If it wasn't for the amount of traffic on the first lap, I'd have been much faster... See, after two days at the Nürburgring I'm already beginning to sound like a racing driver getting my excuses in.
The Scuderia 7 course I've been doing these past two days, where you undergo intensive training to try and learn the 21km race circuit, is now complete - and the final results are in. The assessment at the end of the training was two timed laps, with your score being calculated on how closely matched the two laps were against the clock rather than how fast you went.
My two timed laps were 2.69sec apart over the course. That placed me 21st overall out of just over 100, and fifth in my group of 10 other hacks of varying Nürburgring experience. The winner's two laps were just 0.07sec apart.
But I know I have a bit more consistency in me as in free practice I clocked back to back laps of 9m 4sec. The official lap time for the Vauxhall Astra VXR (or rather Opel Astra OPC as it was on Opel's home turf) is 8m 20sec, so there was plenty of room for improvement for a 'Ring rookie like me in both lap time and consistency when the pressure is really on against the clock.
If only I'd had one more go at the assessment in a little less traffic... And that's where the track really gets you. The Nürburgring is an addictive place, a petrol head's playground where 'Just one more go' is perhaps the most uttered phrase. As one colleague put it to me, it's somewhere where you don't have to apologise for liking cars, and where a Porsche 911 GT3 RS is as common as Ford Fiesta is in the UK.
The beauty of the Scuderia 7 course is that it makes you feel at home in this kind of company straight away. A moderate level of ability is assumed, the course then tries to raise it while you learn the circuit.
At lunchtime yesterday, in a free practice run having learned three of the six sections, I clocked a 10min 10sec lap on my first full go. So, I achieved over a minute's improvement 24 hours later in consecutive laps, with knowledge of the rest of the course and a dozen or so completed laps, which shows how quickly you can pick it up.
The Scuderia 7 course is also no holds barred in its assessment of you, so you're never left in any doubt of where you can improve. I was turning in too early to right hand corners and also going in too fast to the slow ones, relying on understeer to slow me down.
I also was putting in too many steering inputs in series or corners - the beauty of several sections of the 'Ring is that you can turn into one corner and in not moving the steering wheel turn into the next two after.
Did I iron these out? I got rid of the understeer by braking harder before the corners and in a straight line. Never is the old racing cliché 'slow in, fast out' more relevant than at the 'Ring. The turning in too early to slow right handers was harder to shake off; I instinctively tried to take them as early as possible, but so many apexes at the 'Ring are late in the corner so I'd lose too much speed for the corner exit.
As for the taking multiple corners with one steering input, it's such a joy and sweet feeling when you get it right that the mind is always focused on achieving it. You get the biggest kicks from the smallest of steering inputs at the 'Ring; hooking up series of corners that can be bumpy, off camber and up and down hills is about as satisfying as it gets in circuit driving.
But if it's possible to get a basic learning of the course and show continued improvement driving a lap of the circuit, then the thing that will always stop mere mortals like me hooking it together for lap after lap is concentration.
You have to be so focused for so long at high speeds on a track that's unforgiving and has Armco and trees within touching distance of the racing line. After two and half laps, I was always mentally spent; mistakes would creep in and suddenly those barriers seem closer. I expect the gap between my laps in the assessment would have been wider if it was timed over three.
I guess that's what keep people coming back to the 'Ring day after day, year after year: the room for improvement. Like all good things in life, the Nürburgring always leaves you wanting more.