After a pandemic-enforced hiatus from the Nurburgring, I return to the best, most challenging track in the world. I thought by 2022, I’d be close to achieving the target I set for myself, and the sole reason I bought my E46 M3: dipping under the magical 8 minutes for a BTG (bridge to gantry) lap of the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife (Northern Loop) circuit, also known as the ‘Green Hell’.
Achieving this goal is not the only reason I started making the 1,200km return trip to the Eifel region of Germany several times a year as you will read in this article.
Day 1 – Landhaus Sonnenhof, Adenau
One fine Thursday afternoon in August, I loaded my E46 M3 road-legal track car and headed to Folkestone to catch a late afternoon train to Calais. It was searingly hot and my car has no AC nor radio and is almost completely stripped of all comfort and refinement. I’d lose over 3kgs by the time I made the return journey.
I was waved through to board a half-empty train as soon as I reached Folkestone and I was in Calais 40-odd minutes later to begin the 450km drive to the ‘Ring.
I like driving in Europe, the motorways are better, and you can maintain a higher average speed. Just make sure you don’t become a victim of the over-zealous Gendarmes in France.
I really do not mind doing these trips on my own, and the lack of a radio or any form of entertainment does not really bother me. On the contrary, I relish these periods of solitude and deep contemplation with only the sound of the S54 engine in front of me and the whine of the Drexler diff behind me for company.
I managed to plunge an entire branch of Burger King into darkness
The journey to Adenau was peaceful, soothing even, and almost without incident, except when I stopped to refuel and charge my phone’s battery at the Burger King outlet there (don’t ask why). I plugged my adapter into one of their wall sockets and managed to trigger a short circuit, plunging the entire area into darkness and depriving many hungry travelers of food.
After apologizing to the manager, I beat a hasty retreat.
I arrived at my hotel in the hills above Adenau in the early hours. I’ve stayed at the Landhaus Sonnenhof before. Its location is high above Adenau and the views it offers is the reason I keep coming back. I describe that visit here. See the pictures in the gallery above.
Day 2 – The Devil’s Diner
The next day, Friday was spent working. If there is one good thing to come from the covid pandemic, it is the almost universal acceptance of WFH (working from home), or in this case, WFA (working from Adenau). This year alone I’ve WFC’ed, WFM’ed, WFD’ed, and WFG’ed. (Cape Town, Mallorca, Dubai, and Greece).
I did have one issue to sort out, my front number plate fell off in transit (wink) and I could not get on track for that evening’s TF session without one. The guys in the ‘Nurburgring Life’ Facebook group sent me to the nearby Blackfish graphics company who made a replacement number plate AND a sun visor for me in double-quick time.
Work done, I jumped into the car and set the destination in Waze to ‘The Devil’s Diner’. The Devil’s Diner is an American diner-style restaurant that is situated at the entrance of the most fearsome circuit on the planet. Its car park is often littered with an incredible array of cars in different states of tune and modification. Just hanging out in the car park watching the cars enter and exit the circuit is a treat in itself. If you love cars, this is the place for you.
Enough ogling, it was time to do what I’d driven 500km for: to drive the ‘Green Hell’.
It was warm, dry, and cloudy as I went through the barriers to start my first lap of this epic track in two years, and boy, was it an eye-opener! I’d only done 10 laps or so prior to this visit but it was like I’d never seen the track before. The quest for a Sub 8-minute time will have to start from the beginning. I managed only three laps that evening due to the almost inevitable stoppages caused by multiple crashes.
Day 3 – The Green Hell
The next day, Saturday, I was woken up by the sound of highly tuned engines reverberating around the hills of Adenau, and that brought a sleepy smile to my face. I showered, dressed, had breakfast, and was out the hotel door as quickly as possible. The route to the Devil’s Diner from my hotel was as beautiful as I remembered it and I thought how lucky the petrolheads in this part of Germany were, to have such a track in such a place.
I do like the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife circuit’s darker nickname, ‘The Green Hell’ or Grüne Hölle as the Germans call it. This name was bestowed on it by Sir Jackie Stewart after he won the German Grand Prix in 1968 in a rainstorm and thick fog. The location of the most daunting and unforgiving race track in hills covered in dense green forest means this nickname is very, very apt. I do love it. It succinctly conveys the seriousness and the challenge of driving and mastering this track.
Track knowledge is key
I parked up for a short while to survey the scene and take a few pictures. I love this place and I did not even mind the fact I was here alone. It was soon time to drive, to start the process of learning this most challenging track and I strapped in, donned my Arai helmet and gloves, and headed through the barriers onto the hallowed tarmac of ‘The Green Hell’. My first few laps were a voyage of discovery, it takes time for a near-novice like me to build a rhythm around this epic track. Especially on a crowded TF (Touristenfahrten) day. On this track, apart from the skill required to pilot a car near the limit, you need track knowledge. Track knowledge is key to maintaining speed and setting decent lap times here.
On a TF day, the spread of driver ability is very wide, there are the day trippers who just want to experience the Nordschleife and there are the ‘Ring experts, those who pass you at what first appears to be impossible speeds in the most unlikely places. One second the track is clear, and then the next, there is a train of Manthey Racing prepared GT3 RS’ behind you eager to get past. The mix of really quick track-prepared cars you see here is one of the draws of this place.
The Best Petrol Station in the World
I managed 3 laps, two with yellow flags at two different points before the circuit closed as I was about to start my fourth. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of TF days, the stoppages. I think TF has become a victim of its own success, too many cars, and too many heroes. Accidents and lengthy stoppages are inevitable consequences of these.
I used this stoppage to fill up my tank and visit what I’ve determined is the best petrol station in the world: the ED station at Döttinger Höhe. Honestly, this station is worth a trip to the area by itself. You can get a coffee and a cold drink in air-conditioned comfort and spot all manner of supercars and track cars being filled up with RON 98. If you like ogling cars, this is the Tankstelle (gas station) for you. You can also have car-related chats with knowledgeable strangers while being tempted by the merchandise inside.
I think the TF has become a victim of its own success
After a delay of one hour, the track went green and I headed back for more laps. I managed a grand total of two laps before the track closed again, which was not surprising at all as I’d come across the scene of an incident involving a biker, who was lying motionless by the side of the track. I do hope he is ok.
I used this lengthy delay to drive to the Brünnchen car park to wait for the track to reopen and to take some photos at ‘YouTube Corner’. You do see a lot through a long lens, little details and car movements you’d otherwise miss.
There is usually a sizeable crowd here and many of them were clearly making a day of it. There were a few motorhomes with deckchairs and coolers full of cold German beer. I do not drink beer, but on such a hot afternoon, I’d have done a sub-8 time for one. The Nurburgring is clearly a big part of their culture and their lives in these parts. I do envy them.
The track reopened about an hour after I arrived and I managed to get some satisfactory photos before I headed back to do more laps. I managed to do two more laps before the circuit closed again. I gave up after this last closure
The Nurburgring is clearly a part of their culture in these parts
Day 4 – The Lap
Sunday, I woke up early so I could get to the track as soon as it opened to maximise my track time. I arrived to find the area as busy as I’ve ever seen it. Clearly, many others had had the same idea. Sigh. So I parked up in an almost-full car park to wait for a lull in the proceedings and the arrival of my friend, RR, who was driving all the way from Luxembourg to meet me. RR arrived in his Guards Red 911 (991.2) GT3 and before we could head out for any laps, the track was closed for what seemed to be the umpteenth time in only 3 days. Sigh.
We used the ensuing lengthy stoppage to head to the Grand Prix track to watch the ADAC Masters race and take a quick tour through the ‘Ring Boulevard’ where we just, just managed to escape with no damage to our wallets. We then headed back to the Devil’s Diner to do the first laps of the day (finally). This is my description of a BTG lap from MY perspective.
Bridge to T13. I love this first section, it is fast with a lovely dip but I still struggled with the Hohenrain and T13 sections, lifting too early (this would be a recurring theme during this lap) and braking way too early for T13 (another recurring theme).
Hatzenbach to Schwedenkreuz. I love the Hatzenbach and Hohenein section with its many corners, one leading to the next and I cannot wait to get up to speed through here. The downhill after Hocheichen is a hard acceleration zone if you know the track, before the fast and sweet Flugplatz, before entering the fast section leading to the difficult (for me) Schwedenkreuz.
Aremberg, Fuchsröhre to Kallenhard: I brake too much for Aremberg and scrub too much speed off and this limits my speed all through the next flat out section to another of my favourite sections of any track anywhere: The Foxhole. I actually felt some negative G-forces as I flew threw the compression. I mess up the line through Adenauer Forst but somehow manage to nail the very fast left-hander Metzgesfeld and the nameless uphill left before braking for the Kallenhard righthander. Then there is a downhill left, followed by three right turns! I cannot recall a similar complex of right handers anywhere else.
Don’t be fooled into thinking I knew where the heck I was
Wehrseifen,Breidscheid, Bergwerk. The next corner is the tight left turn of Wehrseifen where I brake too late and misjudge just how much braking is required…needless to say, I ran wide and waved to the apex as I sailed past. This meant I didn’t carry enough speed through the next sweeping righthander which led into the short blast into a left, followed by another right and downhill into ‘YouTube’ corner, Breidscheid. Don’t be fooled into thinking I knew where the heck I was while driving these laps, I didn’t. I’m describing the lap by looking at the footage I took and referring to a circuit map.
