By on May 20, 2009

I realized I was airborne when my steering inputs had no effect on the direction of my Carrera. At the point the ass-engine configured rocketship started its atmospheric re-entry, several things went through my mind. If the rear-end breaks loose, do I keep my foot down? What happens if I lose it? Am I going to crash? When the rear tires made contact with terra-nürburg, and I was able to counter steer in a brilliant fashion (what really happened was Porsche Active Stability Management once again made me a driving god), all thoughts of impaling my Porker into the Armco ceased. Once again, I was driving the dream and having the time of my life on the most legendary driving circuit in the world, the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

I had plenty of preconceptions about the legendary Nürburgring. Located in the forests of the Eifel Mountains in Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany, the track was something of a mystery. I didn’t know how my past racing and driving experience would prepare me. I spent hours pouring over every detail I could glean from Ben Lovejoy’s Nürburgring Guide.” I learned about the “Rules,” the dry line, the wet line, and all manner of factoids. I spent countless hours driving various cars around an animated track on Grand Turismo 4, hoping the track layout would cement itself in my mind. I even watched videos on YouTube of various runs and wrecks.

Nothing will truly prepare you for the Nürburgring. Ben’s guide will make you more knowledgeable and safer, GT4 will make you not as clueless, and the BMW Ring Taxi will give you a good idea what to expect. But you MUST treat the ’Ring with respect or else it will turn on you quicker than a vengeful Roman God and shred your shiny chariot against a Ben Hur wall of plastic.

I arrived at the ‘Ring wracked with anticipation, fear, excitement, and rational calmness, all alternating in a wicked mixture of adrenaline and testosterone. I parked in the paddocks with several Porsche GT3s, bought my Nürburgring Card, a credit card/proximity badge that you load laps onto, and sidled up to my steed.

As I approached the barriers, the anticipation increased, the fear crept away, the bar raised, and I was off! At 20 kmh, until you get past the safety cones . . . and THEN I was off!

In air combat, we use terms like “grind,” “pump,” and “banzai”; saying anything longer would cause you to die as closure speeds reach four times the speed of sound. You must remain completely calm, yet on edge to reach your peak performance—and still make rational decisions that will save your life (but not the other bastards’). Allowing panic and excitement to creep into the actions controlling your aircraft will bring you to the terminal phase of flight a lot quicker than you had planned.

Piloting a vehicle at insane speeds around a track with blind corners in iffy weather in a car carrying its weight in the worst possible location created the closest sensation to that feeling of aerial dogfighting I have experienced on the ground.

The Porsche’s 3.8L flat six screamed and howled as it switched cams. The tires groaned as they bit into the pavement, trying to counteract the extreme moments of inertia. The Porsche sent immediate feedback to my arms as the suspension sent trembles and shudders up my spine, telling me exactly what the car was doing, and that it (not me) was still in control.

I had no idea what I was doing, nor where I was going. All I knew: slow in, find the apex, fast out. Have a nice day! And I did it again, and again, and again till my lap card was exhausted. My upper body ached from wresting the wheel around and bracing myself against the racing seats. My brakes and tires smelled like the NASCAR pits.

I was in Valhalla with other warriors who are able to go into battle as many times as desired—as long as its between the hours of 5:30-7:30pm Mon-Sat, and 8:00am-7:30pm Sunday. And the legendary hall of victors in the sky still has issues. Parking is a nightmare. Ringers crash with alarming regularity, sometimes into you.

Insurance companies will most likely refuse your claim should you stuff it. The Nürburgring will charge you Bailout levels of money in order to fix the barriers should you meet them. People who don’t know the “Rules” create dangerous havoc when they refuse to move over to the right to allow faster vehicles to pass (hint: put on your right turn signal and move over, I did it for a Suzuki Swift, and you should too).

Despite the few problems, I have found my Mecca. I now live 30 minutes away. Look for more tests, of both man and machine, in the weeks to come.

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34 Comments on “Editorial: The Truth About the Nürburgring Nordschleife...”


  • avatar
    schhim

    I can only hope to make it out there one day. For those who live East of the Mississippi, Hwy 129 through NC and TN is a pilgrimage every motorhead must make.

