One Year in Spain - 2013
15/05/13One Year in Spain
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
[b]January 2012 – Madrid ??? Oh No !!!
The potential foreign assignment of my wife had been going on too long. I love England, I’m 12 months into a great new role at work and I will really miss Real Ale. Why Spain ? But then again it was better than Shanghai or USA. Being a massive fan of PistonHeads I immediately started to investigate car options and with some great advice from John who owns a TVR Griffith in Madrid, I decided on a plan.
April 2012 – Goodbye Blighty
With our house contents packed into a container, we headed for the Alps for a ski in my trusted Audi A6 Avant 2.7Tdi affectionately named “Smokie”. He doesn’t smoke even after 103k miles, but I thought all diesels would. We departed from the Alps five days later and after an overnight stop in Barcelona we arrived in Madrid 2 April 2013. I have since driven Smokie the whole 850 miles from Madrid to the Alps in 11 hours in 1 day as the family flies into Geneva. I love this car, its epic. In fact, it’s the best car I have ever owned with head and heart !
Twelve days later and I’m boarding the Portsmouth to Bilbao in very high spirits. Chelsea beat Spurs 5-1 in the FA cup semi finals, I had two roast dinners with friends and the TVR Griffith is about to take its 3rd foreign journey. This fills me with excitement and apprehension as it has broken down on the previous two forays into France and Belgium. In France I broke down outside Reims spending Bastille Day tasting Champagne and learning to cut the top off a bottle of Champagne using a sword. PistonHeads saved the day again & with a few very helpful suggestions I diagnosed a broken 100amp fuse which was fixed the following day within minutes. In Belgium on the way to do a track day at Spa, the AFM got contaminated causing acute running problems. I didn’t find this out until I returned to the UK and so I spluttered around Spa in the rain all day.
[b]June 2012 – Madrid has Mountains !
The summer in Madrid was great. Warm, smooth roads which are VERY empty. I eventually met up with John and his Griffith and started to settle into Spanish life. Madrid, Oh no ?? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I need to embrace Spain as I see it and not compare Spain to England.
I spent hours in the evening poring over maps looking for new driving and road cycling routes. I was not disappointed. The mountains 30km to the North of Madrid are stunning in every way and I started to re-connect with my TVR. The locals were always interested and as I drove around, I received numerous waves from fellow drivers and motorcycle riders. Unless it’s raining, the roof is off. It’s my rule.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with the TVR Griffith. I think it’s the most beautiful looking car from every angle with the Ferrari 355 being a close 2nd. I love the power, the presence, its track day abilities and the PistonHeads community. I hate the feeling that it will fail and it has let me down. This is fine if time is not critical as everything on a TVR is fixable BUT if you need to be somewhere on time, I’m always nervous. I’m ok with the spanners, I’ve fitted engines, I’ve upgraded my old 350i brakes and UJs, I can do stuff. I just like things to work well.
July 2012 – ’60 Spanner Man
Restarting the car after a quick lunch on a roasting July day revealed a very worrying tapping noise. It sounded like water pump bearings as it altered pitch with revs. I tapped into the usual sources of information (yes, PistonHeads) and John who recommended a local spanner man called Talleres Tapia in downtown Madrid.
The Talleres Tapia garage was just a door in a line of shops in central Madrid. Down a steep ramp and in the basement I found two amigo’s working on a MGB GT over a pit. Within 10 minutes all the cars had been cleared away and they were all over the TVR. With the help of the local vet who spoke English, they set about PD/PSI (problem determination / problem source identification).
These guys were good, very good. Turned out to be a Donald Ducked starter motor which had lost the C clip holding the engage gear on the end of its shaft. Result being a floating gear being pushed by the spring into the flywheel. I tried to pay for their time but all attempts were refused.
A new starter motor arrived soon after from Racing Green which I fitter within a few hours. I took the broken starter motor back to the local boys who took it around the back and fitted a new C clip. Again they did not want to take any money for their time but this time I insisted. Typical Spanish, hard working, knowledgeable, resourceful and generous. I really needed to live here to form that view.
February 2013 – Very Nervous
I have always loved Track Days in the UK having taken my old TVR 350i, VFR750 and the Griffith around most circuits in the UK more than once. John suggested we joined Jasper Gilder’s Drive Espana tour in early April where they planned to drive Guadix circuit. Great plan but I needed a fresh MoT in order to validate my insurance.
