The Ben Evans Column: Lapping the Nurburgring Nordschliefe

BMW M3 GTR, Nurburgring 24 Hours, 2006Ever driven a lap of the legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife? Our returning columnist Ben Evans has and in the first of his new columns for F1Fanatic he gives us an insight into a lap of the track.

It turned me green with envy, and it will probably do the same to you…

Hands up if you’ve driven the Nurburgring Nordschleife? Alright, hands up if it wasn’t on GT4? Only a few of you left. Now, hands up if it was in a modern single seater racing car??????

A few weeks ago, as one of the leading, and better looking (he jests – ed.), drivers in the British Formula Vee Championship, I took part in the German 40th Anniversary Formula Vee meeting at the Nurburgring in Germany.

Held as part of the Saison Finale meeting on the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit it was a three day festival of all things racing and in particular, Vee.

An hour of heaven

Phil Hill, Ford GT, Nurburgring, 1968Part of the weekend’s activities included an hour’s free testing on the Nordschleife in our Vees. That’s right, an hour on the Nordschleife in our bona fide, single seater racing cars, capable of 150mph, the first single seaters allowed on the Nordschleife in over a decade.

That put us in a very select group of drivers who can say that they drove the Nordschleife in an open wheel racing car (that group is even more exclusive among living drivers).

Admittedly we had to follow a pace car, but given that the driver was the Chief Instructor on the Nordschleife, and held the lap record for his class of saloon car in the 24hr race, and was driving a seriously tuned Audi this wasn’t really an issue.

One 14-mile lap

So what does the Nordschleife feel like from six inches above the ground? Pretty much the coolest country road in the world ever. This is one truly awesome ribbon of asphalt.

Early in the lap you can see a mountain on the horizon in the distance – that’s the highest point on the circuit, some eight miles away. Before then you plunge, climb and wind your way, at high speed through a totally hypnotic series of curves that wind their way around the German countryside.

Two things initially strike you about the Nordschleife. Firstly, it’s fast, very fast, in my Vee there were only two second gear corners (i.e. Luffield speed) on the whole lap – the rest was extremely fast and flowing.

The second is that for a circuit of such length it is surprisingly featureless. 80% of the lap is spent taking fast curves through the forest and it is easy to lose where you are on the lap. Only the Adenau bridge, and the two Karussels are memorable first time around.

This is especially tricky as much of the circuit comprises of sequences of bends where if you get the first part wrong, you will get spat off the road (and in some cases off a mountain) at the fifth part. No wonder Jackie Stewart called it The Green Hell.

For a British driver used to the tight confines of Brands Hatch or Mallory Park, the scale of the Nordschleife is amazing. On our first night at the Ring we had dinner in Adenau, fully 20 minutes drive from the gates to the main circuit.

Around the track

Ford GT, Nurburgring 1000km, 1968We spent the weekend staying in one of the three villages inside – yes, inside the circuit, which was a surreal experience, especially as you couldn’t see the track from anywhere inside the village.

In many ways following my laps of the Nordschleife I was disappointed not to get the chance to race to race on it, but of course in the modern era it is simply too dangerous. In the old days it must have been an amazing experience, with the drivers living totally on nerves, trying to fit into the rhythm of the place.

Even now, in its tourist-friendly state it is still a daunting track, and I don’t doubt that throwing the Vee off the road in the wrong place would be the end of my career, if not me.

Watching footage from the 1950s in the excellent nearby museum, I was amazed not at how many drivers suffered grave accidents on track, but rather that there were so few, given that some corners are bordered by sheer drops, thick forest, and that even Paula Radcliffe would struggle to reach the nearest marshals’ post in a hurry.

What are you waiting for?

It is fantastic that the Nordschleife remains open to the public and that anyone can for their 16 Euros (bargain!) go round the track at a speed that’s safe for them. When you finish this article do three things.

One, send me sponsorship money for next season.

Two, get your passport, jump in the car, drive to Germany, and drive the Nordschleife.

Three, when you’ve done your first lap, pull in, stop and think that 30 years ago they raced F1 cars round there. Puts today’s Tilke-dromes into perspective, it really does.

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