I always overestimate how terrifying something I want to do is going to be before I actually do it. It’s probably for the best, but kind of annoying, nonetheless. These feelings of impending doom were a million times worse with the Nordschleife, given its reputation for eating n00bs. Guess what? It wasn’t that bad.
I didn’t know I was coming here until this week, at which point, I knew that I had to drive the Nordschleife if it was open. It’s common bucket list fodder. It’s probably at the top of mine. Plus, it’s extremely old-school in its approach. There’s no way anyone would approve unrestricted “tourist drives” around any track in this overly litigious day and age, particularly one as dangerous as the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Walls are everywhere, and close.
Everyone wonders if it will ever change — if eventually the “my derp is your fault” set will force the track to close up tourist drives, change the layout drastically, or whatever. The southern course — Südschleife — doesn’t even exist anymore. The site in its current form has certainly seen its own fair share of drama recently, most perilously of the financial and ownership sort. Will the Nordschelife be there in its current form or something like it forever? Motorsport nerds everywhere certainly hope so, but the reality is, it’s hard to know for sure. There’s some changes already planned for next year, for example—including some repaving.
That’s why I had to drive it. That right there. I don’t know if the Nordschelife is going to be around forever, but as long as it is, I have to go on it. You have to go on it, too. It’s legendary.
One of the first emails I sent after finding out I was heading out here to cover the 6 Hours of Nürburgring was to our man at the ‘ring, Robb Holland, asking if the other chunk of the Nürburgring would even be open and if so, how and when could I get on it?!
Robb wasn’t in town, but hooked me up with another guy at Rotek Racing for a ride-along, Uli. Uli drives in the manufacturer pool that uses the Nordscheife for testing, so he knew the track really well. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was kosher to take the loaner Citroën C4 Cactus I had on the track, so we ended up taking Robb’s diesel A6 Avant around after making an expert repair to a busted fuel filler flap.
Diesel. Avant. Let both of those words sink in for a second. Holy crap, I love that those aren’t super-uncommon here. Nearly everything is a hatch of some sort, and there are a lot of diesels, too. Hooray torque and space!
One thing was certain as we waited for the track to reopen: there be morons.
There’s no barrier to entry to drive the Nordschleife, so even more terrifying than the walls or turns are the other drivers on track. Those without a healthy sense of self-preservation really want to make those first laps ever of a circuit full of blind corners and wild elevations changes count, man. They’ve watched all the videos. They’ve driven it in games. They’re gonna beat the Ring Taxis’ times on their first try come Hell or n00b water!
This, of course, is why every attempt to get onto the Nordscheliefe I’ve made this weekend has been punctuated by periods of closed time as they scrape someone’s fender out of the walls.
The big wagon was hilarious on the track. Absolutely hilarious. Uli could fling it around with the best of ‘em.
There were idiots out on track when we could finally make our run, particularly as this was the end of the day and everyone in town for the WEC race wanted to cram in ‘ring time after the grand prix track went cold. The idiots were pretty easy to spot, though. There was one pair of over-drivers who took each other out early in the lap — which was awfully nice of them — but for the most part, the other drivers weren’t dumb. I’d seen worse in ChumpCar races, or novice sessions during trackdays. This was nothin’. Maybe having higher standards than “can you fog a mirror?” before handing out a road license helps a bit?
People even signaled if they were staying on one side of the track to let the faster wagon through. Signals! Like hand signs, but for a one-way toll road.
That settled it, then. I must do this! I must drive this once and for all.
Attempt number one was made with a couple area friends at the end of the day Saturday. I scrambled to find an inexpensive last-minute rental, which Big Garage had: a race-prepped Golf. That didn’t sound like it was high-horsepower enough to kill me in one fell swoop of derp. Besides, I raced a Volkswagen before! (A Type 3, but hey, it’s a Volkswagen!)
Unfortunately, the Golf was down by the time I got to the track that evening, but they had a nicer car they’d loan out at the same rate: an M235i. That’s a bit more car than a Golf, but still seemed relatively ‘ring-novice-friendly to the point where I was okay with it. There’s a much higher learning curve to high-horsepower supercars, which is why everyone usually recommends that you shouldn’t hop right into a GT3 RS on your first trip around somewhere like the Nordschleife. That’s a lot of car to handle, and a lot of dough if you accidentally hit the wall.
