Day four of the Autodelta European Tour 2006 started with a visit to the Michael Schumacher Kart Center near Kerpen in Germany before a 500 km run to Basel in Switzerland beckoned.

Last night the Tour pitched up at the Hotel am Rhein, which is located on a wide sweep of the River Rhine, one of Europe's major waterways. So close is the hotel to the river that its lazily flowing waters lap gently against the steeply rising walls of the large white-painted building complex. Spacious rooms with huge windows added up to a sense of contrast with the dark, menacing waters and the life it provides home to: barge after barge chugging their way up or down the river. The Hotel am Rhein is situated between Cologne and Bonn and this is still an industrial heartland, with petrochemical plants, lit up like Christmas trees, and tall chimneys pumping out plumes of light smoke which contrasted against the dark skies.

This morning though the dry weather which we have been experiencing since the Tour got underway, broke, with rain and mist swirling round the hotel, the barges plying the black waters of the river appearing and disappearing through the early morning gloom. Through the drizzle we set off in convoy for the Michael Schumacher Kart Center, located near the town of Kerpen 33 km away.

The story goes that Michael Schumacher's father cleaned the track at the go-kart complex while his mother worked in the canteen. Michael - who still lives close by - and his brother Ralf, both learnt to race go-karts as young children on this track; and after he won his first (of seven) F1 world titles he bought the track. Now boasting an additional outdoor circuit, the Kart Center is brim full of Michael Schumacher memorabilia; an F1 Ferrari hangs on the wall of the reception area, while another sits alongside a Jordan F1 car in the middle of the barrier-lined track.

The Tour participants are all committed "petrol heads" and the action on the demanding 610 metre long circuit, which has a low 40 second bracket fastest lap time, was fraught right from the green light. Kitted out with full face helmets and balaclavas it was wheel to wheel stuff, with Paul Paggiosi eventually coming out on top in both of the 8-lap encounters posting a best lap of the day in 50.566 seconds, "Great, great fun," was his comment.

Then it was time to make up serious ground and begin to roll towards our eventual destination, Southern Europe. The cars left the Michael Schumacher Kart Center late this morning to take the A61 and then the B9, passing close to Bonn, Koblenz and Mannheim as the cars gobbled up the kilometres. I am travelling with Jano Djelalian in the brand new Autodelta Brera J5 3.2 C during this Tour, sampling the merits of both the Alfa Brera sports car and the effects of the new Autodelta J5 conversion package, at first hand.

London to Monte Carlo is just the sort of long distance, pan-European journey the Alfa Brera was designed for; and it has hoovered up the miles effortlessly. It is unruffled, its ride is smooth and its cabin is comfortable and well insulated; providing the occupants with a truly relaxing environment. On top of this excellence now comes Autodelta's all-round upgrade of the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension and styling, all harmoniously brought together to create a carefully crafted bespoke package, which has been dubbed the J5 3.2 C. The Alfa Brera's inherent qualities of Italian style and charm, have been given a more robust nature and aggressive edge by Autodelta's engineering team. The application of the new Rotrex C30/94 supercharger takes the car's power up by 88 bhp to 348 bhp, and this makes a real impact to the overall package, its highly capable chassis easily able to absorb and fully deliver this big increase in power. "It's a real pleasure to drive," says Jano as we race down through Germany, "I'm delighted that we have been able to move the exciting Brera package forward a step, and achieve great all round results, although we certainly have spent a lot of time developing and shaping this project. I think that this is a sports car that enthusiasts will respond to and it's been great to arrange to meet many interested parties along the route of the Tour," adds Jano.

Dynamically the chassis has been much improved, particularly by the new Autodelta Sportline Coil-Overs, which have been developed in-house. These provide a slightly firmer ride, but this is certainly no bone shaker. "It's all about further refining a refined package," says Jano. Just as Alfa Romeo have responded to the demands of the customers of today, so Autodelta have grown up, providing cars that cosset the driver with a sense of security and wellbeing, but with a lot of horses under the right foot and the ability to deliver them instantly.

Late afternoon and the first Tour cars arrived at B+K Automobile AG in Füllinsdorf, Switzerland, Autodelta's authorised agent in the country, for a reception and the chance for Swiss enthusiasts to see the new Brera J5 3.2 C in the flesh. In the showroom was Sandro Montinsano's ex-Michael Schumacher Alfa 156 Sportwagon GTA AM, with interesting details including a "chequered" waist high strip that featured a seven layer paint coat finish and front doors which have had the outer handles removed and are now activated by a switch located under the door mirrors. With the reception concluded it was off to a nearby hotel as Day 4 night rolled in and the day wound to an end.

by Edd Ellison on the Autodelta European Tour in Basel

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Day 3 of the Autodelta European Tour saw the cars heading back to Zandvoort for a second appointment at Spettacolo Sportivo

Report & Photos: Autodelta / © 2006 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed