El ToroMartin Valt
First Drop, May 1, 2009

The third album, as successful musicians will readily testify, is always the most elusive. Whereas the rest serves to herald one's presence on the world stage and the second to - hopefully - consolidate one's much-more-than-a-one-hit-wonder credentials, the third is inevitably accompanied by a plethora of difficult decisions. Does one adopt a brisk "business as usual" approach, inviting allegations of complacently resting upon one's laurels, or risk igniting the wrath of devotees by attempting to create something even marginally unfamiliar? All in all, something of a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" scenario, and a challenge parallel to that encountered by Great Coasters International Inc (GCII) as those hardworking chaps in the Pennsylvania hills quietly set about designing El Toro (no, not that one).

The spoils of GCII's first two European forays, 2007's Troy resplendent amidst the tulip fields at Toverland (Sevenum, Netherlands) and 2006's Thunderbird shivering beneath the Northern Lights at PowerPark (Alahärmä, Finland) - the latter being cloned within two seasons as Evel Knievel at Six Flags St.Louis (Eureka, Missouri) - were both so universally well received that expectations of the third Old Country installation were already somewhere in the stratosphere. This well in advance of details as insignificant as dimensions and location being revealed. However, when that announcement did finally emerge, well... who outside southeast Germany had really previously heard of a little park near Lengenfeld named Freizeitpark Plohn (rhymes with "phone")? Moreover - and let's be honest here - didn't everyone assume that the tertiary European GCII would be at least slightly larger than its predecessors?

El Toro debuted, to only modest media interest, on 10 April 2009 in one of the myriad of family-oriented woodland amusement parks, that the Germans seem to do so much better than anyone else. The country's fourth wood coaster, El Toro's statistics were not - despite its impeccable pedigree - immediately suggestive of a world-beater. Significantly shorter than either of its two northern forefathers at 750m (2,460ft) and - topping out at around 27.4m (90ft) - by no means a particularly tall ride by contemporary standards, few dared to hope for much more than perhaps a GCII-lite - a fast, fun, family ride ideally suited to a mid-sized traditional park intent on stepping up to the next level. However, it appears that we have instead been gifted with something rather special indeed.

Constructed on a shallow incline at the rear of the hillside park, its dominating contours and aesthetic grace are more than slightly reminiscent of a scaled-down version of Dollywood's (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee) Thunderhead (yes, yet another GCII - does anyone detect a pattern here?). But there's nothing scaled down about its performance. The rampaging El Toro simply stamps, snorts and stampedes around the track, with the single 24-seat Millennium Flyer train - still by some distance the premier wood coaster rolling stock in the business - absolutely flying from even a chilly early morning start and delivering in abundance exactly what is promised on the GCII tin. This raging bull is without question the real deal. Everything is in place, from the familiar curving first drop - on this occasion disappearing directly beneath the Wildwasserbahn log flume - to the signature and seemingly infinitely intertwined wild and twisted choreography. But of course, this being a GCII, there's more. Much more. Mesmerising pacing with delicious, dancing directional changes and airtime galore. Yes, airtime, and lots of it. On a GCII twister. With the greater part of its layout pinned quite low to the ground, much of El Toro feels more akin to a terrain coaster than a conventional twister. Beyond the first drop no large ascents or descents are featured. Instead a multitude of slick turns, tight little hills and short, sharp, breath-catching drops are employed to maximum effect, with every last one negotiated at breakneck speed and absolutely popping with rodeo-like negative-g jolts. Intriguingly, there appear to be no prime riding positions; each seat unfailingly provides a complete and thoroughly memorable experience. Uncompromisingly relentless - as are all the world's truly outstanding coasters, regardless of genre - but eminently re-rideable and possessing a "fun factor" which is simply off the chart. It is difficult in the extreme to conjure up any meaningful criticisms of El Toro or even to imagine any way in which it might be significantly improved. Nothing in life is perfect, but this is damn close. Does it incorporate the trademark seismic station fly through? Alas, no. Nevertheless, the overall quality of this ride is so astonishingly high that the absence of the stunt is barely noticed.

I always avoid clichés like the plague - indeed they are to me as a red rag to this bull - but El Toro really has put Freizeitpark Plohn on both the map and the ever-expanding list of "must do" German parks. Pay no heed to mere statistics. Bigger is by no means necessarily better where wood coasters are concerned, and this thoroughbred beast is the ultimate overachiever and a legitimate global Top Ten candidate. As GCII's contributions to wood coaster heritage continue to evolve and mature, El Toro may well be their most remarkable to date. In fact, perhaps the station should have been themed as a china shop...

Reproduced with permission.
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