The Nordschleife has a legendary reputation in the world of racing, but it’s not until you’re there (and do a lap) that you can fully appreciate what the 13-mile track is all about.
Much like Spa Francorchamps, the Nürburgring is located in the middle of a beautiful landscape. You spend half an hour heading towards the track, meandering through the beautiful region of Eifel in Germany, before you hear roaring engines from a distance. Suddenly, it’s there.
The circuit is in use almost 365 days a year. Most days, the circuit is open for the public. You bring your own car, pay a small fee, the barrier opens, your insurance is no longer active, and you can go out there and tear it up on the Nordschleife. On other days, car manufacturers rent the track to test new models, and many races like the DTM (and formerly the Formula 1) visit the track as well.
Last weekend, the VLN took place, a six-hour endurance race which featured 173 cars (!). The grid, on which it took about fifteen minutes to walk from front to back, featured everything from a Mercedes-AMG GT3 to an old-school Opel Manta from the 80’s. Some familiar faces were racing, including Sebastian Vettel’s younger brother Fabian, and the son of the legendary Stefan Bellof (who held the Nürburgring track record for 35 years before Porsche broke it earlier this year).
The day before the race, during free practice, I was invited to sit in the passenger seat of the Toyota GT86 of the Pitlane team and go along for a few laps.
The track is absolutely impossible to drive. Once you get off the Grand Prix-part of the track and turn left into the woods, it gets wild. The bumps, the constant mirror-checking because of traffic, the height differences: the Ring always throws something your way to keep you on your feet. The famous Karussell-corner, a hairpin left-hander which is tilted much like a NASCAR-track, has a surface of concrete slabs underneath it.
Your body doesn’t appreciate the bumping and G-forces that are going on at the same time, let me tell you. As you’re thumping over each slab while being pulled to the right, you can feel your organs re-organizing themselves inside your body. And that’s just one of the 73 corners.
Other parts of the track, including a downhill part where the car almost has all four wheels in the air and is immediately followed by a tough uphill double right-hander, make you understand why so many accidents happen here. It also makes you understand how crazy F1-drivers must have been to drive here in the past. This is why they call it the Green Hell.
The Nürburgring is a track like no other, both in terms of the track itself, as well as the culture surrounding it. It’s the best circuit in the world, while also being one of the most dangerous ones.
It’s a place where race fans can gather on any given weekend, walk through the paddock on a race day, and geek out with the mechanics about the technical parts of the cars that are paraded there. It’s racing at its finest, at its craziest, and therefore, at its absolute best.