  • avatar

    Great article! And my condolences to living 30 minutes away. It can get quite boring in the Eifel, except for the track. So where DO you work? in the olden days, I would have guessed Hahn, but that’s now civilian. Ramstein is too far away.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    This is interesting stuff.

    As a lifetime slow driver, I can’t say race tracks hold any appeal for me, but I’m glad others can enjoy them (safely).

    The marketing for the Nurburgring is nothing short of genius. That every Car and Driver-reading American knows about a single course in Germany is amazing. That every manufacturer wanting to sell a $35,000 car is obligated to test and develop it there is even more incredible.

    Since I live in the suburbs and am rarely able to exceed 60-65 miles an hour, mostly in straight lines, and frequently in stop-and-go traffic, I want my cars to be developed for those situations. But I can appreciate the appeal of cars touted to be capable of a fast lap at the Nurburgring (even if that’s only with a professional driver at the wheel) the same way the Jeep Wrangler’s off-roading potential is a selling point.

    Mike, you said most insurance companies would deny a race track claim. What did you end up doing for insurance coverage? Is there some kind of supplemental policy you are able to get?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Wonderfully written piece, Capt Mike.

    Do I see it correctly — your licence place starts with “MYK”?

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    one kinda wonders about people like toshio suzuki, walter rohrl and sabine schmidt who make it seem so easy

  • avatar
    tom

    Do I see it correctly — your licence place starts with “MYK”?

    Could also be “MTK”…although “MYK” would be much closer to the Ring…

  • avatar

    I can second the usefulness of GT4 (or Forza 2, or any other videogame which lets you drive the Nordschleife) in learning the course.

    I suspect my experience in a ’92 Saab 900 LPT was rather more pedestrian than Captain Mike’s in his 911, but no less exciting for it. A trip to the Nürburgring is absolutely essential for any pistonhead who gets the chance. Do it!

  • avatar

    @ Martin,

    My plate city code actually read “BIT”, for Bitburg, which is the city the USAEUR registration office is in, even though I live in the Wittlich region.

    @ Bertel,

    I’m currently stationed at Spangdahlem AB, and chose to immerse myself in the German culture by living quite aways from the base, yet still have ready access to the autobahn for ultra-quick commuting (when its not raining).

    @ Berk,

    I have USAA and Allianz in a mixture that theoretically covers me should I stuff my rig. A captain in my unit bent his Cayman S to the tune of $37000 (including ‘Ring fees for Armco repair, and track closure), and USAA covered him. However, with two Porsches and two Audis on my policy, a mix of USAA and Allianz proved far, far cheaper, if a bit more ambiguous in ‘Ring coverage. I plan to never find out by driving at far saner speeds then you see some landspeeders traveling out there.

    @ everyone,

    Its all about risk and reward. Timing yourself (as in “I want a sub-9 minute time!”), and pushing the car beyond what you and it are capable of doing will always result in a situation where you are face first into a guardrail at ludicrous speed. Just enjoying the ride proves much safer, and saner as hundreds of cars navigate the ‘Ring everyday without any incidents. Its when you reach “hooligan status” that the danger really creeps in. Captain “Tex” found that out when he tried to “demonstrate” (show off) his “driving skills” and promptly found himself severely short of luck, skill, and pavement.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Nice stuff.

    Fighter pilot in 911 in full don’t-panic mode passed by a Suzuki Swift? Say more on that please. Were you slowing to exit? Was it an ME163 with Swift cladding?

  • avatar

    Mike: Congrats, a F16 driver. Better than a Porsche. Forgot about Spangdahlem, home of the 52nd….

  • avatar
    brownie

    johnny ro: I once heard some beginner track day advice that went something like… “It’s not about the car. No matter how badass you think your ride is, you will get passed by someone in a stock Miata. Just accept it, let them by safely, and watch their lines while you’re behind them – you might learn a thing or two.” I assume a Suzuki Swift corollary applies here.

  • avatar

    @ Brownie and Johnny Ro,

    Genau (exactly in German). He passed me, I followed his lines, and I learned a thing or two. Refusal to eat Humble Pie results in nasty collisions, and a huge slice of Idiot Cake with Moron Icing.

