In Search of Stelvio

I’ve now owned my Focus RS2 for over 21 months so when the opportunity arrived for me to get the Focus RS down to the Nurburgring and give the car a run how could I say no? The plan was to head to Brussels for 2 nights then stay in Bonn over night, pick up a friend, Gerard and his luggage and drive the 45 minutes south to The Ring on Saturday morning. According to the official web site 12 February was the first day the track would be open to the general public for 2011.

RS Sat Nav Nurburgring

RS Sat Nav Nurburgring

I’ve been lucky enough to have driven around the Nordschleife back in 2009 so I had a bit of an idea what was in store. We departed rainy Bonn around 9am and found The Ring entrance around 10 after refueling with 102 octane and whilst the weather had cleared on our way down, the circuit was still damp.

There once was a little trick that if you drove to the second track entrance in Adenau it was possible to get half a lap included for no extra charge but they have clamped down on this bonus so we started at the main entrance. Around an hour later after having a look around and taking it all in I’d bought a four lap pass for €84

It is always a bit daunting driving on to a relatively unknown circuit but with the added weight of two passengers and all our luggage I thought the first time out in the Focus should just be taken as an easy sighting lap.

This is an amazing place but it really is a throwback to the distant past. If Australian authorities thought that a race track/public toll road with no speed limit, no braking markers, no corner signs or even very little run off areas was a good idea they would be locked up. Added to the fact that you can be driving anything from a motor bike to a 50 seater bus just adds extra excitement.

To get on to The Ring you have to swipe your “Ring Card” at the barrier and off you go. Despite not many vehicles having driven the track that morning a dry line was appearing so I just followed that. For me the worst part of the track is a series of tight second gear corners called Adenauer Forest which appear out of nowhere on the brow of a hill after a long flat out straight so I was determined to remember where that was for future reference, this proved easy enough to do but I still had the rest of the track to memorise. The Focus displayed wonderful neutral handling and held on tenaciously trough some twisty damp corners. We finished the lap in one piece which is a real bonus.

RS at The Ring

RS at The Ring

During the course of the afternoon after giving the Focus RS a few rest breaks we completed the rest of the laps and the track had dried out nicely but unfortunately not everywhere and off what dry line there was the track was covered with wet leaves and hitting those could only end in tears. I had a good run with a BMW Z3M for part of a lap and even a 911 996 turbo which blasted past on the straight was I able to be kept up with for a few corner until the red mist dissipated a little.

The Focus was never under any real pressure and I certainly didn’t need to wring its neck and along with a damp track meant I wasn’t going for the fasted time ever in a FRS2 with three people and all their luggage.

According to the official web site the F1 GP circuit was to be open on Sunday for anyone to use for just 38 Euro for 20 minutes so after a good breakfast at the Hotel Ringvilla we headed down to the newly revamped GP track. This place is unbelievable. There is a massive building containing all manner of shops and restaurants as well as an absolutely enormous TV screen showing all types of promotional videos.

We followed the signs to the pits and paid our 38 Euro and after a 10 minute wait in the freezing cold we were asked to line up. I was a little nervous as I had no idea what the track lay out was like but I needn’t have worried as our passenger Gerard, despite never having been to Germany before, had “driven” the track heaps of times on Play Station so he acted as navigator which was marvelous.

RS Grand Prix track

RS Grand Prix track

The GP track is outstanding in everyway with long fast straights, tight hair pins, sweeping fast corners and the track undulates to its lowest point at Mercedes Corner before returning up hill through a series of quick corners to the main straight.

The Focus RS was a hoot especially as I picked up fourth down the straight and the wonderful boom came from the exhaust. I was touching around 200k’s at the end of the front straight and after our 20 minutes we managed 6 fast laps and one slow down lap which we mainly used to take pictures.

The Nordschleife is well worth the visit but for me the GP track was the high light. Driving back to Cologne to drop off our passenger Gerard the Focus did manage a respectable 230kph on the Autobahn so it is now official that contrary to what politicians would have you believe, you will not spontaneously combust at 3kph over Australia’s restrictive speed limits.

The next plan was to tackle the Stelvio Pass in April so we decided to drive to Bavaria in Southern Germany and stay two nights near the Neuschwanstein castle. This is a beautiful part of Germany and the castles in the area are definitely worth a visit. The only real draw back was the 1250km first day drive. On the way down I thought it would be great to take the FRS2 to the Ford factory at Saarlouis where all the FRS2’s were built.

After two nights in a very comfortable hotel in Bavaria we headed for the Stelvio Pass. We had to drive through Switzerland and Austria but didn’t have to purchase vignettes (a road tax for using the freeways) as were sticking to the back roads. After crossing to Italy and enjoying the beautiful scenery we took the Stelvio Pass turn off. Almost straight away I knew things weren’t quite right. There wasn’t much traffic and the electronic warning signs were indicating that the Pass was shut. I was a bit flummoxed by this as the website had said the road was clear if cold, you didn’t need chains and the temperature was up around 0C. We kept going to a local village and dropped in on a café welcoming motorbike riders only to be informed that the Stelvio doesn’t open until May 30th or in about 6 weeks time. Not happy Jan!

There was nothing much else to do but head back through Switzerland and cross through to Italy via St Moritz. The drive was still magnificent and we arrived at our next hotel on Lake Como late evening. Exploring Lake Como in the Focus RS was good apart from the narrow roads and sometimes interesting driving abilities of the local Italians. We did find the “Titanic” like turning circle on the Focus RS problematic on the very windy Italian mountain roads. No matter how hard I tried it was impossible to get around the corners without doing 3 point turns. This is disappointing as small trucks and large 4WD’s seem to get around the same corners without too much trouble.

Our stay in Italy was way too short. Driving back to England after an overnight stop, we decided to drop in to Paris for lunch and enjoyed a drive through this magnificent city and took the opportunity to photograph the Focus RS at a reasonably famous tower.

We are now planning another attempt at the Stelvio Pass in September and the Focus RS will also be tackling the roads around Rome, the Amalfi coast and Florence.

My Focus RS has now covered over 9300 miles and is averaging 33.2mpg (7 litres/100km)