Autobahn Experience

I have been an automobile nut for as long as I can recall. So, obviously driving on the autobahn was one of the things on my to-do list. In the days leading up to it,  I did a lot of research on driving habits and rules on the autobahns. Well, I have certainly mellowed down these days in terms of aggression on road. That is not to say I do not like speeding. But I do not do it as recklessly as I did in my younger days.

I drove the Beamer the day before on the autobahn. While, that was very satisfying, I was craving for more. I knew I’d craving for more. That is why two months before this trip, I made a reservation to rent a Ferrari. A red 458 Italia no less.

ferrari

That I’am afraid is the only picture for this post. I was so occupied in high speed driving (fortunately) I didn’t bother taking any pictures.

Being on Autobahn

The plan was to drive on A9 (?) that connects Munich to Berlin but not necessarily all the way upto Berlin. The plan was just to drive. And drive some more. And possibly attain what is in some circles known as Nirvana for a driving enthusiast.

I spent about 30 minutes in lower gears getting used to the vehicle, its blind spots, vantage points and more importantly its acceleration and breaking. It sound silly but its really important when you are gonna be driving at high speeds through out the day.

I pull over at a gas station, get a shot of caffine, stretch and get back to driving.

  I do a quick looky loo, make sure I am clear to merge yell to myself ‘gas gas gas’. The 458 puts out those 570 horses in the work and soon I am doing three figure speeds.  As the speedometer spooled up, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not going to jail. What I was doing was legal, and what I was doing was 150 mph. Welcome to Germany.

As Germany’s vehicular population has increased, some sections of the Autobahn have become speed-restricted. In unrestricted areas, the recommended speed limit is 130 kph (80 mph), but the left lane always runs faster. Sometimes more than twice as fast.

Moving between lanes is not the casual exercise it is on American interstates or expressways. Germans signal every lane change, and they move in and out quickly and with precision.

General layout of Autobahn entrance and exit ramps are narrower than American. Plus, there is absolutely no shoulder to the left of the fast lane, making that lane feel peculiarly narrow. Add to it, you are coming in hot at 150mph – that means literally no room for error on the fast lane.

In one unrestricted zone, the a Porsche 911 blew by me. I tried give him a chase. The 911 driver clearly possessed advanced skills and an attitude to match.

Only once was I surprised by traffic and had to rely on the 458’s substantial brakes and grippy Michelin tires. A volvo signaled a lane change from the center to the left as I was coming in hot at around 200kph. High beam flashes got his attention and he aborted the pass even though he was already half-way into my lane. He managed to get back to his lane. Still, it required heavy braking and manouvers .

After driving a bunch of restricted zones and medium traffic, I was coming upto a unrestricted zone. I was itching to mount an assault (so to speak). This is when a Audi S5 passed by me doing roughly around 150 kph. I wait to enter the unrestricted zone and do a ‘pedal-to-the-metal’. The speedometer flew past 240 kph, then 250, and 260. Closing in on the Audi, the driver moved right and I passed at roughly 270 kph on the way to 290kph.

458 maxes out at  320 kph. I didn’t get to hit the max speed. But 290kph/ 180 mph is something I am willing to live with. More so, I am not sure if I’d comfortable driving at speeds in excess of 300 kph.

Soon,we reach Leipzig. I go to a local restaurant and get a typical German meal. I skip beer here because I am gonna be doing some driving on the way back. So, coffee it is.

And do some sight seeing.

<comparison>

Autobahns are really well maintained. Not too different from it is in other developed countries (or even some newly built roads in developing countries).  But what works for the Germans is that their freeways aren’t as badly crowded as the American ones. I cant imagine having no speed limit on the 405 , 10, 101 and 110 in SoCal. Imagine some one doing 120mph in sepulveda pass and trying to skip four lanes to right to merge to the 405!! On the contrary, I-15 in Utah has the speed limit of 80mph which is same as recommended speed limit (130kmph) in the Autobahn.

</comparison>

Why you should be really cautious?

From my short time in Europe, I’d estimate that about half of the European population drive cars with less than 100hp.

It is especially strange in Germany, where it’s a split between lethargic 1-liter hatchbacks and high-powered 3-liter biturbo bruisers. This leads to scary encounters on the Autobahn. The Audis and BMWs, hell even the more muscular VWs, assert their dominance without mercy.

They don’t give a shit if it’s only two lanes and you haven’t passed that truck yet – you’re messing up their 120mph average and if you have to dive into the safety distance between two trucks, so be it. As much I hate to admit, I am guilty of this in a couple of occasions when I was in BMW and the 458.

If you are driving anything like a Renault Clio 1.2 or any other classic lethargic European hatch, you’ll find yourself spending more time looking in the rearview mirror than through the windshield.

How to be cautious on the Autobahn?

Try and stick to the right lane always unless you are passing . If you have to get in to left lane, plan in advance and execute it quickly. If you see some one approaching in the left lane at speeds considerably faster than yours ,wait for them to pass.

Everyone has their own comfortable cruising speed. It is a variable factor of the car, road, landscape and the driver himself. Always be in your comfortable speed limit. Drive the car around for a few kilometres on freeway at lower speeds before you decide to go heavy foot. The better you are accustomed to your car, the more safer you are.

<conclusion>

The autobahns aren’t exactly what we told and made to believe. Its not a legal race track.

Its a public highway. You are trusted to be careful and respectful of others on the autobahn. People use the autobahn to get to work, do grocery and drop the kids off at school. Follow the rules and only do high speeds you are comfortable with only in places its legal (unrestricted zone).

It is an experience by itself. I have driven in race track in the past and I’d rate the experience of driving in Autobahn far superior.  I might even go back to Germany in my next European trip just to drive.

Until then, toddles.

</conclusion>

ferrari1.jpg

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