  • avatar

    Mmmmm… Idiot Cake with Moron Icing. I suppose that’s just what I’d be filling up on if I ever tried my hand at the ‘Ring.

    I rather wish there was some comparable experience available in the US, a long crazy twisty fun track that folks could visit any day of the week. As far as I know, there are occasional track days at the few decent tracks here in the States, and autocrossing clubs to allow folks to get their kicks on the weekends, but there are very few other outlets for enthusiasts to legally indulge themselves. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a country where all the racing is either done in either straight lines or circles. Zzzzzzzzz.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    The 911 would be fun around there. What I found amazing was the way the track would tempt you into higher and higher speeds and then with a camber change or doing something dumb like hitting a kerb while watching for the crazed in big Benzs or bikes, impale you with a stab of terror. The jump at Pflanzgarten is really could at doing that.

    how much is it for a some laps now?

  • avatar

    Mike – Thanks for a look at the Nurburgring. As one who takes my 335 to the track on occasion, I dream of this track and have put hundreds of laps in via GTR (in my view a better sim than GT4), and it is still daunting.

    While you’re over there, please put in my bitch to the Germans for removing Hans Stuck’s lap of the ‘ring in an M3GTR from Youtube. Hands-down, this was the most riveting ride around the ‘ring I’ve seen, and I wonder what the ZR1′s time would have been with Stuck behind the wheel…

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Ive always wanted to take a ride around the ring mostly just to do it. My STi or gsx-r would probably be pretty fun, although I think I’d probably do it during the “non-racing” times…

    Unfortunately if we go to europe, the wife wants to go to Italy. Maybe I can squeeze an Italian rental out of her….

  • avatar

    Heathroi:

    Bring money.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    edgett

    you mean this one?

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I plan on driving the ‘Ring when I’m in Germany next spring. You can rent cars to drive here:
    http://www.rent-racecar.de/gb/

    I want to drive the Golf GTI.

  • avatar
    A is A

    and I was able to counter steer in a brilliant fashion (what really happened was Porsche Active Stability Management once again made me a driving god

    Be careful. ESC has also its limits.

    When the ESC beeper/light activates, the manufacturer is telling you that you are touching the limits of the car.

    Ideally, the ESC should never be activated.

    Have fun, there.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Mike,

    Nice writing and more importantly, thank you for sharing. What an experience. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    I did 5 laps a couple years ago in an E36 328i, rented from Rent a Racecar. Short version: A definite must see for any gear head who makes to Europe. A must drive but if all you do is look thru the fence and watch, you will not be disappointed.

    Long Version
    Arrive on a Tuesday evening, 15 minutes before the track closed I walk up to Pflanzgarten. Was a little apprehensive that the ‘ring would not be all it was cracked up to be but 5 seconds was all it took to put the silly notion to bed. As I get over the rush of seeing the track, the Ring Mini came flying thru the corner. The tires were squealing almost as loudly as its B16A1 engine was screaming, awesome. Why did I leave the camera in the car?

    Wednesday, was to opened all day but was closed due to fog, only thing running was the Ring Taxi.

    Thursday, Only able to complete five laps but five laps are better then none. Stopped twice, for a couple minutes, to get out of the car and clear the head. My fastest time BTG (Bridge to Gantry) was a 9:50 on lap 3 and lowest was a 10:58 on lap 5. Started the 5th lap before they were closed the track and just cruised around trying to take it all in. My fastest speed was 126mph on lap 3 between Flugplatz and Schwedenkreuz which was the fastest part of the track, since Döttinger Höhe is neutered during Touristenfahrten.

    Chased down a E39 M5 which made me feel good but then a MkII Golf put me back in my place. The fastest bike accelerated by me on the exit of Exmühle with his Fireblade pulling a wheelie as he leaned over the tank. Didn’t see any GT3 level cars but plenty of Golfs, non-M BMWs, and a couple Opel Speedsters.

    These were the first laps I’d taken on any track but the Nürburgring has to be #1. It is long, no two turns are the same, the elevation changes make feel like a roller coaster, it’s a handling track and it’s a power track. It’s only bad feature is if one screws up it will bite back, hard. It’s best feature is I spent €105 a lap to drive it and do not regret it.