After the YouTube corner comes the steep uphill Ex-Mühle right-hander and I back off here again because I did not know what came after the crest, which actually was a left kink before the hard braking for the tight Bergwerk right.
Kesselchen, Caracciola-Karussell, Hohe Acht. Next comes the fast blast through the heaviliy-forested Kesselchen-Mutkurve-Klostertal sections. This leads to the tight Steilstrecke righthander from which you accelerate slighly uphill before diving left into one of the the most iconic corners in motorsport, the 180 degree, steeply banked left loop called the Karussell.
Cars take a beating through the Karussell as the car bucks around on the rough concrete surface. If you have any mechanical sympathy, you will wince the first time you go through the Karussell. I spot my exit out of the Karussell and feel the car slide a bit as the car popped out of the bowl. The track bears right and left and then steeply uphill right towards the blind Hohe Acht.
Wipperman, Brünnchen to Pflanzgarten. Then comes a series of turns before the Eisbach lefthander before a short drop into two right handers of Brünnchen, where there is always a crowd ready to capture any driver running out talent or grip or both. You climb out of the Brünnchen corners into the blind and steep Eiskurve (Ice Curve) before running flat chat downhill into another iconic section, the Pflanzgarten jump. I do not think I’ve gone fast enough to get much ‘air’ over the jump. My time will come.
Sprunghügel (Pflanzgarten 2) to Döttinger Höhe. There is a high-speed right next, followed by a left sweeper before approaching the lefthand turn of Schwalbenschwanz at speed followed by the ‘mini’ Karussell, a far gentler and shorter version of the Karussell. When I hit the Karussell, I know I’m nearly ‘home’. Galgenkopf, a blind, sweeping, tightening radius corner is next. I always struggle to hold the correct line and maintain speed which is crucial for the following Döttinger Höhe straight and the gantry that marks the end of a ‘bridge to gantry’ lap.
We suffered a sudden loss of pressure in the GT3’s left rear tyre on the way into the ‘Foxhole’
I enjoyed that lap…in fact, I’d enjoyed every lap even though you breath a sigh of relief when you pull into the car park unscathed. This lap tempted RR to use up the last lap he still had on his ‘Green Hell’ card and we jumped into his beautiful and well used GT3. No matter how well sorted an E46 M3 is, it is simply no match for a well-driven GT3. Wow! Its performance is on another level. I was still marveling at its performance on this track as we approached the Foxhole and suffered a sudden loss of pressure in the left rear tyre. Phew! That was close. I shudder to think what would have happened if it had happened at full speed in the Foxhole compression.
We limped on and exited the track at Breidscheid where we summoned Porsche Assist. I had a much-needed cold coke with RR before taking a 50 Euro!!! taxi back to the Devil’s Diner. I managed one more lap before yet another track closure for an accident so serious, they would not be reopening the track that day.
Day 5 – It is All Over
It was back to WFA on Monday. I spent the morning and early afternoon working and getting ready to start the long journey back to Calais. Early that afternoon I loaded up the car and entered ‘Calais’ into the Waze app on the phone. Waze directed me onto the L10 and 410 and these two roads went through the most beautiful German countryside. I kept stopping to take pictures and enjoy the beautiful countryside surrounding my M3 and I. I almost did not want to join the motorway when that Waze woman directed me to do so, but I had a train to catch and reluctantly left the beautiful country roads. it was at that point I started plotting my next trip and expert tuition is a must. I also need a better and more efficient way to gain experience on the Norrdschleife. TF is definitely not that, which is a shame as TF does offer a unique atmoshphere.
For a few days in August, I totally lost myself in this unique place
Sometime later, as I approached Calais, I thought about the past few days trying to summarise another trip to the Nurburgring. Objectively, I’d only inched closer to my lap time goal but crucially, the ‘Ring no longer seemed such a daunting place anymore. Objectively, I had not achieved much, but I had enjoyed every minute of this trip to this most unique cathedrals of speed. Every minute from the time I boarded the train in Folkestone till the time I returned to the chaos in Calais was memorable. I’d shared the hallowed track with some epic cars and drivers, ogled the best track-prepared cars on the planet and observed and photographed them in action. I’d hung out with a few petrolheads who made my obsession with cars seem normal and for a few days, I’d immersed myself in the heart of European car culture. For a few days in August, I totally lost myself in this unique place and forgot all my problems.
I wouldn’t change a single thing (I lie, I’d reduce the stoppages).
‘Till the next time.