Since 1927, the Nurburgring in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany has attracted the imagination of fans, drivers, teams, and manufacturers. It has also demanded their respect.
When The Speed Journal was making plans for a European adventure, the Nürburgring was a mandatory stop. It is hard to imagine anything like it being built in the modern era. Manufacturers test new models at the track until they break. Each May, 24 hours of sportscar racing lures around 170 teams and hundreds of thousands of dedicated German fans come to see who can survive.
A common aphorism acknowledges that most things worth doing are difficult. If it were easy, there would be no challenge, no labor or investment involved, and no respect for the accomplishment. The Nürburgring imposes humility and generously rewards those who earn a level of mastery – the Germans call those people “meisters.”
While the Nürburgring is technically a public toll road when it is open and not otherwise reserved for manufacturer testing, racing or other events. Rather than showing up unprepared and trying to figure it out, The Speed Journal relied on the team at RSRNurburg to provide the car, the training and even a co-pilot to help ensure the visit was a success. RSRNurburg handled all of the logistics and details which allowed The Speed Journal to just show up and take it all in.
Lap times are completely irrelevant for an open day of driving. This isn’t racing or time trialing, but rather enjoying the unique layout and setting. Laps are very long and technical – each circuit covers over 14 miles of relatively narrow asphalt that twist and turn through heavy forests. RSRNurburg advises their clients that at least 500 laps are necessary to gain a strong understanding and knowledge of the track.
Corners are blind, guard rails are close, elevation changes are significant and finding any part of the track that resembles a straightaway is very difficult. At some parts of the track, the elevation changes are dramatic enough to briefly send a car airborne.
RSRNurburg outfitted Team Principal Jeff Francis with a Porsche Cayman GT4, a car perfectly suited to the challenges of the Nürburgring with both power and handling. As Porsche regularly uses the Nürburgring for testing, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the car was finely matched for the track.
The scale of the track, however, requires an adjustment of the driver’s approach. The length of the track means that a one-day visit will inherently involve only a handful of laps. Learning a track or particular corners with only a few tours is extremely difficult and on-line simulators and on-board laps viewed on a computer are valiant, but inadequate. The RSRNurburg observation that hundreds of laps are required is intended to relieve their clients from the pressure of thinking that they should or can be expert by the end of a driving day.
The driving experience demands attention. Many corners look alike, but are materially different. As many corners are blind, the driver can’t usually see very far down the track. A good coach can help push the driver or caution them when needed and RSRNurburg’s staff was extremely helpful in striking the right balance. There are rewards when perfectly navigating a corner, but there are also penalties for getting it wrong and plenty of opportunities to do so. A driver can easily be lured into pushing too hard and overstepping the boundaries of their talent and/or the car’s capabilities. The internet is full of videos taken trackside of drivers clearly demonstrating the consequences of finding those limits.
If the track itself isn’t enough of a challenge, another significant factor is the variety of other cars and drivers on the track at the same time. As a public toll road, open driving days are not limited to race cars, racing drivers or even those with experience. Navigating the blind corners ahead also requires an eye in the mirror for faster traffic. Even with reasonable road manners, it is easy to have an empty bit of track one moment and then a much faster car just behind and impatiently looking to get by.
After spending a day driving in a competent car with wise mentors, the respect for the track known as the Green Hell and respect for those that race at the Nürburgring only grows. It is difficult to imagine surviving a race with dozens of other cars across various classes with wide variation in speeds. It is even more difficult to imagine surviving 24 hours, through darkness and the inevitable Eifel weather of rain, fog, heat and everything in between. There is a reason that those who have mastered the race, hoisted the trophies and sprayed the Champagne are revered as “meisters.”
A trip to Europe for The Speed Journal would not have been complete without spending some time at the Nürburgring. The Speed Journal would like to thank RSRNurburg for hosting its visit. Logistics, coaching, training and an excellent car made our visit memorable.