when we arrived, star attraction being the new Koenigsegg CCX that had been brought by the factory from Sweden for final high speed stability testing and to set a time, before being released to the public. It really is a beautiful machine in the flesh with such presence and those funky opening doors! Yes the Ring really is THE proving ground for all cars, including supercars. Data we have collected there with my GTA Replica has been invaluable in refining suspension, braking and drivetrain parts allowing us to develop and offer you, our clients, the best proven products you can buy!
Factory Koenigsegg CCX on final high speed stability trials and timed run – such a beautiful machine, must have the funkiest doors in production!
Friday afternoon passed like a flash and after 2 initial sighting laps to get myself back into the huge 170 corner challenge, the GTA Replica was soon lapping very efficiently, already overtaking Lotus Elises, Porsche Boxsters and BMW M3s!
Alfaholics GTA Replica heads out for some early laps
Ready for it?! Andrew Banks\’ Caterham Superlight R400 was a popular choice for passengers!
Back at the hotel for dinner, one look at the menu reminded me that Schnitzels (breaded pork fillets) are virtually all that is served in the Eiffel region! Jaeger Schnitzels were accompanied by many fine German lagers whilst chatting intensely about first day Ring experiences. Saturday morning was a severe 06:30 local time (05:30 GMT) start, especially after the 20 hour marathon that was Friday! Given the predicted heat that would build during the day, this would be essential to ensure plenty of early laps, permitting us a lunch time siesta!
Saturday morning passed typically quickly, with the GTA Replica racking up plenty of laps giving high speed passenger rides to many people. As I became more confident with the circuit, it allowed me to put on a show for the crowds watching all round the circuit, the GTA Replica being tempted to hang the tail out into corners with some late trail braking, then being held out with the mighty torque of the new engine! The superb balance of the suspension and chassis gave huge confidence, allowing more and more entry speed to be taken into corners, with 100% faith that the car would soak it up, even if very sideways, it was simply NEVER going to get out of hand! One thing every new passenger always said at the end of the lap was “Christ, the handling is unbelievable… it just takes everything you throw at it… what superb balance… what a hoot etc, etc…”
The trackday/mild race blue suspension pack with 2 ¼” front spring upgrade really has been perfected, with very good road ride quality to get you to and from the circuit, combined with ultimate circuit balance. The huge advanced knowledge we have obtained from trips like this perfecting camber, castor, toe and ride attitude settings, ensures that the Alfaholics Mild Race Blue Spring kit really is the ultimate kit for hardened trackday fans and ‘Road Sports/Production’ racers!
Alfaholics GTA Replica really getting into the groove
Max & Andrew Banks grap some shade and water in the roasting 36 degree heat!
Saturday disappeared before we knew it and it was back to the Schnitzels and lager! With the weekend slipping away we knew we just had another morning of action, before the return journey and impending reality check of Monday morning office work! Andrew and I got to chatting about our cars and the trip so far. He was complaining of understeer from the Caterham hampering turn-in speed. We discussed some options and made a plan of action to dial it out for Sunday morning, “still though” he said, “no one has got near me on the circuit”! It got me thinking; no one had got near me either! Not a single car and only a handful of local bikes had overtaken the GTA Replica as well! On the hit list were many Boxsters, 911s, including a 650 BHP 997 Turbo, Elises, M3s, Exiges, you name it and we had overtaken it! Most cars became prey in the twisty sections where they could not match the lightweight balance and poise of the Alfa, but even M3s and 997 Carreras were not pulling away on the straights, allowing them to be overtaken in the next batch of switchback, cresting corners aided by the awesome power of the Alfaholics 4-pot brakes! A quick power to weight ratio check puts the Alfa in at 229 bhp/tonne, with an E46 M3 only managing 219 bhp/tonne and a 997 Carrera, 234 bhp/tonne. No wonder the Alfa was going so well!
Alfa and Caterham now both really flying!
The Caterham quite literally flying!
Another early start on Sunday! Adjustments made to both the rollbars on the Caterham provided a short term solution to the handling imbalance (once back in the UK spring rate changes would be made to change the balance of the Caterham from under to oversteer, the proper way to make such changes to handling balance).
Journey up to the Ring for the last time for another year!
Max instructs Howard\’s wife Tonia in his 147 GTA 3.2 V6, baptism of fire chosing the Ring for her first track experience – brave lady!
It was nearly the end of the weekend. Just and Andrew and I were about to go out for our last laps, the sirens sounded and the circuit was closed! Disaster! We had 45 minutes before having to leave to make our ferry home in time! As the clock ticked, everyone waited, many Brits were in the same position as us, 1 lap left on our tickets, a burning desire to do 1 more lap, but a closed circuit and an impending ferry to catch! In true Mission Impossible last minute style I saw Sabine herding her passengers into the Ring Taxi – the circuit must be about to open. Already helmeted up, we jump in the Alfa and head for the barriers. Just as we roll up, the sirens sound to re-open the track, only a handful of cars in front, looks like no one was going to overtake us all weekend, yes! As we pour out onto the track a BMW M3 CSL drives past me on the main straight, oh dear red rag to a bull, only 1 mission for this lap and it doesn’t need explaining! The first complex allowed me to close up a bit on the considerable gap he pulled out on the straight, but then the next run up to Schwedenkreuz allowed him to pull away again, even with the GTA Replica pulling a mighty 132mph on that stretch! I was starting to question our ability to catch him again, when we came up on the reason for the closure, a huge trail of antifreeze for around 2 miles on the racing line, freshly cement dusted! Having such confidence in the Alfa, I managed to reel the M3 in and by Bergwerk we were all over him as he kicked cement dust all over the front of the Alfa. By the time we got through Wippermann and Brünnchen he accepted his impending doom to a car 39 years his senior and gave me room to squeeze pass, but I have to say not very politely! Down the home straight we back off grinning ear to ear. What a way to end the trip, a seriously fast lap, and not for the first time this summer, Italy gets the better of Germany!
Sabine gets in her famous Ring Taxi for some high speed passenger thrills!
No shortage of exotica on or off track all weekend!
Next year we are going to find another weekend when the circuit is open to the public all weekend; Friday afternoon, and the whole of Saturday and Sunday. We will invite a group of clients to come out with us from England, and any European clients who wish to meet us at the Ring are welcome too! This is an open invitiation, so any of you keen to join, just drop me an e-mail and I will let you know the chosen weekend once the dates come out at the beginning of the year. It really would be fantastic to have a big group of 105s together at the Ring! Once a date is set I will also put a homepage news flash on our website!
The drive home to England passed by quickly, aided by a a bloodstream still full of adrenaline!