by Traian Popescu, photos by Cosmin Laslau, Flickr.com & the author.
Deep in the heart of the Eifel forest in south-western Germany, not 40km from the Belgian border, lies a small, out of the way town named Nürburg. You won’t find it in many travel guides, and most visitors to Germany have never even heard of it. To anyone with a hint of petrol in their blood, however, this is Jerusalem, Mecca and perhaps even one or two of Buddha’s temples all rolled up in one. But louder. Because winding around this remote burg are the 20.8km of the promised land: one of, if not the finest, most beautiful, challenging and revered race tracks in the world.The Nürburgring’s Nordschleife (northern loop) has been home to the biggest names in motor-sport: Nuvolari, Fangio, Stewart, Moss, Lauda, Porsche, BMW, and now...the World’s Fastest Sedans crew!
Completed in 1927 to house the ADAC road races of the time, which had become too dangerous for public roads, the Nordschleife became Germany’s F1 circuit in 1947, until in 1976 it too was deemed unsafe by FIA’s standards. Since then it has continued as a venue for a couple of regular racing series, as well as historic car races and, of course, the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
The best way to reach the ‘Ring in Germany is to travel the A61 south from Köln/Bonn or west from Koblenz, which should give you a few nice unlimited stretches of autobahn, and then follow the B412 west for about 26km, which leads you straight into Nürburg. Despite the lush forests, hilltop castle and roadside cafes, this is a car town, and you’ll notice it as soon as you hit any of the track-side parking lots. From vintage Alfa Romeo SZs, BMW 2002s and Ferrari 328s, to gleaming Porsche 911 GT3 RSs, BMW M3 CSLs and Lotus Exiges, to track prepared Steinmetz Opels and Alpina BMWs, to stunning tour buses and Audi wagons (more on that later), your fellow gearheads’ machinery will make a visit to Nürburg a treat onto itself.
If you want a little more, you can also hit the track-side museum which features a few goodies such as the Mercedes 190 2.3-16 driven by Ayrton Senna in the inaugural GP-Strecke Grand Prix, a BMW M1 Procar, and a number of ex-F1 engines from different eras. The track itself is far more worthy of your time and money however, so only do so if you’ve both to spare.
The ticket booth is located at km-0, along the 3km long front straight leading from Galgenkopf to the Coca Cola curve. A lap will cost you anywhere from 16 Euros for a one-timer, to 12.20 €-per when you buy a lot of 35, which are valid for the entire year. Before you seal the cat, pack your tank, fill your leaks and feed your luggage for the trip, make sure you’ll be there one of the public days by checking the official Nürburgring website.
Don't worry too much about your trusty steed’s outright performance: for the first few laps at least you will be far within its limits – and breaching your own – so it’s better to bring along a machine that will keep you out of trouble. Our ride was an Audi A6 3.0 Tdi – with quattro AWD, MMI, sat-nav and 6-speed Tiptronic – and, to top it all off, a wagon. Our original choice was an Opel Astra 2.0, but through extraneous circumstances wholly out of our control, we were saddled with the 50,000-€, 225-hp, 331-lb-ft of torque, 155-mph-limited Audi. Oh cruel world, what must we endure!
So one warm Sunday afternoon, not 3 min after the official 5:30pm public start time, we found ourselves lined up at the gates of the Green Hell. With only a few seconds left, we made our last prayers – ‘Please, please God, whatever happens, save the Audi!’ – and took off!
A true, turn by turn, snapshot replay of the Nordschleife is unlikely, which is littered with 73 turns over its 21km sprawl, and takes anywhere from 6:55 min to far, far more than that to complete. The entire length of the track is beautifully laid out, with corner combos that are massively satisfying when approached quickly and correctly, and disastrously messy if judged wrong. Luckily, we had plenty of grip and not quite so much power at our disposal to seriously revel in any ‘Ohhh Scheisse’ moments. Nevertheless – and although it worked quite seamlessly and many times may in fact not even have engaged – ESP did likely nudge us away from the Armco a few times during our little bouts of overzealousness.
The large majority of corners are blind, so if your car is seriously expensive (like ours), or does not belong to you (like ours), or cannot stop on a dime (again, like ours), you will need a serious sense of denial and foolhardiness to keep the right pedal planted in the hopes that you will clip a nice smooth apex and not encounter a) crashed vehicles strewn across the track, b) oil spills, c) decreasing radii, or d) sharp direction changes. But we did it anyway. And it felt magnificent.
Elevation changes are significant, and will leave you literally breathless as you crest some of the peaks under full throttle. This is followed by intense braking as you approach tight hill-bottom curves, the back end losing a bit of traction and creeping a few inches in each direction under deceleration on the inclines.
The most exciting part of the track is without a doubt the Karussell – past km-13 – a seemingly-endless 180 degree pit that is highly banked on the inside half and nearly flat on the outside. We took it easy through here, what with the entire turn being paved with harsh concrete slabs that leave you guessing about traction, but the big, gently-sprung Audi took it in stride and never seemed close to its limits. Even a mild pace makes for an exciting exit, as the camber switches suddenly while you are under full throttle; big power definitely makes things interesting here.
The final 1.4 kilometers are a straight, slightly downhill run to the finish line. This is where the big Tdi outshone the little hatchbacks that had been harassing us through the turns, and we managed to nearly crack 195 km/h before crying uncle with the exit looming in sight. A rest is due after you pull off, both for you and the poor wretched machine that’s just received the caning of its life. Our A6’s brakes were roasted after the first lap, with huge plumes of smoke rising from the wheel wells (see accompanying photo) a good 10 minutes after we’d already parked. Brake fade on the wagon is pretty serious, but your feet and driving style adjust automatically as the brakes gradually lose grip. We didn’t experience any critical failure of either brakes or tires, and the Ingolstadt wonder even kept its temperature needle dead centre for the duration of the abuse.
At the end of the day, we were hooked. Driving the ‘Ring is an absolutely marvellous experience, and the whole day went off with nary a hitch. A few hours of bombing on the autobahn later and we found ourselves back at home, looking forward to the next pilgrimage to the promised land. - by Traian Popescu1 http://www.nuerburgring.de/1_nuerburgring/touristenfahrten/index.html?L=1
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