As with Spa, the Nürburgring is more than just the ribbon of tarmac that winds its way amongst the trees. It’s an emotion. A dream. A fear. The modern Grand Prix track, constructed in 1984, was a concession to the safety demands of Formula 1 but still retained an inextricable link to the original Nordschleife: the 14-mile Grüne Hölle. The ‘Green Hell’. Although it’s always been big in Germany, the ‘Ring is now famous again worldwide thanks to the proliferation of media coverage and general love directed towards it, so I was really hoping to get a chance to ride around the legend at the end of the GT1 race weekend – even if only in a hire car. From many years of computer games I was pretty sure I had the first, say, 10 turns after the start-line nailed, no problem. Left, right,, right, left, left into right, left, right into left… Um. It was just the following 90 I’d have a problem with.
Here on Speedhunters we often feature stories on this place – and rightly so. It is hallowed ground for car freaks: 80 years of car torture and driving danger. Everyone wants that ‘Ring sticker on the back of their car: it’s like a badge of honour.
I might have endured four days of being soaked (alongside the other more hardy photographers like this guy – though he had a SCOOTER), but the Nürburgring’s mystique had only increased as I got to know it better – both from walking around the track and whilst driving through the beautiful local countryside and pristine villages.
Come Monday morning the teams had already all packed up and left. When they got back to base they’d be counting the pennies for new carbon components: the Japanese and Italians did particularly badly in the bodywork crunching stakes.
Talking of damage, the Sumo Power driver line-up used the Sunday morning autograph session to sign another interesting piece of memorabilia, but something rather closer to home. Following on from an interesting assortment of items brought along to be signed (something that always helps brighten drivers’ attitudes to these signathons), the four were presented with a shattered fragment of Sumo Power’s #22 bonnet, broken on impact with the turn three barriers back at the Brno round when Warren Hughes suffered a brake failure. Of course, the other drivers took great fun in pointing out who had been driving…
The Sumo Power Nissans ran with additional 20832.com Nürburgring stickers over the weekend: one on each car, with a larger one on the left side of #22 and a smaller one on the tail of #23. 20832 refers to the current length in metres of the Nordschliefe.
Sumo Power also had their new trucks and trailers freshly liveried with Speedhunters images: I’ll be putting up a desktop of these side-on, technical-drawing style shots soon! The new race trailer is quite something: extendable sides, fully equipped briefing/meeting room. Very luxurious! I’l try and get a good look inside at the next round.
The other result of the weekend was a new-found respect for the modern GP track. Once again my preconceptions about the track being a bit boring (especially with the Green Hell as a comparison) were quickly proved wrong: a sanitised ‘Tilke’-style F1 track this isn’t. The more intricate first half of the track, beginning with the sight of the insane rollercoaster running right by the start-finish straight, is complemented by the fast return leg; all fitting the form and undulations of the local landscape but in dominant style. This isn’t like Spa, where the track feels like part of nature, nestling in its folds: the Nürburgring owns nature.
The Mercedes Arena loop was added a couple of years ago, but actually doesn’t seem to have detracted from the flow of the track. Originally the circuit started with a right-left chicane: the Arena added in four new corners with a surprising amount of gradient and an enormous expanse of tarmac.
The track opens right out on the exit and gets wider and wider through the following turns. As the first corner is A: tight and B: after a long straight there are always cars trying to make up positions and, in general, plenty of different lines that drivers can take.
But the biggest thing about the first turn is the inside apex. With a drop even more pronounced that La Source at Spa, the cars drive off a virtual cliff if they risk an early apex or are forced to defend. Each car’s passage is marked with the grating of scraping undertrays. As if other cars weren’t bad enough, the track itself is looking to inflict damage on you as well.
The exit of the Mercedes Arena opens out into a straight after cars grab the tightest apex possible to swoop round, providing great views for the fans ahead in the (you guessed it) Mercedes tribune. Because of the switchback nature of the opening section, it also allows drivers to string together moves that start at the first corner but don’t actually deliver until this turn: if the move down the inside at turn one doesn’t come off, then you just hold on around the outsides of turns three and four before you hit the inside again at turn four. It makes for great spectating!
Even though the track is long from end to end, it’s quite narrow from side to side: driving into the circuit on the access road means driving underneath the outgoing and return legs of the track. This is a view from the main access road, with the return leg of the track running across the nearer bridge from right to left and then the outbound bridge just past it running left to right. This stretch of public road also makes up part of the lesser-known Sudschliefe – this was an extension to the main Nordshcliefe, built at the same time and linked by the original start-finish section that has now been replaced by the GP track. Running the joint configuration gave a 28km track – check the link at the bottom for a view of the track in this format. It’s crazy. If the Nordschliefe has little run-off, the Sud- had none at all.
The Dunlop hairpin is located right at the bottom end of the track, and as you look down to it it becomes clearer how the track is located in the rolling countryside.
