…Gods gift to petrol-heads everywhere,
13.8 miles of serpentine asphalt
carving its way through the Eifel hillsides.
To understand this unruly racetrack is to have been there.
There is simply no substitute, no way of re-creating 80 years of history.
People with petrol running through their veins from all over the world descend on this
Mecca of race tracks just to say “I did it” I lapped the “green hell”
“The Nurburgring is the circuit by which all drivers are judged”
It’s the Motor sports equivalent of Wimbledon, Tour-de France, World cup and super bowl all rolled into one.
No matter how high a pedestal you’ve put it on, the Nurburgring will never disappoint. There really is nowhere else like it.
For some once is enough, a scare or a near “off” puts everything back into perspective For others the ring has a way of getting a hold of you, consuming you until you can think of nothing else…the racetrack equivalent of crack cocaine!
The first time at the ring is always, no matter how good you think you are, a humbling experience. I read a survey that proclaimed 82% of all drivers consider themselves to have above average ability. The ring has a habit of proving those arrogant enough to believe this, wrong.
Once in a generation a driver comes along who was born to drive. Jim Clark was one such driver. He crashed at Hochenheim when I was just 2 years old. Yet I cant help feel sorrow for the loss of a man that I never met. Strange that before I even read about the story of Jim Clark, I instinctively knew that he was the last of the Gentlemen racers. The last of a dying breed of drivers who showed true sportsmanship. A rare breed of driver that could drive anything on four wheels, from Rally cars to F1. Strap a modern day F1 driver or Nascar driver into anything but their familiar surroundings and they would be lost, with exception of a few rare and talented wheelmen. Jim Clark was and still is considered to be the best driver of all time.
Today is the 42nd aniversary of Jims death. I still feel a little sadness in the pit of my stomach when I read the story of an incredible driver’s life cut short at the age of 32. Gentleman Racer Jim.
Jim Clark won the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in extremely wet, foggy and rainy conditions. After starting eighth on the grid Clark passed all of the cars in front of him, including early leader Graham Hill. About 17 laps into the race, with the rain coming down harder than ever, Clark had not only lapped the entire field except for Bruce McLaren, but he was almost five minutes ahead of McLaren and his Cooper. This would be the first of 7 victories for Clark and Team Lotus that year.
In the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza after starting from pole, Clark was leading in his Lotus 49 (chassis R2), when a tyre punctured. He lost an entire lap while having the wheel changed in the pits. Rejoining sixteenth, Clark ripped back through the field, progressively lowering the lap record and eventually equalling his pole time of 1m 28.5s, to regain the lost lap and the lead. He was narrowly ahead of Brabham and Surtees starting the last lap, but his car had not been filled with enough fuel for such a performance: it faltered, and finally coasted across the finish line in third place.
In his Indianapolis 500 win, Clark led for 190 of the 200 laps, with an unprecedented average speed of over 150 miles per hour (240 km/h), to become the first non-American in almost half a century to win the famous race.
The fatal crash
On 7 April 1968, Jim Clark’s life tragically ended in a crash. He was originally slated to drive in the BOAC 1000 km sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead chose to drive in the Deutschland Trophäe, a Formula Two race, for Lotus at the Hockenheimring in Germany, primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone. On the fifth lap, his Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees. He suffered a broken neck and skull fracture, and died before reaching the hospital. The cause of the crash was never definitively identified, but investigators concluded it was most likely due to a deflating rear tyre. Colin Chapman was devastated and publicly stated that he had lost his best friend. As a sign of respect, Chapman ordered the traditional green and yellow badge found on the nose of all Lotus road cars to be replaced with a black badge for a month following Clark’s death. The 1968 F1 Drivers’ Championship was subsequently won by his Lotus teammate Graham Hill, who pulled the heartbroken team together and held off Jackie Stewart for the crown, which he later dedicated to Jim Clark
One of the many questions often asked by friends and family who have never visited the Nurburgring is “exactly how dangerous is the track? ” Well, on average there are around 26 deaths per year. Although it is not uncommon to see several minor accidents in one day on a typical tourist weekend. Adenauer Forst in particular is a spectators delight. There are many access points around the Ring to watch the mayhem, but this is one of the most popular as the video footage shows, its one of the hardest corners to get right. Drivers nearly always approach this section with too much speed and the car way off-line.