Smokie had been driven back for an MoT in December. It took me 6 days in total and after a horrendous return crossing of the Bay of Biscay, I decided this was not to be repeated with the TVR any time soon. My cunning plan was to use a transportation company to take the car from Madrid to Racing Green for a MoT and Service.
The TVR was collected as planned but the car transporter had Latvian plates which didn’t match front to back. The driver spoke no English but was friendly enough. Nervously I drove the car onto the back but took some consolation that there were x7 Aerial Atoms with British plates on the same trailer. If I had been taken for a fool then so had other Brits but following the pack is not always a solid plan. I checked the interweb and discovered the Atoms were coming back from Jerez.
I had fitted a GPS based tracker into the car so over the next few days I pinged it constantly for its location. I was sure it would start to deviate east but it kept going north through France to the UK. Phew.
Racing Green did their usual high standard of servicing including a new set of front discs and MoT. The car returned mid-March ready for the Guadix trip with Drive Espana but it was FILTHY. It’s never kept outside overnight so over a month in the UK winter had taken its toll. Maybe the Spanish winter was not so bad after all.
April 2013 – Excited
John and I joined the Drive Espana tour orgainsed by Jasper Gilder at the Paradore in Toledo which is just south of Madrid for breakfast. There are currently 93 Paradores de Turismo across Spain which are located in historical buildings such as convents, monasteries, castles and palaces. They are stunning places to stay and the Paradore in Toledo offers superb views over the city from its wide veranda. It was a crisp but bright day so my rules applied, roof off and we joined the other TVRs for a 230 mile journey south to Granada.
We had all day to reach the Sierra Nevada so we enjoyed the driving and company. Jasper suggested a route but does not issue route plans. He also suggested splitting into smaller groups rather than one large convoy. This is a good idea as speed, route and stops don’t require a conference call to ensure we all agree ! John and I stopped for a cortado after an hour and were soon joined by six other TVR’s so we were never too far apart. Overnight in a modern hotel just south of Granada, with its own vineyard and views over the Sierra Nevada Mountains covered in snow, was a perfect end to a perfect day. A stunning drive, fine food, G&T and wine aplenty amongst fellow TVR owners who I had never met but who were all keen to talk. Madrid, Oh no ?? Maybe I was wrong again.
Bright but chilli morning resulted in a few more layers but after a 45 minutes drive we entered the Guadix Race Circuit. Guadix is a very a popular drivers circuit set in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s owned and run by a charming British chap, Clive Greenhalgh. Guadix is very popular with car and bike race teams looking for some privacy for testing. It has no noise restrictions so can be used 24hrs a day by any vehicle in any set-up. The circuit is situated in a vast site of 200+ acres adjacent to a small airfield so perfect for a few flying laps with the Learjet on standby. Clive has invested in F1 compliant corners and the circuit can be configured in various ways.
Lewis Hamilton drove Guadix after winning his karting championships to get his first laps in a single seater. In March this year Michael Schumacher was there riding his Honda and Alain Prost was testing Renault’s new Clio RS. Michael then swapped to Clive's Lotus when it started to rain which evidently was an impressive and compelling viewing. In April Simon Davey and a ‘98 TVR Griffith 500 took to the track so the list of impressive cars to drive Guadix continues !
We ran the standard clockwise formation in the morning session with Clive leading groups to ensure we had a basic understanding of the layout. There were around a dozen TVR's so we enjoyed as much track time as we could handle, limited only to how long you wanted to stay out. In my case, the new front discs which only had 250 miles in them started to fade so I settled into a 15 minutes on track, 30 minutes chatting / cooling which was perfect.
I found the surface of the track to be dependable but not super grippy. Combine this with 15deg of air temperature resulted in minimal tyre wear as they stayed within normal temperature limits and no scrubbing.
All the drivers on the Drive Espana tour had a fantastic day with only a few spins but with no damage. Clive ran the circuit anti-clockwise in the afternoon, which is a very interesting experience, as the track felt familiar but was obviously completely different. Jasper had arranged for a few journalists to attend the day from Motor Sport Magazine and Classic Car Magazine. I understand they have write-ups on their websites.
