The Nürburgring is a 150,000-person capacity motorsports complex located in the town of Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It features a bland Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer Nurburgring Nordschleife ‘North loop’ track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. The north loop is 20.8 km (12.9 miles) long and has more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) of elevation change from its lowest to highest points.
The Nürburgring was famously nicknamed as “The Green Hell” by Sir Jackie Stewart after he won the 1968 German Grand Prix amid a rainstorm and thick fog.
The circuit is located amidst dense forest covers in the mountains and that’s why Sir Jackie Stewart nicknamed it “The Green Hell”. Now that I have visited the place and been on the track I now fully understand why he named it so, and never was a name so apt. God knows how they used to race flimsy F1 deathtraps in all weather on so deadly a track. The drivers of that F1 generation were heroic. That is for sure.
To The Green Hell
The Nurburgring is just under 500km from Calais and using the E40, you drive through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands before entering Germany near Cologne. It took me more than 3hrs to cover the 170 km to Folkstone to catch the 6:30 PM train. It took me only one hour more to cover the 500 km from Calais to my hotel in Adenau, Germany. Sigh.
I won’t bore you with the details of the drive, a mundane, motorway slog for the most part, but I did enjoy the hours and hours of precious solitude. I even switched off the music, so for hours and hours, it was just me, in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the sound of the motorsport-bred flat-six for company.
The last 20 km or of the trip was on a deserted climbing and twisting mountain road through the dense forests. The majesty of the place would only be fully revealed the next morning. I rolled into my hilltop hotel well past midnight, retrieved the room keys from its hiding place and ‘crashed’ almost immediately after entering my room.
I woke up nice and early on Saturday, filled with excitement for the day ahead. There is nothing like the prospect of completing a ‘bucket list’ activity to get one’s jaded juices flowing. I remember the first time I read about the Nurburgring as a skinny kid in the early ’80s in Lagos, Nigeria. It was an account of Nikki Lauda’s horrific accident in the 1976 German Grand Prix in Motorsport magazine. To buy this magazine, I had to sneak out of the house, jump on the most lethal mode of transport known to man, the ‘Molue’, and head to the Marina area of Lagos Island. I spent 2 blissful hours in Marina poring over the two-month-old magazine and that article made a permanent impression on me.
I wolfed down the excellent Frühstück (breakfast, we were in Germany after all) jumped in my car and headed towards the circuit about 8km away.
The hotel was on a hill in Adenau and it offered the most stunning views of the surrounding countryside as I drove down to the main street of the motorsport capital of the world. The route from the Adenau town center to the track itself was just as beautiful, lush and very green. Ahhh, I see. The nickname ‘Green Hell’ suddenly made more sense. It would make even more sense later on.
I arrived at an already buzzing circuit and parked in a fast-filling car park with a dizzying array of fast and exotic cars and met up with Dave and the other UK-based track junkies with whom I’d traveled.
We stayed in this car park for a while admiring the powerful machinery parked there as well as the ones coming in and out of the car park. Every generation of M3, GT3, and GTRS was represented. No sooner than you’ve thought you’ve seen it all, you’d see something else that would cause you to revise that opinion.
And this was just in the parking areas!
Nurburgring Tourist Day. We had picked a Nurburgring Tourist Day for this visit and the fascinating thing about a Tourist Day is that anyone can turn up, buy a ticket, accept the terms and conditions (sign their life away) and drive on one of the most dangerous and thrilling tracks on the planet, THE racetrack, for only 30 euros a lap PAYG (Pay As You Go). Safety equipment is not even mandatory. It is harder to register for a piddly karting session in the UK. You can drive for as little or as much as your heart and car can handle.
You’ve got to love the Germans.
The other incredible thing about a ‘Tourist Day’, and I can scarcely believe this, is that the rules of the public road apply because it is designated a ‘toll road’ and not a race track. This means that if someone wipes you out at 180mph and it is shown to be their fault, they are liable!
You’ve got to love the Germans.
Unlike on the public roads though, if you crash and damage the Armco and safety barries, they will bill you for the cost of replacing the damaged sections and that is not cheap, the record ‘Ring armco bill is 15,000 euros! Yikes!
If your car unfortunately catches fire, as one BMW M5 did while we were there, pray that it burns on the grass verges and not on the asphalt, or else you will be billed for a section of tarmac. And that is not cheap.