Watch how aggressive some drivers are, the trick is to let them pass. There are no prizes on tourist days for being the quickest!! Concentrate on driving a smooth lap. My trick was to drive some laps as soon as the Ring opened. Less traffic means you can adopt the racing line more often. Yes 26 deaths per year sounds awful right? Especially in this nanny-orwellian world we now live in. Many groups and officials would like to close down the Nurburgring for tourists but consider this. Smoking kills 5 million a year. As far as I know smoking is still legal. Smokers get their kicks from nicotein.
In a desert of draconian enforced speed limits, traffic jams, Soccer moms in SUV’s, teen’s texting in their mustangs, speed bumps and cameras, drivers are flocking to this Oasis known as the…….Nurburgring!!
Jackie Stewart gave the Nurburgring its name the Green hell (Grune holle). It doesn’t have to be this way if you drive within your means. Enjoy the Ring to improve your driving skill, not to prove your driving skill.
I found this on GT Planet.
Finnish gaming magazine Pelaajalehti has shared raw footage from their tour around Polyphony Digital’s studio. The part that’s getting the most attention is Yamauchi’s 3-minute demonstration of the Nurburgring Nordschleife . This is the company’ s main cockpit area where they drive and check the physics of the game. As you can see the everything looks incredibly smooth, and for those of you who have actually driven the Nurburgring , this will be a great antidote in the off-season between Nov and March when the Ring is closed.
To program this kind of realism when developing the game, Yamauchi drives the Nurburgring for real. GT5 will be worth the wait. Set the game up with a GT force steering wheel and let those Nurburgring blues fly away!
As for the value of the simulation: despite the obvious limitations, GT4 and GT5 is an indispensable tool. The Nordschleife is challenging. Very challenging. Around 13,8 miles of intensity that NO game could ever hope to simulate . At the very least, you need to know all the corners without exception before you pile on the speed. You also need to know the track well enough to have driven it in different weather conditions. The Gt4 and 5 games can only be driven in Sunny normal conditions. The Ring is a completely different animal in the wet. When someone says “there’s an oil slick at Brunchen” its good to know where Brunchen is. GT4 and 5 will help you familiarize yourself with the track. If you have driven say a 1000 laps in GT4, you will know what corner is coming up next instinctively. That’s important when you are approaching a corner at speed and you can’t see around it. Do I need to just tap the brakes, or push the car on through to maintain speed? Where on the track do I need to be in order to get the correct line? Where do I need to plan braking points, gear changes etc. Games like Gt4 can speed up the process of learning the lay-out of the track but not HOW to drive it. This can save money and wear and tear on your car.
When you do go there, there is still so much more to learn and digest. Example, after the short straight in the middle of Hatzenbach, the braking area before the left, right, left has some nasty bumps that will affect your braking at speed and balance of your car. GT4 and even GT5 just can’t communicate this to you. The Wippermann-to-Brünnchen section has dramatic altitude changes and off-cambers. And it is like that all the way around the track. Small mistakes in the Game would be magnified in real life. A little slip on the grass in GT4 would mean a short scuff along the Armco barrier, then bounce back and continue on your merry way! Rarely in real life when a car touches the metal barrier does it rejoin the track.
When I say real world, I mean something thats say under 50k. Because in the real world, $$$$ does not necessarily mean a fast lap. Watch the young Ring locals turn up in their old striped out Golfs and E36 Beemers embarrass many a supercar. For me it’s about driver feedback. The sensation of speed. Something that can be driven fast around the Ring, then driven home again week in week out. A DRT (Dedicated Ring Toy).
