Our cars: The European Grand Prix - Leon Edition

We take our trusty long termer out to the legendary Nürburgring GP circuit.

Nick Wilkinson Video Producer / XCAR
Nick Wilkinson is XCAR's Producer, so can either be found huffing serious quantities of exhaust fumes armed with a camera or making a montage of some kind. His background is in video, and as a film and motorsport nut finds himself in heaven most weekdays
Nick Wilkinson
4 min read

Roo Lewis
So I've slid our Leon round an airstrip, gotten a puncture, sheltered from the rain, used its boot as an office, driven through many drive ins, slept through countless counties (not behind the wheel) and not exactly been gentle for its first 10,000 miles (it's usually in a convoy with a 400bhp + monster). Its been great but something had been missing, a proper road car road trip, an infamous petrolhead pilgrimage: a trip to the 'Ring... GP circuit.

Now there's no need to be mean. We were travelling to Germany for a feature on the GP circuit itself, which turns thirty this year (feature out later in the season). And I'm aware that when people travel this far they tend to do more than flick a cursory glance across the trees to the green hell but unfortunately it was closed that day and tourist drives started agonizingly close to the date we had to leave. Before I'd checked this fact I'd actually asked Seat if I could take it out for a lap as part of the feature, and they'd actually been really keen on the idea. Which made it worse. Anyway my 'Ring dream (which sounds only slightly less dodgy than 'Ring Werk') would have to be postponed, we had work to do.

The first day was bathed in quite uncharacteristic sunshine and the day we spent filming and driving the circuit was an absolute delight, t-shirt weather and sun cream in March...it all felt a little unnerving and the safety crew were equally bemused. Not one to complain about good weather my cameraman instincts were to film as quickly as possible in the weather gods realised their mistake and rectified it quickly. We wrapped up so quickly on the first day, however, it left a whole morning to kill before driving back to base. What to do...what to do...GPCIRCUITTOURISTFAHRKARTEN. I believe that's how it's pronounced.

So, day two. Rain - lots of rain. Stereotype finally lived up to. Its like the opening of Rush, except I'm in the GP pit lane in a family hatchback, and my rivals are a Mercedes 190 Cosworth, a car so beige I can't remember it, a Porsche 930 Turbo and an Opel Astra. Don't laugh at the Astra, it was complete with rollcage and a collage of Nurburgring stickers. Rich, the presenter I was with said 'You watch, that one will thrash the lot of you'. 15 minutes on the GP circuit for 27 Euros, an exchange I was more than happy to make. I turned everything off in the Leon (everything that could go off - so not much), I was going to get my moneys worth. Thankfully Rich had made a suggestion that we unload all the camera kit. Good, that'll save some weight I thought, not considering the fallout when I return to the office with all four cameras pulverized into one lump 'think of the convenience!'

And off we go. Through numerous driver-training courses I've been taught that to be a real pro, you start slow and end fast, get a feel for the car, the conditions, build that speed. NO TIME! First corner, I wrestle the wheel and slam my foot full on the throttle. I realise a little too late how slippery the track is, but thankfully my Car Limits monsoon training kicks in, and I catch the (impressively big I think but barely a twitch in reality) slide. The 190 Cosworth has given me a berth so wide he knows I mean business. Possibly because his is the car I've been filming yesterday and I've already spoken at length of the business I mean. He has seen me lose, lets say a lot of control on turn one and decides, quite wisely, to stay back keeping his pride and joy safe.

Next corner and the next (forgettable) car is dispatched, it blurs backwards so I can't make out its crappy make. Third position, podium secured already (at a non-race, open trackday). The Porsche Turbo is in my sights, and I'm all over it in a matter of seconds. In his defense, the conditions are awful, and those old Turbos love nothing more than taking their owners on a joyride to Armco city. However, he hogs the track like a Porsche on a trackday, I brake late for the chicane (car squirreling like a madman but holding it admirably together as I brake later and later - one of us has to be sane) and give him little choice. The champagne tasting all that sweeter, I need the victory. I close, I tease, I toil and I come closer and closer to the gravel, the car slides around wonderfully and I feel in complete control. The Opel slows, I go to take my chance, I'm almost past before I realise he's slowed for the pits, the marshal has ended the session, my fifteen minutes of mediocrity are up. I emergency brake to slink into the pits, tail between my legs, adrenaline flowing, brakes smoking.

I drive off feeling victorious, ecstatic, to the point where I drive miles down the road before I remember that I've left the kit in the Nurburgring office. But for that brief moment, we made a good tem, the Leon and I, and I'll never misplace my imaginary silver medal.