You’ve got to love the Germans.
The First Lap
Dave, a UK-based car and ‘Ring nut, had promised me passenger laps in his hard-working, track-ready Porsche 911 (996.1) GT3. This will be the first lesson in my Nurburgring Nordschleife education.
I jumped in and strapped-in, he had a full racing harness and racing bucket seats which would prove invaluable later on, and we headed through the barriers to start my first-ever (warm-up) lap of the Nurburgring’s 20.8 km Nordschleife circuit.
There are 154 corners on the Nordschleife circuit and they came thick and fast. How on earth are you supposed to master this circuit? These are the ‘sections’ of the track as listing all the corners is impractical.
Km 0 – km 1. Antoniusbuche, Tiergarten, Hohenrain.
The start. A fast left kink where we pass 2 cars in quick succession. Slower cars stay on the right. You overtake on the left.
Km 2 – km 4. Hatzenbach, Hocheichen, Quiddelbacher-Höhe
We pass the grand Prix circuit on the left before taking the Hatzenbach right-hander then on through to the first ‘jump’ of the circuit at Quiddelbacher-Höhe which can cause trouble if taken wrong. A lot of trouble.
Km 4 – km 6. Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz, Aremberg
We survived the first ‘jump’ and arrive at the double apex of Flugplatz and then onto another ‘jump’ just before Schwedenkreuz and then it is the 100-degree right-hander, Aremberg.
Km 6 – km 8. Fuchsröhre, Adenauer Forst, Metzgesfeld.
It is steep downhill from Aremberg where we plunged into another famous corner, Fuchsröhre (Foxhole). You need good brakes and a stable car here because you need to shed a lot of speed to tackle the 2nd-slowest section of the track, Adenauer Forst, before accelerating hard to over 100 mph.
Km 8 – km 11. Kallenhard, Wehrseifen, Ex-Mühle, Bergwerk.
We despatch Kallenhard, a weird, not-constant-radius corner then we are into the ‘miss-hit-miss’ series of kerbs. The name is clear, you should miss the first kerb, hit the second and miss the third.
Km 12 – km 14. Kesselchen, Klostertal, Steilstrecke, Carraciola-Karussell.
The track snakes left then right (Dave ‘straight lines’ this section) before the near-180 degree Steilstrecke corner, and almost immediately afterward we were onto one of the most famous corners in motorsport, rivaled only in fame by Eau Rouge in Spa, the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, and Monaco’s Loews hairpin. The Karussell. Again, Dave shows his experience by taking the correct line and speed through the heavily-banked Karussell. Cars take a beating here and I winced as the car’s suspension and underside took a heavy battering. There was also no run-off here.
Km 14 – km 16. Hohe Acht, Hedwigshöhe, Wippermann, Eschbach, Brünnchen.
Dave punches us out of the Karussell and onto the following straight before the 90-degree Hohe Acht (one of the highest sections of the track) and the ‘enjoyable’ technical section that follows. Double right, Double left.
Km 16 – km 19. Brünnchen, Pflanzgarten, Stefan-Bellof-S, Schwalbenschwanz.
Brünnchen is known as ‘YouTube corner because this is where spectators and photographers gather. You bin it here and your accident will be on ‘YouTube’ in minutes. A long, sweeping left leads on to Pflanzgarten a dip or cliff depending on how fast you are going. That is the last real jump of the lap and I instructed Dave NOT to get any air here (haha), then it is fast run through the Stefan-Bellof-S’ before…
Km 19 – Km 20. Döttinger Höhe.
The technical right-hand turns of Galgenkopf and Döttinger Höhe before the dash back to the gantry that signals the end of the lap.
Wow! What a lap! The twists and turns! The climbs and drops! Nothing prepares you for a lap of this most daunting circuit. A wild, dangerous ride through a green forest.
The Green Hell. Indeed.
Nothing prepares you for a fast lap of the Nordschleife, it reminds me of a rollercoaster, one you are in control of. I later saw one car pull over to allow his passenger to vomit by the side of the track. I fully understand why.
It is an addictive shot of pure adrenaline and if you are an adrenaline junkie and a petrolhead as I am, I guarantee that you will be immediately hooked, just as I was.