My top ten cars (under 50k sterling) that I would recommend to drive around the Ring are:
1. Radical SR3 – 28,995- 252 Bhp, 542 Bhp/ton
2. Caterham R500– 36,995– 263 BHP, 528 Bhp/ton
3. Lotus Exige S 260 sport–42,950- 257 Bhp, 293Bhp/ton
4. KTM X-Bow– 49,482– 237 Bhp, 305 Bhp/ton
5.Ariel Atom 2 Supercharged– 34,950– 300Bhp, 554Bhp/ton
6. BMW M3 (E90)- 49,520– 414Bhp, 250Bhp/ton
7. Porsche Cayman S- 44107– 315bhp, 237Bhp/ton
8.Lotus Evora– 47,500– 276Bhp, 203Bhp/ton
9.Light car company Rocket– 46,000–143Bhp, 358bhp/ton
10. Westfield Megabusa -24,450 –175Bhp, 413Bhp/ton
Notice, all but two the cars on this list have less than 300Bhp. The power to weight ratio however is far more important, especially at the Nurburgring where cornering, grip and driver feed back are more important that Power. Lets call it ” grin per buck” instead of “bang per buck”!
BMW M3 E46
In 2003, my chance to fire off a quick lap with some more powerful machinery arrived, thanks in part to my job at BMW. I had driven the M3 plenty of times before, mostly on the Autobahn but never in anger on a track! I managed to wangle the use of a BMW M3 for the weekend. With hindsight this was a little risky, as this would have cost me my Job had they have known its destination!!
The Euro version pumped out 338BHP@ 7900RPM and 219BHP per ton. I managed to procure a car with the paddle shift. While I am no fan of this system for normal roads, I wanted to try it on the track and soon started to appreciate its advantages, especially having the ability to drive the Ring with both hands on the wheel at all times. The tap, tap, tap with the finger to change gear while the computer blipped the throttle on the down change was immensely satisfying. This is a brute of a car when pushed. In the high RPM range it gives a banshee like high-tech wail, that gets the hair standing on the back of your neck!
Switching the sport mode on and selecting the shifter to maximum attack, I scan my ticket at the machine and the barrier lifts…….were off!
I nail the loud pedal and the M3’s 3.2 liter straight six wakes up from its slumber, a bubbly rumble, into a flutey quickened warble followed by a howling scream. As I accelerate hard down the hill to the first corner, it feels like a giant kick up the backside, as I am squeezed back into M sports seats.
After driving the Lotus around the Ring, the M3 could not have felt more different. There are two ways to crack a nut as the saying goes. The Lotus is a surgeon’s scapel. The M3 is a sledge-hammer!! They both get the Job done so to speak. While I would say the Lap times were very similar to the Elise, the M3 was a more violent ride. It’s huge weight meant that the forces at work were more pronounced. Coming hard into a corner and stomping on the huge and very effective BMW “M” brakes was a stomach flipping affair. Powering out of the apex, had the tires squealing in protest. You can get a quick lap out of the M3 using just brute force alone! Its power and computer “nanny” systems were making up for any driver inadequacies. In the right hands this car can crack 8min 30.
I completed 8 laps that Sunday with the M3. An experience I would not forget. The reason I did not do more? Tires, 8 laps and the tires were visibly looking the worse for wear, with small chunks peeling away from the tread!
My only gripe with the M3 after hundreds of laps in the Lotus was weight. The M3 weighs a lardyu 1655kg, almost 2 ½ times the weight of my Lotus. This confirmed my choice of the Lotus for my Ring car. As tempted as I initially was by the M3, changing tires every few weeks would be financially unsustainable.
The Elise, due to its low weight, was much easier on tires. A set of four would typically last me 4- 6 months! In the real world the M3 is quicker than the Lotus, with over twice the ponies.
