Welcome to the Green Hell

DSC_0270Dangerous. Challenging. Rewarding. Unique. The last of the proper old school race circuits, the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe is all of these things.

DSC_0334Formula 1 stopped coming here in the 70’s because it was too dangerous, which seems oddly juxtaposed against the thing that today makes the Nordschleiffe, or North Loop, so famous today. Anyone, and I mean actually anyone, can simply turn up and drive it as fast as they like.

DSC_0047Buy a lap ticket for 26 Euro…

DSC_0067…validate it in the boom gate and you’re away. Here’s the worlds most challenging racetrack – go nuts! No scruitineering, no helmets, no license checks, no speed limits. And, uh, try not to kill yourself.

DSC_0224It doesn’t matter what you drive. Obviously a GT3 RS is probably the best tool for the job…

DSC_0161…but if you’re just with your mates on a campervan road trip, well then that’s cool too.

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DSC_0283The track slices 22.5km through the Eiffel Mountains region of Eastern Germany and really serves up a taste of everything to the hardened driver. Fast straights, slow hairpins, tightening radius bends; all delivered with a delicious mix of secretly placed bumps and dips. Combining that with the almost complete lack of runoff areas makes for one hell of an exciting track.

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DSC_0002The Nordschleiffe covers a large geographical area and in some parts, such as the village of Adenau, literally slices right through the town. You can be sitting at a café, having a coffee, and see flashes of car go racing past.

DSC_0010The location of the track in the valleys and peaks of the mountain range also creates several microclimates, and it is quite common for it to be sunny and raining in one place and stormy in another. I met one racer who told me that during the 2007 24hr race it was warm and dry on the start line, and snowing at Addenau. How do you even go about setting a car up for those conditions?

DSC_0111This unique combination of track length, surface and climatic weather conditions make the Nurburgring the ideal place for manufacturers to test their new prototypes and development mules in supposedly ‘real world’ conditions, the theory being that if you can make a car handle on the Nurburgring it will handle anywhere, and as such the Nurburgring is literally crawling in the cutting edge of automotive development.

DSC_0042During the week the track is used each day until 5pm by the manufacturers, and opens to the public from 515-730pm each evening, and all day on weekends. During the week it’s fascinating to just sit on the side of the road and watch the development teams at work.

DSC_0083A lot of the manufacturers, including BMW M, Jaguar, Land Rover, GM, Hyundai and Aston Martin have test workshops located in a small industrial estate just across the road from the circuit entrance.

DSC_0077This is a type of new Hyundai sedan.

DSC_0015Land Rover were working feverishly on the new Range Rover Sport, fine-tuning it no doubt before its upcoming public launch in the near future.

DSC_0367This is the new BMW M4, the replacement for the M3 Coupe.

DSC_0368In addition to the camouflage, if you look carefully you can see how the engineers have screwed a fake bumper cover over the top of the actual to protect the design.

DSC_0371You could still get a hint as to the ‘real’ design if you looked closely.

DSC_0116This pair of Alfa 4C development mules pulled into the only service station in the area while I was refueling. The typically Italian test drivers looked like they were having a great time, and certainly gave both of the 4C’s a decent boot full as they accelerated back toward the track.

DSC_0118A peek into the cockpit of the white car revealed some very intensive looking test and measurement equipment.

DSC_0120The red car looked to be almost production spec, however its lovely Rosso Corsa paintwork was camouflaged in what looked like a black chalk substance.

DSC_0081Most of the test mules were fitted with full roll cages and racing seats, and the test drivers all wore race suits and helmets. Interestingly, the roll cages were mostly constructed in a way that doesn’t touch the interior plastics and dashboard, no doubt to replicate the production car as closely as possible.

DSC_0076Even this AMG version of the new Mercedes-Benz S Class sported a full cage and a pair of Recaro seats behind its darkly tinted windows.

DSC_0013Have you ever wondered why good quality suspension components and tires are so expensive? This is the research and development you’re paying for.

DSC_0034Bilstein were doing a lot of intensive testing on a pair of AMG SLS’s…

DSC_0046… and Pirelli were working with McLaren, with both a new P1 and this lightly camouflaged MP4-12C Spider repeatedly hitting the track throughout the days.

DSC_0025There were several development workshops for companies I’ve never heard of, no doubt working on projects we’ll never know about.

DSC_0021The estate is also home to several race teams, including Audi Sport Team Phoenix…

DSC_0040…the Nurburgring 24hr winning Black Falcon team…

DSC_0070… and the famous Manthey Racing, Porsche’s factory representation in the Nurburgring 24hr and probably the most successful Porsche team in the world.

DSC_0073They had no less than 13 variations of Porsche’s iconic racer on their workshop floor in Cup and RSR specification.

DSC_0064Manthey Racing won the Nurburgring 24hr every year from 2006-2011, and won their class at Le Mans this year with the 911 RSR.

DSC_0085Back to the circuit and there’s some time to kill before my evening Touristenfahrten session, so I went for a look at ‘Ring Werk’, the just completed theme park/restaurant/hotel/casino complex located on the Start/finish straight of the GP circuit. This is highly controversial because the cost of constructing this monolith has bankrupted the owners of the Nurburgring, who have the twin circuit complex up for sale.

DSC_0092The indoor theme park mixes display cars with simulators, rides and experiences. It’s a really enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and is very professionally done, and at 25 euro including a ten minute Go-Kart session I think it’s okay value, but I don’t think it really adds anything to the Nurburgring experience and it’s certainly not worth coming here for this alone.

DSC_0079It also represents what’s wrong with the Nurburgring in that they’ve tried to commercialize something that by its very nature shouldn’t be. You may have heard about the ‘Save the Nurburgring’ campaign which is in direct response to this whole complex. The idea behind the complex was to pull all of the visitors out of the surrounding villages and get them to sleep, eat and spend their money in the complex, effectively shutting out the surrounding villages in an attempt to close the family run restaurants and hotels.

DSC_0159But half of the fun in coming to the Nurburgring is in staying in the little villages, eating in the family run German pubs and exploring the castles and countryside.

DSC_0080The joy of discovery is found in going into supermarkets that sell model cars alongside wine and milk…

DSC_0122…or service stations that sell racing boots and driving gloves alongside chocolate bars and lollies. If you come to the Nurburgring, make sure you spend your money in the villages, not at the big complex because this is where the true Nurburgring atmosphere is found.

DSC_0181Despite the fact that Any Given Reason rode a Vespa to the Nurburgring, it is impossible to come here without driving the Nordschleiffe in a decent sports car. That experience is deserving of a dedicated post, and you can expect it soon.

DSC_0131Words and photos by Andrew Coles

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Green Hell

  1. Pingback: Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe | Any Given Reason

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