In honor of my 1,000th visitor to the site – and thereby making this a clichéd entry – I am going to write about a trip that I took almost two years ago now (by the way, time really flies by very fast). That trip was to Germany and to a little racetrack you may have heard of called the Nurburgring. It had always been my dream to drive around the track and so my college graduation gift was a trip to the fabled circuit.
In the weeks preceding the visit, I spent my time reading up on the track, watching the great video feed from the circuit and practicing my laps on GT4. I had signed up for a rental racer to drive around the track when I got there, so I figured that I had better hone my skills for when the actual event came by driving the track in videogame form for about 15 minutes a day (which, incidentally, works out to about two laps with a fast car).
Eventually I passed all my finals and left college to fly to Germany the next day. Of course, I didn’t sleep at all that night but was ready to go in the morning. I have made the flight across the Atlantic many times, but this time was going to be the best one, and probably one of my last. My dad and I flew into Frankfurt and rented our car, a Volkswagen Golf TDi – after I refused to let them rent us a Vauxhall Zafira – and we were on our way. Getting out of Frankfurt is much easier than it seems, and the countryside around the Eifel Mountains is absolutely stunning. A little over an hour later, we were getting close to the Nurburgring because signs started to pop up. Getting off the motorway and driving deeper into the hills made me realize what a trek it actually is to get to this place. It really isn’t located near any major towns, but that just makes it all the more secluded and wonderful.
On the way there, cars like Porsches and Maseratis started to show up more and more frequently. Mini Coopers were becoming a more regular occurrence, as were M3s. eventually we came down a road and I looked to my right. There was a dirt parking lot and the track behind the trees. The corner was Brunnchen and we would return there a lot as it is one of the best vantage points on the track. We came to a stop sign and took a right, following the long straight where cars buzzed by us at over 150mph. We passed the famous gas station on the left and continued up to the main entrance for the Grand Prix circuit. There we turned in, found that there was nowhere to park and went across the street to a dirt parking lot. We had arrived.
The first thing you notice about the ‘Ring is how quiet it is. There is hardly any traffic most of the time and aside from the fact that we came on a test day for GT cars, it was just like being in the presence of a huge sleeping giant. You can literally feel the history of the place dripping from every tree and building. The first thing we figured we would do since it was rainy and overcast was to take a track tour. These are great as they are cheap and you get to see parts of the track that are inaccessible for the regular visitor. Plus, we had come on an off day, and there was hardly anyone at the track. This made it extremely easy to get from one place to another, but the only problem was that the tour was in German, so we had to follow along, or try to, from a piece of paper with all of the facts on it. It was actually quite easy to follow and all of the historic information is right there in front of your eyes anyway.
Passing by the MotorSport Hotel, where the conference center is and many drivers and team owners have stayed, you enter the old pits. And when I say old I mean it. These were the original pits from the 1920s. They had been used by the likes of Auto Union, Mercedes, Ferrari, Maserati and others. Like I said earlier, the history just oozes out of this place. Then there is a tunnel under the track that leads to the pit area. Here is where a large plaque hangs that has all of the past winners of the Grand Prix and the 1000 KM and the 24 hour race. Names like Fangio, Moss, Schumacher and others adorn the wall. Past this, up a hill, is the gigantic pitlane structure. Here is where the all the race teams set up shop for their respective weekends. At the time we went, it was filled with some Bimmers and Porches (which are just normal fodder for the Nurburgring). There were also some teams testing out their GT cars for the upcoming 24 hour race. There were mostly Porches, but there were also some very odd single seaters and an Opel Corsa.
The tour led us inside the pits and then into the hospitality suites and around where the journalist are situated on race day and then up to the press boxes. We then came through a door and were looking out on the front straight and the start/finish line. The best thing was that we were able to stand on the same podium that all of the winners get to stand on. It’s pretty amazing to think of all the famous racers who have stood where I did. Of course, they got to look out over droves of adoring fans while I was reduced to wiping the rain off my glasses and slightly shivering, but it was so worth it. We then go to go to the top of the pits where you can see for miles in every direction (when it isn’t overcast and foggy) and see where they set up for the Nurburgring music festival.