    If you are in Europe get to the ring. Don’t worry about the car, (the auto-x/race wizards among us will enjoy something better then a airport rental) but I would have enjoyed my rented Focus TDCi. Don’t buy a ticket until the track opens and then don’t buy more then 4 laps if it’s a evening opening or 8 laps for an all day. If money is tight and one doesn’t feel like risking the airport rental, bum a ride from someone who looks responsible.

    Learned the track by doing 1000x of GT4 laps (with sim tires) but it doesn’t come close to replicating the bumps or elevation changes.

  • avatar
    Eric Bryant

    My first and only experience on the ‘ring was with a borrowed motorcycle. Oh, and that bike was a rather valuable Ducati 996SPS. Yeah, no pressure. I’d say that was probably the most terrifying non-crash experience I’ve had in/on a wheeled motor vehicle.

  • avatar

    Great writing Mike!!!

  • avatar
    davey49

    TonyJZX- Practice, and throw in Manuel Reuter and John Heinricy.

  • avatar

    I had no idea what I was doing, nor where I was going. All I knew: slow in, find the apex, fast out. Have a nice day! And I did it again, and again, and again till my lap card was exhausted.

    Always the best way to drive… and, to the chagrin of the countersteering yoyos… often the fastest.

    Living just 30 minutes from any racetrack is sweet. 30 minutes from the Nurb… divine. My envy for you knows no bounds.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Great Piece Mike,

    hopefully i will be able to give the Nordshleife a go sometime in my life, and although I’ve always wanted to do it in a 911, I drove the Cayman S recently and my allegiance in the Porsche line-up shifted to the newer Porsche.

  • avatar
    maxnharry

    Great piece! Am PCSing thataway this summer and hope to at least get a ride in the Ring Taxi. Two Porsches and two Audis? Pretty cool. Care to share models/vintages? Cheers

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan

    I’ve got a dozen or so track days under my belt in a variety of cars. I’ve run The Tail of the Dragon with enthusiasm.

    But the ‘Ring scared the snot out of me.

  • avatar

    @maxnharry,

    Here’s the garage:

    2006 Porsche 911 Carrera S
    2001 Porsche Boxster S
    1984 Audi Quattro
    1978 Audi Fox GTI

    And I love them all dearly. Remember, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was Porsche + Audi, FTW.

  • avatar
    maxnharry

    Thanks Mike! VERY cool stuff!

  • avatar
    nordschleife.us

    Hi Mike!

    Great story on the greatest track on earth. That’s why we earn our money with Nordschleife accessories.
    You can check them out at http://www.nordschleife.us !
    Hope to see you sometime out there on the Nordschleife!

    Mike Dorn
    Sales Manager
    nordschleife.us

  • avatar
    carrering

    Mike, good write up and right attitude for driving the ring the first time. I have been going every summer for the past 3 years. the 911 is the most exiting car to drive there period. i’m moving to the area this summer. bringing my gt3 with me. i see several people that replied are also “locals”. we should all get together. I heard there is now a yearly pass for open lapping at the gp circuit. I drove that track before too. for drivers, that place is mecca. can’t wait to make my pilgrimage back.

  • avatar
    S14

    Mike,

    while reading your first paragraph, i thought you would be just another silly fighter jock who raises my USAA rates for stuffing another p-car into the armco… I remember a nice purdy blue GT3 parked outside the 81st that lasted all of a month and a half before he destroyed the car all over the ring with his “fighter pilot” skills.

    but then i read this;
    “Its all about risk and reward. Timing yourself (as in “I want a sub-9 minute time!”), and pushing the car beyond what you and it are capable of doing will always result in a situation where you are face first into a guardrail at ludicrous speed. Just enjoying the ride proves much safer, and saner as hundreds of cars navigate the ‘Ring everyday without any incidents. Its when you reach “hooligan status” that the danger really creeps in. Captain “Tex” found that out when he tried to “demonstrate” (show off) his “driving skills” and promptly found himself severely short of luck, skill, and pavement.” and realized that we share the same attitude towards respecting the ring!

    If you by chance read this tonight, a few friends and I will be leaving the front gate at 1630 ish tomorrow (23rd) to get a few evening laps in, then dinner at Pistonclause for my 27th birthday. With any luck, I’ll be going again Sunday morning.


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