After the tighter nature of the first half of the circuit comes the uphill blast back to the pit-straight: round the fast Bit Curve…
…and then the slingshot effect up to the NGK chicane: yet another overtaking place and another great place to watch the cars scrabble through the corners on the limit of adhesion.
Along with the countryside, the other ever-present thing in the background is another strip of red-and-white kerned tarmac…
The GP Strecke links onto the Green Hell at its final corner: take the wrong turn and it’ll be 10 minutes before you’re back on track. It would be a hell of a long lap-time!
On the Sunday I had taken half an hour to cross the track and visit the Ring Boulevard: a motorsport-themed shopping mall that would keep any petrol-head happy. Nissan put on a display opposite their show-room, with some interesting cars on display.
Forgive me if I skip the pair of 370Zs that were present, but then there was this pair of cars which kept my attention…
A Datsun 240Z – still probably my favourite Japanese sportscar, which I think belonged to Nissan Germany’s own collection.
And then Sumo Power’s own breathed-on GT-R. And this on a Nissan stand? It shows just how respected Sumo Power have become that their tuned GT-R – complete with Sumo Power and HKS stickers – was displayed just opposite the factory-standard version – the car that couldn’t be improved on?!
I just hadn’t had time to properly watch any of the FIA GT4 support races, but the grids were incredibly strong due to being reinforced by Dutch GT4 national series competitors. The grid included the Dutch-run Camaros: another of the new models of US muscle cars that have brought respectability back to that much-maligned class. I mean, ’90s Mustangs? Ugh.
Often tracks go back to sleep when the racing stops: nature takes over and peace returns. But this place lives motorsport. It is motorsport. And not just around the GP track, but the whole area. The locals show their pride and passion for the place everywhere you look: stickers on cars, on the local businesses (everyone puts a ’24 Hours Of Nürburgring’ suffix on the name of their company, even the fridge delivery people!) and on posters. But you’d have to: the full Nordschleife actually runs through local villages, passing over on a bridge right through the centre of Adenau for instance! You would not move here if you weren’t prepared to put up with it all.
Surprisingly, the Nordschleife is still an unrestricted one-way public toll road, exactly as it was when it was first opened in 1927. There’s no general speed limit except in certain areas where it passes through towns, and it’s only closed for private practice days and race events. The only real rule is that you’re only allowed to overtake on the left. This plaque in the paddock entrance tunnel listed victors at the track. With such a long history, it’s no surprise that the names read like a who’s-who of the motoring greats. Looks like they’re going to need a bigger plaque pretty soon.
The new GP track has done what it aimed to do: reduce the danger to drivers. But the continued use of the old track, and particularly the fact that it’s open to the public, means that it has to be treated with respect. The general mantra seems to be: ‘enjoy the track, don’t go for a time’. Running stopwatches are often found in crashed vehicles… Despite the dangers, manufacturers still look to be associated with the place. Mercedes withdrew from pretty much all forms of racing following their 1955 Le Mans disaster, but over the last decade the company has been making more of its racing roots: hence this life-size statue of driving legend Juan-Manuel Fangio next to his Merc W196 Silver Arrow that was donated to the track by Daimler-Chrysler in 2002. You can even get into the cockpit! Even a bronze version of a W196 is pretty cool.
On Monday morning, the final thing to do before heading to the airport was The Big One. The lap. The entrance is really not clearly signposted: it’s so popular that it’s just apparently expected that people will know where it is. In the village of Nürburg that sits just inside the start of the Nordschleife, was more evidence of how much manufacturer pride there is in the place: BMW’s local dealer was decked out with a couple of ’90s tourers, plenty of trophies and various other bits of memorabilia.
But on, on towards the goal. As we drove into the countryside, against the track and down to the paddock, was the local ‘Ring Rentals company.
Alongside a fleet of Alfa 75s were some hotter propositions: Porsche 911s, Lotus Exiges and even a Noble. At the far end was a wrecked 911…
So, to the lap! €19 and you have all the time you want to make it round these public roads. But! No! Fail! BMW wrecked our plans by hiring out the circuit for a Mini corporate day – a common thing, it appears. Well, with rivers of water running down the track, discretion seemed the better option anyway – but there will be a next time! Oh, to live locally…
With an hour to go before having to head north, we went back to the RingBoulevard and the RingWerk: Paddy took a good look round back in May. It’s quite pricey for something that is perhaps geared towards a younger audience (which is no bad thing of course), but the 4D cinema experience was quite something. A rotating disk seating area, with ‘trees’ swaying and moving around the outside to reveal cut-away video screens and projections – complete with atmospheric effects. Cold air conditioning and water vapour for the rain (I’ve heard it can rain around here…) but then the morally dubious effect of heat lamps blasting out whilst the documentary touched on Niki Lauda’s fiery crash in ’76!
An effective interactive altar to the god of tracks that is the Nürburgring. All must worship!