When the tour was over, we walked past the statue of Stirling Moss and his Mercedes and entered the museum that they have at the ‘Ring. It is a must see for anyone who enjoys cars in the very least, and they will be adding a lot to it in the coming years (for more information on this just go to the Nurburgring’s official Website). But while we were there, they had all the normal stuff including very rare Ferraris, six-wheeled karts and a myriad of BMWs. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the museum is mostly for BMWs, but it was still great to see Nelson Piquet’s M1 and an actual BMW V12 from a McLaren F1. They also have a variety of driving simulators including a great GT4 simulator that Subaru built. I drove around the ‘Ring in a virtual STi and was told that my lap was great for never having actually been on the ‘Ring in real life (what a relief as I was going to be trying to conquer the beast the next day). They even had a simulator where you sit in a new Z4 and drive around the Grand Prix Circuit. There is also a movie theater that shows a great movie about the history of the track and many significant racing moments from its long and storied history.
That night, we still had to get a hotel room and weren’t worried about the prospect of finding one, as it was an off season for the track and we had a room for the next night so we tried to get a room at the place where we were going to be staying and where I rented the car from, but they were full. It seemed that we were in a pickle because the town of Nurburg is not very big…at all. Luckily for us, there was another place open and we stayed there. We came to find out that it is run by the Schmitz family – their daughter Sabine is a very famous ‘Ring driver and was born in the town. Her mother handed us our room key and told us that we were going to be staying in the room below Sabine’s! Unfortunately we never saw her, but that was very unexpected and cool. We ended up driving back to the Brunnchen corner to watch cars that night, and that is where I ended up fully seeing the track I was about to drive the next day in person.
Even though I had played the video game many times and had watched many laps on Youtube.com, I was not prepared by the sheer immensity of the actual track. There is no way to completely simulate the elevation changes that the track goes through in the video games or in videos and I could hardly believe my eyes. Here before me stood a giant wall of pavement that seemed to tumble down from out of the forests, land at my feet and run off into the forests up another hill to the left. Cars and motorcycles were flying around the track and the smell of the rubber and exhaust was captivating. To hear the engines of GT3 Porches, M3s, Imprezas and other high end machinery wail through the forest was unbelievable. If I could build a house on any one spot in the world, it would probably be Brunnchen corner. We stood around for awhile soaking in the atmosphere – which is off the charts – and then I wanted to go exploring.
The whole track, all 14.7 miles of it, has a walking path around it and I wanted to walk to a corner that I have always wanted to see. If there is one corner in the world that people should visit to see what a race track is supposed to be, it is Karussel. I had no idea how far away the corner was, but as we were probably only going to be here once, we had to go. From Brunnchen, you must walk up the hill to the right and follow the fence and the track through the forest. The walk is about a good half hour, and a few kilometers, but it is completely worth it. Like I said before, you don’t realize how steep everything really is, but just walking past corners like Wipperman and Hohe Acht gives you real feel for how fast, demanding, scary and intense the track is. It’s hard not to stop and just watch the cars go by, but I was determined to continue on. Eventually you come to a road that leads off to the right and down a huge 27% grade. This is a runoff road called Steilstrecke that can be used in times of emergency to cut through part of the track, but is rarely used today. It leads directly to the corner before the Karussel, but we did not follow it. We ventured down the muddy path to the corner. By following the path, we became completely engulfed by the forest and could not see the track any more. The sound of the engines echoed through the forest and finally we came upon the corner.
Once again, there is no game or video that can give you an indication of what the corner is like in real life. Cars enter the corner up a giant slope from the right and then careen down into the 180 degree corner with reckless abandon. You can hear the body panels moan and the suspension bending and working overtime. Standing there, about 30 feet from the track and watching cars and bikes and the odd family hatchback or SUV go through is exhilarating. You can see the drivers working hard to keep their cars on the track while the passengers grip the handles inside the car. People’s faces show everything from wonderment to extreme concentration. This is THE corner to watch at because it encompasses so much. You can watch a car travel all the way up the hill to the corner, go around it and venture off into the forest on your left and behind you by just turning your head to follow the car. Eventually it started to get dark, and we headed back to our car. The next day was going to be my turn to actually get out on “The Green Hell,” so I went to bed early that night in anticipation.