Laps over, I devoted the rest of the day to photography. You can see so much detail through a telephoto lens and appreciate the nuances and dynamics of a fast car being expertly driven on a proper track. I shot at two locations; Brünnchen and Pflanzgarten. The former is known as ‘YouTube’ corner and the latter is famous for many Nurburgring ‘landing’ pictures.
I winced every time I saw and heard the expensive, graunching ‘thwack’ of a car’s undertray as it hit the ground after the Pflanzgarten jump.
Adenau. Landhaus Sonnenhof.
The hills are alive to the sound of engines. The wail of highly-tuned engines reverberating off the hills woke me up on Sunday morning. Bliss! I could live here. In fact, I’ve resolved to spend more time here and will be looking for a suitable car in which to do so. What? did I not come in a 911 GT3 which was actually developed at the Nurburgring? What is more suitable than the GT3?
I’ll explain later.
I left my beautiful hotel, the Landhaus Sonnenhof, and made my way back to the track and the countryside appeared even more beautiful on Sunday than the day before. I think the bright sunshine was responsible for making a beautiful place even more beautiful.
I had deferred my own drive on the ‘Ring till Sunday as I wanted to gain first-hand, on-track experience of the ‘Ring and just what the risks are and after sleeping on it, I decided against driving my own car on the ‘Ring.
These are my reasons:
1. Insurance. No UK company would insure a car during a Nurburgring ‘Tourist Day’ and after attending one, I fully understand why. There were at least 3 crashes and one fire on Saturday alone. While the risks of driving on track are acceptable to me, the lack of insurance is not. I later met a professional racing driver who also never drives on a ‘Tourist Day’.
2. My car was too fast. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? One of the most capable cars on the planet, one which was honed at this place, was just too fast for a ‘Ring novice. You see, I know myself, I know I’d try to push and at least do a fast lap, and at the ‘Ring, that is a surefire route to a crash. I could not see myself pootling round in a car as good as a GT3.
3. Track Knowledge. After my passenger laps, I knew I’d need a lot more track time in something more forgiving to learn the track. Those in the know reckon I’d need at least 1-2 years to learn the track and hone my skills in something more forgiving and dare I say it, slower.
4. My car is simply too expensive. My last track day insurance excess was, wait for it, £15,000!!!!! I can buy an entire track-ready E46 BMW M3 for that amount. Basically, I cannot afford to lose my current car. It is better to get a track-ready car that I can afford to lose.
Since I had made the decision not to drive, I could focus on enjoying the day, the place, the cars, and, the atmosphere. The Nurburgring offers an incredible display of cars and driving. It is a living, breathing monument to the internal combustion engine. You meet all sorts of people and the car chat and car ‘geekery’ was off the scale. Honestly, you are not a fully-qualified Petrolhead until you have made a pilgrimage to the Nurburgring.
You can even pay to be driven around in one of the ‘Ring Taxis’, special track-prepared cars driven by professionals whose main job is to drive around this track, day after day, at insane speed. I wonder how many customers they would have thrilled and scared witless over the years.
My favourite ‘Ring Taxis’ were the ‘Beasts of the Green Hell‘, a pair of green AMG GT R Pros which were among the fastest cars on track. One overtook us as if we were standing still on my first lap. We had easily been the fastest car on the circuit until they did.
I took 2,200 photos (I have still not processed them all) and it was hard to tear myself away from the track action and head back to the car park in a meadow opposite the viewing area at Pflanzgarten. The contrast between the tranquility in that stunning meadow and the mechanical mayhem going on on the track 100 meters away was stark and incongruous.
And that is the magic of this place.
I started the long journey back home, driving past the Nurburgring Grand-Prix track with its huge image of Sabine Schmidt (Top Gear), and then on to a beautiful, winding, descending A-road which led onto the famous Bundesautobahn 1 (Federal Motorway 1). This is where a man, driving a VW passenger van with one hand (the other hand casually draped across the passenger seat headrest), sat on my tail at 140mph. An 8-seat passenger van!
I smiled, pulled over and let him past, thinking that when the day that we are finally forced to drive silent, battery-powered eco-boxes, or worse, be driven autonomously in one, comes, the Nurburgring will be the last bastion of the internal combustion engine.
Till the next time.