Nothing prepares you. No number of laps on a PlayStation simulator, or the countless hours spent watching YouTube video guides prepares you for the first time you navigate the Fuchsrorhe – or to give the complex of corners its more common name, the Foxhole. A set of consecutive kinks means your body is already being swayed side to side, at the mercy of the changing cambers and gradients, before being plummeted down a drop in elevation that wouldn’t feel out of place at your local rollercoaster park, blurred emerald green trees flashing past in your peripherals and an overbearing sensation that your stomach might very well exit out of your throat. No matter, it still feels as if you’ve carried ample speed into the blind uphill left-hander that follows, the shriek of the V8 ahead of you filling the cabin as it draws closer to the rev limiter only serving to solidify that impression. It’s not until you glance at the rear view mirror to find it full of Suzuki Swift – a supermini with much less than HALF the kilowatts of the BMW M3 you thought you were so expertly piloting – furiously flashing its headlights in an attempt to overtake you, do you realize why Jackie Stewart called this place the Green Hell. Be in no doubt, the Nurburgring Nordschleife is as challenging, intimidating, but enthralling as the folklore suggests.
The first step to surviving, and thus wholeheartedly enjoying, the Nordschleife – the 20.1 kilometre-long northern loop of the Nurburgring that serves as the main attraction, alongside the considerably shorter and more modern (read far less exciting) Grand Prix circuit – is understanding that it is unlike any racetrack you have experienced before. Even the most technical local circuits – Kyalami for instance – can be learnt and acclimatized to in two, maybe three trackdays; the mostly expansive run off areas and forgiving, low kerbs allowing an experienced pedaller to find the limits of their cars, and abilities, safely and in a relatively short space of time. Not so with this behemoth. The better part of 150 corners, most lined with 40 cm kerbs, means memorizing every braking point, turn-in point and apex is a drawn out affair and requires considerably more laps than most will fit in during a fleeting visit. Experienced ‘Ring-goers reckon that one hundred laps is the minimum, in fact…
If all this sounds nerve-wrecking and a mite scary, it’s because your first experience of the ‘Ring is exactly that. These warnings were the same ones drilled into my head by the instructors at RSR Nurburg – the rather fabulous company that I rented a delicious array of track-prepped cars from for my visit – during the preliminary safety briefing. An hour later, and exiting a corner to see the organs of a 458 Speciale littered across the asphalt and the car itself in a barely recognizable state provided a humbling reminder that the Nordschleife suffers no fools. The remainder of my first day out was subsequently a blur of conflicting emotions as to how one place could provide such elation – yet occasionally despair – all at once, whilst still trying to savour a bucket list moment.
It wasn’t until later that night, walking through the village of Nurburg en route to the fabled Pistenklause restaurant (whose famous steak-on-a-stone attracts more racing drivers than a Le Mans grid), the darkness of the narrow road pierced by the lit signage of BMW’s Nurburgring test centre (and the equally bright, orange M3 GTS displayed within) did it strike me: there’s a reason performance car makers test so extensively at the Nurburgring.
One lap ties in every challenge a real-world back road could throw at a car – varying cambers and surfaces, drops and rises in elevation, the lot. So if manufacturers use it as a test-bed for how their vehicles perform on the sort of roads enthusiastic drivers may stumble upon when taking the long way home, why not treat it in the same way, driving as you would an unknown but tasty bit of public road? Armed with this new attitude, the next day provided the most memorable experience of my admittedly brief motoring career thus far. The late afternoon session was thankfully quiet, with most of the Easter weekend crowd having migrated back home, and the weather Gods had played ball too; the track bone dry and beams of sunlight filtering through the forest and into the snug cabin of ‘my’ Lotus Exige. Being both left-hand drive and manual, there were inevitably a few missed gearchanges to begin with (think writing with your non-dominant hand and you won’t be far off), and coupled with the inherent nervousness of a mid-engine layout meant it proved a challenging car to drive truly quickly, but once tuned in to the hyperactive steering and making use of the abundance of supercharged torque, the Exige made the perfect tool with which to end two days of driving nirvana.
Earlier that day, on a road tour of the areas surrounding the Nurburgring, stopping at the many historical points dotted along the track, it became clear that the ‘Ring is much more than just a closed loop of race track. The sense of latent energy in the air, the fact that a 28 Euro lap ticket allows you to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Niki Lauda, all adds up to an experience that is akin to watching the Ashes at Lords, or camping on Henman Hill during Wimbledon. It also makes it a crying shame that the ‘Ring remains largely unknown to most.
Waking up to leave on the last morning, I opened my balcony door to the most apt send-off. On the Grand Prix track, a raft of Jaguar F-Types stormed along the main straight in single file, whilst in the background the rear wing of an SLS GT3 was barely visible as it crossed the Nordschleife start line before diving down towards the first few corners, the cacophony of sound rudely interrupting the still, cool air, almost as if the Nurburgring was sending me one last reminder of how truly special it is.
Submitted by: @SuperMo22