As a motor racing circuit the Nurburgring Nordschleife is without equal, once described by the famous racer Jackie Stewart as 'The Green Hell' due to the way the road meanders through the local woodland. It is almost certainly, the most feared, the most demanding, the most awe inspiring and yet still the most fantastic purpose built motor racing circuit in the world. What has given The Ring this status is its sheer size, all 13 miles1 and 73 bends2 of it.
Up until 1927 there were no permanent motor racing circuits in the whole of Germany as the sport of motor racing was still in its infancy. However the German nation has always been at the forefront of car design and development, it had been competing in and winning races ever since the first ones at turn of the century, obviously this was a situation that could not last. In April 1925 Dr Otto Creuz from the Eifel District Council proposed building a track that could be used by the fledgling motor manufacturers for testing new car designs and for motorsport. The plan was to build a long and demanding circuit that would expose any faults in a new car and hence the Nurburgring was born.
The track was designed so that if necessary it could be split into two sections, the 4.8mile Südschleife3 to be used for testing and small races whilst the enomous 14.2 mile long Nordschleife4 was intended to test a car and its driver to the absolute limit. The first race to be held there took place on 19th June 1927 in which the rising star of the German motor racing world, Rudolf Caracciola, had the first win. This was followed shortly afterwards by the first German Grand Prix on a dedicated track. Caracciola lost this race due to a mechanical failure which enabled fellow German Otto Merz to take the top place on the podium
The Grand Prix
The Nordschleife circuit was used throughout the interwar years as the home of the German Grand Prix and over time it created some legends. The first of these was the Italian driver Tazio Nuvolari. He dramatically won the 1935 race beating a hugely powerful field of German cars and drivers on their home turf in front of 300,000 Germans spectators and many Nazi leaders including Adolf Hitler. As with many things in pre-second world war Germany the Nazi leadership used the dominance of the German teams at the Ring as propaganda. In the 1938 Grand Prix this propaganda took another beating as the British driver Richard Seaman won at the Ring in front of a crowd of 350,000 fans. However the outbreak of World War II soon stopped racing and the track was used for military purposes during the war years.
By 1948 the war had finished and after some reconstruction work the track was back in use. The 1950s are often thought of as a golden era of motor racing drivers who have become synonymous with motoring and motor sport all graced the track. The great Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1957 race there in one of the most exciting races ever seen. Up against the great drivers like Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Stirling Moss all of whom could have won easily, yet Fangio over-took each one in turn in a thrilling and dramatic race to claim the win. Into the 1960s and the Ring was witness to victories by great drivers such as Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jim Clark. However by 1970 the track was looking worn out, the race was held at Hockenheim whilst much needed repairs were carried out. The Grand Prix returned the following year and the race was dominated by the battle between the two Jacks, Jacky Icxe and Jackie Stewart. Icxe won the race of 1972 whilst Stewart won the races in 1973 and 1974. Then in the race of 1976 it all went wrong.
All throughout of early 1970s the drivers had been calling for The Ring to be scrapped from the racing calender. It is a hugely demanding track that requires 100% concentration at all times and the problem lay in its run off areas. When designed the short areas of grass on the outside of the bends were suffecient, however by the seventies the cars were travelling much faster. Unlike more modern circuits The Rings track is very narrow and there is very little space outside of the bends. Instead of the gravel traps which slow down an out of control car The Ring had only a few yards of grass before the armco barrier. One mistake, car failure or other error could easily spell disaster and it all came to a head in the Grand Prix of 1976. The world famous driver Niki Lauda was only on his second lap when he slide off at the Berkwerk Bend and slammed into a wall. The car burst into flames and Lauda was very nearly killed. With nearby Hochenheim providing a better more modern track for the German Grand Prix The Rings Grand Prix days were over.
The Ring Today
The Grand Prix today does still run at the Nurburgring, but now days it runs on a modern Grand Prix circuit built on top of the old Südschleife. The Nordschleife meanwhile runs the occassional 24 hour endurance race and is often booked by car manufacturers for there own testing. This may seem a poor end for such a great track but the modern Nordschleife is far from quiet. The road has been given a classification as a one way 5 public toll road, the speed limit is controlled by the regulations regarding speed, as defined under Art. 3, Sect. 1 of the German Highway Code. These state that the driver must must be in full control of your vehicle whatever speed you're travelling at6 All vehicles must be 100% road legal7 and all normal German road laws apply for example you must have normal road insurance for instance8 and your vehicle must be capable of going over 40kmh. So other than these restriction on a public day anyone can turn up in their car, bike, coach, limo, van or scooter9 and pay the 16 Euro fee to drive a lap.
The Thrill and The Danger
The Ring is one of the most technicaly challenging tracks in the world. Most of the bends are blind and many of them tighten half way through, there are very few run off areas and if you get into a slide you are are likely to hit the armco hard. When you add to this that the track sits in a wet and mountainous region of western Germany and that you will be sharing the road with many other drivers of differing levels of ability, it can become very dangerous. The company in charge of the track Nurburgring GmbH are reluctant to give out exact figures but it is thought that between 2 to 12 people a killed at the track every year and those are just the fatalities. Crashes that destroy beautiful cars and bikes happen everyday.
So why drive across europe to visit a dangerous track and then pay money to put yourself in such a situation...well just for the sheer thrill of it really. The 'Ring is one of the few places on earth a driver can really test himself, lap timing by the ordinary public is banned10 but the most veterans of the Ring, known as Ringers, measure their performance in terms of the quality, smoothness and precision of each lap. Did they hit the apex perfectly, did they get the power down at the right point and so on. If you think of youself as a driver this is were you'll find out.
But I Cannot Drive!
If you cannot drive you have two options to experience the Ring one more satisfying perhaps than the other. The first are the Ring Taxis. This company runs two V10 BMW M5s which you can be hire to take you out as a passenger on a lap of the track. One of the companies drivers is Sabine Schmitz who raced a Ford Transit van around the track on the BBC Top Gear programme almost as fast as the presenter Jeremy Clarkson who had raced in a Jaguar.
The other alternative for the wannabe Ringer who cannot get to Germany is the computer game. The track appears in a number of games such as Grand Prix legends for the PC, Project Gotham Racing 2
and Forza Motorsport both on the Xbox. It also appears in Gran Tourismo 4 on the Playstation 2 where the makers claim it is accurate to 25mm long.
I'm off how do I get there...
If you can drive and want to do a lap there is one important thing to do first. Read Ben Lovejoys excellent website about the place, a regular Ringer Ben has driven the track many many times and his site is full of all the necessary information for the first timer.
Have fun but be safe.