I’ve always wanted to drive the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit and finally got round to doing this in October 2014. The circuits appetite for trashing cars (and drivers) is legendary, and it was this fear that made me put the trip on the backburner several times…
In my eyes the circuit became legendary on Gran Turismo on the Playstation. I’d religiously batter the Nurburgring in my tuned Mercedes CLK GTR trying to break my lap records. I’m aware that the circuit has vast historical significance before the existence of Playstations and this also adds to my fascination with place. It’s not a plain Jane straightforward Grand Prix circuit like Silverstone or Abu Dhabi. The Nurburgring has claimed lives, made champions and gained notoriety for years. For good or bad this has given the Nurburgring something lacking in many Grand Prix circuits: character.
Jacky Stewart called the Nurburgring the “Green Hell” because of its nature, the locals adopted the German translation “Grune Holle” instead. The most dangerous sections have caught out various experienced racing drivers. Some of the most dangerous sections include Flugplatz, Bergwerk and Fox Hole.
- The Flugplatz section is a ramp designed to make a car airborne just when it needs to turn into the corner…
- Fox Hole is a very fast, narrow part of the track, which is difficult to judge and has resulted in many crashes.
- Bergwerk (The Mine) is a fast corner that needs commitment as the track goes uphill from there. This area resulted in Niki Lauda’s horrendous accident and ended the Nurburgring’s time as an F1 circuit.
All of these factors are difficult to replicate in a computer game, especially the key factor, fear. This all meant that to really experience the Green Hell, I had to go…
The fact that most car insurance is invalid on the ring and the huge amount of Gran Turismo fans aiming to replicate their computer lap is a recipe for disaster. Even so I finally decided to combine it with a visit to northern France with my brother. Myself and my brother drove my car, a 2004 Honda S2000 GT from the UK to the Dover ferry port, crossed the channel and drove on to Amiens in Northern France to stay for a few days. We then got up early on Sunday, and trekked across France and Belgium on the E42 and into Germany towards Cologne before heading south towards the Rhineland-Palatinate.
Driving through dense, dark forests of western Germany towards the town of Nurburg was spectacular. After waving to the first of many Porsche GT3s, we started to make good time. Eventually we emerged from the autumn colours of the German forests to see the Nurburgring complex, a sprawling, grey mecca of motorsport. The smell of burning tyres greeted us as we jumped out of the car, a drift competition was in full swing on one of the smaller circuits near the Grand Prix track.
The rich history of the cars and drivers pervades all the buildings and areas nearby. Friendly petrolheads waved and rev their cars in this isolated corner of Germany. Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sports cars are scattered everywhere. In particular, Porsches and BMWs reign supreme. BMWs own driving course is based by the Nurburgring and features loads of BMW M4s in the car park. It was quite a sight:
The Nordschleife Weather
We only set off from France once we confirmed the weather was forecast to be good. Once we’d arrived the weather seemed to be getting better and better. I was getting worried about something terrible happening during my lap, but bought a lap ticket in the info center anyway. A man and his son bought one too (we later saw them in a Ferrari) perhaps I’d be safe after all? I had a 500km drive back to France later that day, so I needed to bring the car home in one piece.
We made our way to the entrance to the circuit and watched as a still smoking, ruined BMW M3 was taken away on the back of a recovery truck. Even more anxious now, I pulled into the toll area, alongside various exotica in my little Honda. The friendly ticket guy scanned my card, and the toll barrier went up and he waved us through… I’d like to say I accelerated hard, but I was fairly cautious up the main straight. I probably managed one corner until the first car was bearing down on me in my mirrors. A black Subaru STI went around the outside of my car before I could even move over.
Crossing the start finish line, more cars went past. Locals in old BMWs sped past, then the Porsches came… All GT3 spec, some RSs too, filling my rear view, moving over meant they could get past, but put me off the racing line. A Lamborghini and Ferrari sped past, no point even trying to stay ahead of them. The scale of the circuit was starting to bewilder me!
As a Nurburgring newbie, I found I was looking behind at incoming traffic as much as I was looking ahead. This made for a slow lap, and meant even more cars came past. As the lap went on, I started to push my car. A Porsche 911 that had been behind me since the lap started started to get close. I pushed harder and harder and threw my S2000 into the famous Karussell to stay ahead. This was one of the few corners I negotiated well, and with some commitment.
Down into one corner I was surprised to see a huge crowd watching the cars. Out of the technical section and the second banked corner, I pushed the car more, but my lap was beginning to come to an end. I was relieved, excited and tense all at the same time. My heart still beats harder thinking about my lap around the Nurburgring. I got everything that I wanted from it, and no damage sustained (other than a slightly bruised ego).
I saw some incredible machinery and waved and chatted to petrol heads from all over the world. As we watched from various vantage points on the circuit, we found it clear that this famous place was built before health and safety was a “thing”. Sneaking through fences to get better visibility is an all too easy option in many parts of the circuit. Again, this adds to the notoriety of this beautiful but dangerous racing track.
We visited the castle in the middle of the circuit and watched the variety of cars speed up Tiergarten. From Nissan Micras to brutally loud 997 Turbos.
Walking back to the car past the the closed shops and abandoned rollercoaster, I realised what a strange place of contradictions the Nurburgring is. Though it’s packed with history and tradition, it’s full of tacky mementos. There are tales of heroics and celebration, but murmurs of drivers killed and careers ended. Also despite its incredible popularity the Nurburgring is financially insecure.
We set off back to Amiens via Germany and Belgium. Driving at speed on the German Autobahns was strange and boring after the drama and danger of the Nurburgring. Sadly it is the kind of place that won’t be accessible forever. I’d imagine the health and safety guys will get it shut down at some point soon.
While brief, my trip to the Nurburgring was brilliant fun and I’m keen to go again. I’m so glad I visited and explored. This part of Germany is full of beautiful countryside and friendly petrolheads. I’d probably prefer a trackday in future over a touristenfahrten day as it seemed risky in my own car (especially as I had a 500km drive back).
I definitely need more practice on a driving simulator before returning. I’ve studied various guides (this is a good one from Fast Car Magazine) and apparently passenger laps are a good way to learn the lines around the circuit.
There seems to be loads of companies hiring out cars on the circuit, so I’d probably end up doing that in future. There is also the option of using a GT86 on the circuit too, which I’d imagine would be fun. I’ll always remember my first lap at the Nurburgring; it was by no means a quick lap, but it was still unforgettable!