I started adjusting the seats in the bright blue M-car in hopes of getting out in one of the last groups of the day, but unfortunately, no could do. Someone had a bad enough mishap to shut down the track for the rest of the day.
Fortunately, they had time Sunday morning to see if I could sneak in my lap then. I consoled myself with schnitzel and the other epic cars in the parking lot in the meantime, then met them early, well ahead of when I needed to be back at the track for the 6 Hour race.
Once again, the touristenfahrten session Sunday was interrupted by several closed periods for the Nürburgring staff to clean up a mess somewhere.
Don’t be part of the mess. Don’t be part of the mess. Do not, under any circumstances, overdrive the car and be the reason that the track shuts down.
Finally, I strapped Fluffy and Theo into the backseat and joined the queue to get out on track. This was happening! This was totally happening!
Lo and behold, it wasn’t bad. It was fun! It was like the best alpine road ever, with no limits as to what you could do. The instructor in the car made sure I knew what was coming up and didn’t over-shoot a blind corner. This was clearly the way to go around — with someone else who knows the track to point out the spots where you need to pay attention.
Granted, my “not bad” comes from a little bit of time spent watching novice trackday sessions from a flag stand, and from driving crapcan series like the 24 Hours of LeMons that don’t have any requirements besides a driver’s license to let drivers race. I’ve seen worse! There simply weren’t a lot of overdriving morons out on track at the ‘ring this morning, and it was easy to stay right and let faster, more aggressive traffic through.
I only had one moment during the entire run that was almost (but not quite) iffy. A motorcyclist didn’t know to stay right for faster traffic, and he was on a puttering Sunday morning drive. We reached the open entry gate near Ex-Mühle right as this fellow was clogging up the middle of the track. Snail-Man didn’t file in to the right behind entering traffic that wasn’t up to speed yet — he hogged the left lane to clog up everybody behind him, including me.
Sadly, that’s more like driving in Texas than anywhere else. Hear me, Austin? Get your ten-mile-under butts out of the passing lane.
Fortunately, everyone behind us was paying attention and waited for the slow jam to disperse before gunning it to move around. I really love the drivers here! For the most part, they’re not trying to eat an Egg McMuffin while steering with one knee — they’re pretty attentive, and courteous.
Like I said: this place is really not that scary. Approach it with respect, and you’ll be fine.
Brünnchen, now appropriately labelled.
That being said, the Nordschleife probably shouldn’t be your first track session ever. Yes, it’s a public road, but it still goes by a lot of the conventions of a racetrack, and the consequences for doing something dumb at speed are pretty steep. Get someone to beat out your bad habits before you lift in a corner somewhere and eat a wall. Don’t try too hard to show off for the crowds. Know how to manage traffic that’s going a different speed than you are, or how to be slower traffic without pulling a That Ridiculously Slow Motorcycle Guy.
My instructor also pointed out that some of the worst accidents happen when people don’t secure the stuff in their car. That’s a habit that’s long been beaten into me, but it’s worth noting, anyway. We get that you can take anything on the ‘ring, and that helmets aren’t even required, but don’t be dumb about it. You can (and should) travel at speeds faster than you would on public roads. Make sure it’s tied down and secure, if not out of the car entirely.
Overall, a LeMons or ChumpCar style crapcan race where you can trust absolutely no one else on track may be the best way to prepare for going on the Nordschleife. You don’t know who’s in the other cars, particularly since any random road driver can show up and race. (Hi!) You have to drive somewhat defensively and know how to deal with traffic of varying speeds.
Like I’ve said in crapcan articles, though, it’s still good to get an instructor to beat your bad habits at a trackday somewhere before even doing a crapcan race.
I probably did one of the slowest laps ever, but it’s a circuit I don’t know, and this site’s already eaten wall once this year. I’m not about to add to that tally! Those few glorious moments of flat-out madness on the freaking Nordschleife left me with the biggest, dumbest grin on my face I’ve had in a long, long time.
Yesssss. I just drove the Nordschleife — in a BMW with my initials on the license plate, no less. Everything is wonderful!
Go. Drive it. If you’re here to watch some racing on the other track and there’s any open or open-ish opportunities to sneak over with a ‘ring-appropriate loaner (read: not a standard rental car, as that will get you banned from that agency — and possibly others — for life, but a single-purpose ‘ring loaner): you must do it. Make the time. It’s worth it.
(hahahaha OH MY GOSH I JUST DROVE THE NORDSCHELIFE hahahahaha oh yes squee)
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