The Nurburgring. More exactly the Nordschleife, the old 20.8 km, 154 corner circuit that winds its way through the Eilfel Mountains, south west of Cologne. The circuit has a fearsome reputation and was famously dubbed the Green Hell by Jackie Stewart such was the toll it took on drivers.
These days car companies have drawn on the Nordschleife’s infamy to test their latest offerings and then advertise the lap times to give the model creed. This does not always go to plan, during my visit in June this year those who work at and around the circuit were abuzz with the news that McLaren MC12 had arrived with a full media contingent only to end in the fence. I guess we will not see that footage.
If you are not trying to break speed records and are in a modern car, the Nordschleife is more a little piece of green heaven than green hell. It is a stunning piece of bitumen that is sure to be a highlight of our European Tour. During our visit I have arranged for instructors to be on hand to help you around your first lap but to give you a little taste of what to expect.
The circuit starts with a series of medium-fast left right curves known as Hatzenbach, the last right/left is known as Hacheichen, the track then sweeps downhill over the Quiddelbacher bridge then up over a blind crest to Flugplatz. There are plenty of shots of F1 cars getting all 4 wheels off the ground here and many people believe that the name means flying place, the correct if somewhat less dramatic true translation is Airport, there used to be one located near this spot. It is then fast downhill to the tight right at Aremburg and under the local road bridge. You then drop into the Fuchsrohre (Foxhole).
In a recent copy of Motorsport Magazine, ‘60’s Porsche Superstar, Vic Elford, explained that this used to be flat out, IF, you knew where you were going. “The line moves left and right and you’re changing directions before slight crests, so you need to be aiming at the next apex before you can see it. When you arrive at the bottom (at what was the fastest part of the circuit), a massive compression pushes you down into your seat and then you shoot up the other side, being careful to anticipate the blind left hander over the crest at the top.” This is the portion of track where enthusiasm overtakes skill and people damage cars and egos. Be Warned!!
Next comes the daunting, fast drop to Adenau Bridge. Once upon a time there was no run off or even a guard rail here, just a hedge that was so close to the track that cars would have there noses in the hedge on some corners. After the bridge is the section that I always have been wary of. Very fast and seemingly straight forward until you notice all the skid-marks leaving the circuit at very odd angles. The tight right at Bergmerk is fairly standard , then you continue to climb to the crest at Kesselchen. In pre ground effects days, cars would leave the ground here often gliding for 40 metres or more before touching down.
The Karussel is next, possibly the most famous part of the track it is a 180 degree left that has concrete banking on the inside. If you do it right you drop into the banking and fire around the bend before being spat out towards the right kink that follows. If you do it wrong you can be spat out towards the scenery, get it right!
I have never got the next section right, the track undulates through a series of fast sweeping bends Hohe Acht, Wipperman, Eschbach and Brunnehen are all hugely popular spectator spots but a bit of a nightmare for a driver trying to remember where the track goes next. Try and imagine what it is like here at night in the fog or rain. Some drivers earn their pay. This section is just an introduction to the flat out Pflanzgarten where once again the next apex is just over a crest so once again you must position the car blind.
Safely through you drop down into Schwalbenschwanz, the little Kaussel then the fast right hander onto the straight. Take a deep breath, look at the castle on your right and try and appear relaxed and ready to go again.
You will not forget your laps of the Nordschleife, it is a bucket list moment that you will relive to anyone who will listen for years afterwards. We will be there on Monday 25th June. I will let you know shortly about renting race cars if you do not want to take your own car on the circuit and remember that Avis and co. are less than impressed if you take their cars for a quick lap.
Thanks to Motorsport Magazine and Vic Elford for some wonderful insights on how the circuit used to be.