Lap times were almost identical (except in the wet the M3 was quicker) but on a sunny day, not only was my Lotus much faster through the corners, I got more satisfaction out of driving the Lotus. The steering feedback on the Elise is arguably the best in the world, it feels like you are connected to the actual steering rack. The M3s weight dulls this sensation. The Elise has ZERO driver aides, the M3, even with the DSC off, still has CBC and ABS. However, the violent ride of the M3 can make any driver feel like a hero! My lap times with traffic , ie with a quick glance at the watch and NO STOP WATCH RUNNING in the car was approx 8: 40s- BTG.
My lotus Elise, with around 135BHP from its K serries engine and more familiar to me, around 8:35 to 8:50. These are BTG times (Bridge to Gantry) normally with traffic.
Bear in mind it is not advisable to time a lap. Clean up crews nearly always find a running stop watch in crashed cars at the Ring. A good lap at the Ring is more about smoothness and good lines. I rarely timed myself, and when I did, it was just a quick glance at my watch before the lap started and again when I reached the metal gantry on the back straight. I instinctively new if I had driven a good lap. Some days it just felt right, you were in the zone so to speak!
As far as my Lotus vs the M3, Colin Chapman knew what he was talking about when he said “less is more”. I had to return this car back to BMW after all. I did not want to cough up for four new Bridgestone’s.
I do not want to vent my political frustrations out in this blog, but a little background helps to understand why the Ring is a good thing.
If you happen to be the generation after the baby boomer generation, as I am, our parents enjoyed far more freedom on the road than we, or our children will ever enjoy. Sure, cars have got faster and safer, but average speeds are way down. In the eighty’s, I remember life on the road was tolerable, but since the early nineties, European governments have waged a perpetual “stealth tax” war on the motorist disguised as safety!
In the UK, fixed speed cameras infest the countryside, speed bumps and traffic calming islands, which do far more harm than good, are placed indiscriminately. The art of overtaking a fellow motorist has long been forgotten, and should some poor sod have the audacity to do so, he is instantly branded a menace to society. England has enjoyed some of the lowest per capita accident rates in the world, “before” these draconian safety measures were put in place.
The obvious huge increase in traffic over the past decade has added to the fact that driving has become a chore. Driving standards in general, are much lower as the modern motorist juggles with his latte- mocha- chino and cell phone while steering with his knees! In my opinion this is partly due to the fact that the government has so over-regulated our roads, the modern motorist feels that he/she no longer needs to concentrate. So no, speed does not kill, however stupidity does.
Yep, our over regulated roads have turned us into a nation of Speedo watching, driving zombies………the antidote, the last bastion of driving freedom…….the Nurburgring!!
So how does this save lives you ask? If you could just imagine, even if it was just once in your life, where you could drive somewhere that would allow you to breath, not worry about speed camera’s. You know, tap into more than 10% of your car’s performance potential, put a smile on your face when you drive! Seriously, when was the last time you smiled while driving your car for sheer pleasure?
By taking your performance car to the Ring, it enables you to get years of oppressed motoring frustration out of your system, with far less chance of hurting an innocent bystander should you get it wrong. You never know, it just might make you a better all round driver, far more capable of handling an emergency situation because you tested your ability and your cars limits.
Yes, there are over 4500 stationary speed cameras in the UK!
Sure, you can book a track day, but you have to book it weeks in advance, they are expensive and after 10 laps you know all 7 or 8 corners intimately! The Ring is nearly always available, just turn up and drive. At the Ring, you have 174 to learn. Go and find your limit, and your cars.
They say it takes at least 50 laps to learn which way the track goes and another 50 laps to build up some confidence. I think thats about right. By the time I had completed 100 laps, I could close my eyes and envision every turn and camber in my mind, much like the way a luge or bobsleigh person might do before they take a run down the ice.
I covered the first 50 laps in my MG that year and another 50-60 in the BMW during the second half of the season, making a total of a little over 100 laps in my first year.