I headed back to the previous nights hotel with the core Drive Espana group while others who had just joined for the days driving returned to their Spanish homes. This including two young gents from Gibraltar in almost identical Chimeras. I enjoyed following them down the motorway so much I missed my turning. Happy Days.
The drive back north to Madrid solo the following day was memorable for many reasons. I had discovered again the pure joy of TVR ownership, camaraderie of the TVR owners and the beauty of Spanish roads. I drove for 5 hours along quiet winding roads amongst olive groves, across small mountain ranges in a GT cruiser which was a Track Day thrasher the previous day. I was at one with the car. Sadly my progress, which was spirited, resulted in a “chat” with the boys in green who gave a sharp salute as they pulled me in. €150 later and I was on my way. I regard this as part of my general driving but the Spanish are getting tight on speeding.
Some may consider that I have a poor record with the Police over my 31 years of driving cars and motorbikes. I’ve been caught for speeding 14 times, mostly in France and Spain. I have had a chat with the BiB on 11 other occasions and with a beer in my hand, I have some good stories to tell. This sounds horrific I know but I have owned various interesting cars, motorbike and I have driven approximately 450,000 miles. I never speed in built up areas, I’m very careful in car parks but I do like to make progress where possible.
[b]May 2013 – Jarama F1 Circuit
I was always keen to drive the Jarama Circuit which is 15 minutes from my house in the north of Madrid. It was a F1 circuit until the early ‘80s having hosted nine Spanish Grand Prix. I had visited as a spectator and it looked very interesting with undulating sweeping corners. PistonHeads didn’t reveal any Spanish track day organisations but a few offered words of caution regarding the Spanish approach to driving. If you have ever driven around a Spanish roundabout, you will know that these are wise words.
Just under a week ago, I spotted a track day organised by 8000vueltas.com which was heavily sponsored by Michelin. I emailed Oscar the organiser who called me back within the hour to establish the best group for me to join and agree the details. Three days later I entered the circuit to find a mass of Porsche, Ferrari (including an Enzo), Lotus, American muscle, Lamborghini, Maserati, KTMs, Nissan GTR’s and some classics like SAAB turbos.
Oscar greeted me, bought lunch, drinks and then was very interested in my views of how this track day compared to the UK, which he thought was the home of good days. Very excited and slightly nervously I started the 1st of my four 20 minute sessions on a very hot afternoon with air temperature around 28 deg fuelled by free Red Bull from the Red Bull girls who roamed the paddock. The Jarama track exceeded all my expectations in every way. It was a great circuit, wide, safe with excellent driving standards from all. There were a few hundred locals in the stands having a day out, which added to the festival feel. Michelin were taking brake and tyre temperatures as you ended the session which I guess was part of their sponsorship arrangement. The bought along a massive truck full of kit, giving you the option to try different Michelin tyres on the day and a 50% discount if you wanted to buy. My temperature readings were the lowest of all car which gave me a wry smile, my cool down laps did as intended even though I had been hammering both front & rear resulting in serious beading of the tread.
Oscar, my feedback is you have taken UK track days to the next level. Gaining sponsors for the day, working with Porsche and Ferrari driving clubs, offering flying laps and opening the circuit to local spectators in my view is fantastic. As I drove home, I thought “Could the local Spanish people be any nicer to a Brit in a TVR ?” No.
Summer 2013 – Madrid ??? Oh Yes !!!
One year since arriving in Spain and I’ve settled into the rhythm of the country. I don’t compare Spain but look at its through inquisitive eyes. I like the way the Spanish are hard working, enthusiastic and generous. As I have said before, I really needed to live here to form that view. The Spanish have had a bad reputation as the poor relation of Europe and I even read that Africa ends at the Pyrenees ! Their economy is not great but from my view point, they appear to working hard to recover.
I have found a local supplier of English Ale and the sun has started to melt the snow for the mountains. We plan to return to England in the summer of 2014 so the TVR is due to get a few more sunny miles. I need to get the map out again, plan a few more 200+ mile journeys, roof off with a Paradore and a bottle of Rioja waiting. Jasper Gilder at Drive Espana is organising more tours in the autumn to Gaudix so that’s in the diary.
If you’re interested in some of the photographs I’ve taken while in Madrid, please take a look at www.esdavey.com Unless it’s raining, normal rules apply !!