As the laps added up I experimented with switching BMWs’ awesome traction control system OFF. This meant I was braking much later using my new found skill and a little opposite lock to power me through some of the less intimidating corners.
The ATS+C, is set up for the weakest link and was braking the car very early. While it made me feel safe and was indispensable in the wet. I wanted to have the sense of satisfaction that I could drive the ring the old-fashioned way.
With over 200 laps under my belt, it was coming together. It felt natural. I knew the track intimately. My average laps were hovering around 8min 45 sec with traffic (BTG) I could close my eyes at home and mentally drive the circuit. I knew the braking points, turn in points, and what tree or stationary object on the horizon to look for to enable an ideal exit point.
Or did I……….? The thing is, even the drivers who have driven thousands of laps are constantly learning. As the years go by, regular maintenance is carried out on the tracks surface .Levels of grip are constantly changing. Re-surfacing can affect the camber angles slightly. So, a driver must constantly fine tune his knowledge of the track.
Every expert driver has his or her opinion on how a corner is to be driven, on how its best to carry as much speed as possible out of a turn. This is the beauty of the place, it NEVER grows old. You are always learning, then just when you think you have the track beaten, it throws you a new bone to chew.
I completed over 200 laps in my own cars, which included a MGF, Mini Cooper S, BMW 330i. I also did many laps in A Nissan Skyline R34, BMW M3 E46 to name a few. I concluded that while BHP is all good, what really counts at the Nurburgring is Knowledge of the track and good handling car.
Which brings me to my Lotus Elise S2. I was averaging 20+ laps a week, and heavy cars like my 330i, where eating tires and brakes. I needed something light, not too much power and with stacks of grip. The Elise fitted the bill perfectly. Brakes lasted a season and the standard Bridgestone Potenzas on the car gave me at least 100 laps. The next 400-500 laps were completed in my Lotus Elise S2, and it didn’t skip a beat.
The Lotus Exige or Elise makes an ideal “Ring Toy”, easy on consumables and it changes direction like a rabbit.
On 28 April 2007, Nick Heidfeld drove a BMW Sauber F1.06 Formula One car around the Nordschleife, on a BMW publicity day in combination with a VLN 4h endurance race. For safety reasons, BMW announced that the car was slowed with hard demonstration tires, maximum ride height, and 275 km/h top speed limited by the transmission. Heidfeld drove three laps on the combined Nordschleife and short GP-track, as used in VLN races, with a track length of 24.433 km (so comparison with older records is difficult). The official lap time released by BMW Sauber was declared to be 8:34 (thus ca. 30 secs slower than the fastest Porsche 996 turbo in VLN). The German press duly reported this lap time, yet criticized BMW. In each lap, Heidfeld slowed down once to pose for a slow video truck, at Schwedenkreuz on the first lap 1, Kesselchen in lap 2, and Döttinger Höhe in the last lap. The two time spans in between the three passes of Heidfeld were clocked by some fans around the track, first Wehrseifen to Wehrseifen in about 7:28, then 7:22 from Klostertal to Klostertal, which is over 50 secs quicker than the fastest current Porsche 997 GT3 RSR in VLN. This translates to an average of about 200 km/h, similar to Bellof’s record, but considering the slow GP section; Heidfeld probably was faster on the Nordschleife, close to 6 minutes. Fans who respect the official record of the late Stefan Bellof settle for an “estimated 6:12”.
Road & Track magazine reported Heidfeld’s lap was a 5:57 or 5:58 (for the Nordschleife only), breaking the track’s six-minute barrier for the first time in history. However, their times were done by measuring the speed in some corners, and then calculating a lap time, and not timing a full lap. A BMW video montage with onboard, track side and helicopter camera views gives a better estimate of 6 minutes 40 seconds to the last corner.
Heidfeld has since expressed his desire to repeat the experience with less restriction.
According to F1 Racing magazine of June 2006, BMW engineers had estimated that a BMW-Sauber F1.06 could lap in under 5:15.8, which equals to an average of 237 km/h.
Driving my LOTUS Elise S2 at the Ring.
By the time the Nurburgring opened in March 2003 the Elise was nicely run in. I couldn’t wait to drive the 1 ½ hours up the Autobahn to spend my first full weekend with the Lotus. I had purchased at great expense for 750 Euro a season ticket. This entitled me to unlimited laps, and boy was I going to get my moneys worth!
The weather was perfect, a chilly but sunny day.
For me, my Elise and the Nurburgring is a match made in heaven. Sure it lacked outright BHP and time was lost on some of the steeper sections of the track. Struggling to get over 125mph on the long gradual up hill section through Kesselchen to Klostertal I had to keep the loud pedal nailed to the floor. Hit a corner though and the Lotus just dived in with limpet like grip.
The problem, I became addicted- literally. I spent every spare weekend I had thrashing the bejesus out of the poor Lotus.
Pounding the track week in week out, it started to become second nature. Tourist Saturdays and Sundays became a blur of savored laps and stories to tell. Most weekends I would put in 15-20 laps. This for the un-initiated might not sound like much, but believe me, this is more than enough. Anymore is more than most modern road cars could and should take. Any more in a heavier car, tires will melt and brakes are toast. (Assuming you drive the track with vigor!)
The Porsche GT3 Accident
I remember on my last lap of that weekend, I was coming up fast on Breitscheid, keeping an eye on my mirror, it was suddenly filled with a determined Porsche GT3 driver. I realized quickly this was the same car that I had passed a few miles back. I eased up to let the GT3 pass to no avail, the Porsche seemed content to sit on my tail. The driver appeared to be following my lines. When to my horror he suddenly tried to overtake me on the right. (Strictly forbidden at the Ring) Anyway, I had adopted the racing line, as I started to steer into the apex to cut the corner……. When suddenly there was the Porsche right beside me, close enough to trade paint and a very worried looking driver!
“Fine, go ahead” I mumbled under my breath “it’s not worth getting killed over” I bit my lip and braked hard to let the Porker through. The unwritten rule is if a faster car appears and you are already committed to a corner, the faster car overtakes after both cars are clear. I eased up a bit, keen to let the Porsche get some distance between my pride and Joy. Tip- Don’t be tempted to race, let aggressive nugget heads go, slow down and let them pass if you have to. Let Darwin’s Theory take care of the rest.
Sure enough, it did! As the Porsche approached the next corner- Exmuhle the young driver ran out of road, and talent. His Porsche locked up, tire smoke clouded my vision the next thing I knew his GT3 was going backwards and heading for a rendezvous with the Armco! BANG, a sickening thud as the $100,000 Porsche slammed into the barrier.
I slowed up, the driver signaled with a wave to let me know he was OK. He must have felt sheepish for sure.
Moral of the story, Knowledge here is everything. As the saying goes Power is nothing without control. The GT3 is an incredible car. Born at the Ring it gobbles up the track in a credible 7min.52 in the right hands. In the wrong hands, well you know the story. The track demands respect.
The Nurburgring has remained a one-way, public toll-road for nearly 80 years except when it is closed off for testing purposes, training lessons or racing events. Since its opening in 1927, the track has been used by the public for the so-called “Touristenfahrten”, i.e. to anyone with a road legal car or motorcycle, as well as tour buses, motor homes or cars with trailers. It is opened mainly on Sundays, but also on many Saturdays and weekday evenings. During the winter months, depending on weather conditions and maintenance work, the track may be closed for weeks.
Cycling around the Nurburgring is tough, with over a 1000m of elevation changes you need your climbing legs! Its a good way to really get to know the track though. You will have plenty of time to check out all the camber changes, breaking spots and turn in markers!
In 1927, the Nurburgring hosted the World road racing championships (cycling) and was won by Alfreda Binda of Italy.
To give you an idea of a typical lap time with all modes of transport, from 2 wheel to good old fashioned human power!
Ordinary car- 9mins 25