Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Big Adventure at the Nurburgring, Part 1

Day 1 – Saturday 2nd October 2010

Dear Diary. Today I had to get up at the crack of dawn. Now, this is not something I generally like, and especially not on Saturdays. Therefore, it was timed as the latest wake-up possible to let me get up and out, and drive round the M25 to the Channel Tunnel to catch the 9:50 train. That, in turn, was chosen to give me time to get to the Nurburgring by late-afternoon and still have the chance to catch a lap before it closes. Therefore, what I needed was decent driving conditions to make sure that I catch that train.

What I saw out of the window was fog. Thick fog. Oh good. Despite that, I managed to get to Folkestone just in time to refresh and catch the train.

Ready & Waiting

Always an encouraging sight

Silly French water-bottling people are stupid and have no idea what size bottles should be

And so, onto the train. The nice people at Eurotunnel waved me onto the lower deck, so no front splitter worries for me. Time at last for a rest while the train makes the effort. A chance to program the satnav for the new locations:

These have been hidden at the back of the glovebox for nearly 7 years…

Oddly, Porsche navigation systems don’t seem to know where Nurburg is? They do know where Adenau is, though, and a search for nearby hotels hits the jackpot:

It knows about my guesthouse – phew!

Then to set the car up for the new environment in which it will be driving:

Kph calibration … useful, unless you happen to be able to multiply by 62/100 in your head

And set up some tunes while we’re at it.

Genius Mixes … just what I need?

That turned out to be the least successful bit of the trip in fact. The iPhone seems to be programmed to recognise a shake as some form of command while playing a genius mix – shuffle, maybe? Anyway, the utterly atrocious state of Belgium’s motorways meant that it was shuffled quite often. Oddly, it seemed to find Dido very frequently. Maybe she’s big in Belgium?

Speaking of Belgium, I have long been intrigued by the hate campaign waged by Ben Lovejoy against this poor country. Last summer, we took a family holiday near the Franco-Belgium border, and enjoyed several trips into Belgium, Ypres particularly. It seems a pleasant place, albeit spoilt by being home to the most hateful and wasteful bureaucracy known to man. Yet Ben complains each time that he has to drive across it, and lauds any opportunity to bypass it (at 30,000 feet if he can).

Let’s just say that I understand, now. A small country it may be, but the route from the UK to the Nurburgring manages to stretch along its entire length so you are able to “enjoy” it to the full. And what a driving experience it is – long, straight, dull motorways with nothing to look at, filled with caravans and lorries. Obviously, the EU and the Belgian government are concerned that we may become bored and fall asleep at the wheel, so they have kindly surfaced their motorways with the noisiest, bumpiest, rumbliest material they could find, interspersed with the odd pothole, just to keep you on your toes. This evil material is of course that light-coloured concrete stuff that can only be cast in sections, with a join between each section, so every now and then there is a sudden thump and, oh, it’s Dido again. Sleep? I should wish.

The interruption to this torment is the Brussels ring road. Don’t ask me about the Brussels ring road. Let’s just say that it’s like the M25, but without the comforting familiarity. Or any sense of which lane I should be in or which way I should be heading.

Eventually, I am granted mercy in the sight of a sign proclaiming that I am entering the Bundesrepublic Deutschland, and that the speed limit is 130kph. That’s not what I’ve heard … nor is it what all the other drivers have heard. Clearly this is one of the speed-limited parts of the Autobahn network, but that doesn’t seem to affect anyone. Soon, there is a Renault Espace on my rear bumper, asking to come past. Now, as a 911 driver, you’ll understand that I’m not used to this. Nevertheless, politeness comes first and I move over. Self-interest comes immediately afterwards, of course, and I pull out behind him to follow. When in Rome,…

I suppose I’d better deal with the obligatory questions about the Autobahn. Yes, I went really quickly. Rather more quickly that I would dare to do on a British motorway. Yet I maintained the same level of perceived safety as I maintain in the UK; the much better network of autobahns reduces the traffic levels, and this combined with (crucially) proper lane discipline and observation by the other drivers means that ::[COUGH]:: mph on a German autobahn feels as safe as ::[cough]:: mph or so on a British motorway. We really do need to learn that speed is not a per se bad thing on our roads. Danger is, yes, but Germany proves that there is not a straight-line relationship between the two.

I saw one other 911 on the autobahn. I didn’t see it for long, though.

Eventually, I arrive at Mecca.

I can hardly believe it. This place actually exists. It is real. It is not a huge con trick played on unsuspecting British petrolheads. It really is here. And it’s tiny.

That is the first impression – this place is incredibly cramped! I park next to a Ferrari, open the door (carefully!) and step out for a wander around. The noise is just fantastic – chatter, overlaid with V8s, V6s, straight sixes, flat sixes, the lot. And the smell – my notoriously insensitive nose can pick up an undertone of Mobil 1 with top note of Shell V-Power, plus distinct hints of hot rubber. Girls, you really have to lobby for that to be made into a perfume; boys will fall into your lap in an instant.

Anyway, there seems to be a crowd about 50 yards away, so that must be the place to head for. I'm right; it’s the head office:

Next to it is the hallowed entrance:

There is a steady stream of noisy, smelly, revving high performance cars driving up to the barrier and setting off. This is just incredible – some are driving in, off the main road, heading for the barrier, and off they go! No petty rules, no health & safety briefing, no clipboards in sight. There is no need – they know the risks, and have made their own decision how and to what extent they wish to mitigate them. So some have helmets, some have harnesses, some have roll cages. Others do not, arriving in plain road cars and T-shirts.

This is, truly, a different world. I have been whinging for two years on my blog about the relentless intrusion of socialist prodnoses into our lives, and all this time the Ring has been here, sticking two fingers up to them and blowing a raspberry. I decide that I love it. And I haven’t even left the car park.

Now, next you all want to hear about how I jumped back into my 911 and roared off to do an 8 minute lap. Of course I didn’t. Don’t be silly, I haven’t bought a ticket yet.

Seriously, I had given this a little thought. I’ve watched the videos, I’ve played with a few video games. All that I’ve learnt from that it that the Ring is very long and that after the 8th bend (or so) I’ve completely lost track of which way it goes. So I had no intention of just plunging in. I had made contact with a few others who planned to be there, and started looking for them. All had promised to give me a passenger ride first, so I just needed to spot one of them before he went out.

Needless to say, I only spotted one. Just as he was going through the barriers. Ah well, I thought, I’ll give it 10 minutes and wait for him to get out. Rather more than 10 minutes later, he emerged so I went over to chat. He was not pleased; his brake discs had given up the ghost (cracks were visible) and he needed to get them fixed (in Germany, at 4pm on a Saturday…). So no rides available there, then. Very kindly, however, he introduced me to a group of other drivers, one of whom volunteered to ride as a passenger with me to guide me round.


Crunch time.

I say that I’ll go and get a ticket, and he says he’ll wait there for me (it does strike me - I could just run for it, he doesn’t know me…). But I buy a four-lap ticket and come back. He jumps into my car, and off we go.

He doesn’t speak a lot of English, so apart from “left” and “right” (which he gets confused frighteningly often) his instructions are generally one of three phrases that he does know:

“Faster car coming behind!”

“You can go flat out here”, and

“Brake here”

So how was my first lap? Let’s just say that I have put his phrases in decreasing order of use. There are a lot of people who are a lot faster than me. But we reach the gantry 12 minutes later – he seems impressed with that as a first lap time (though perhaps he is being kind), and I am frankly amazed. I was expecting 15 or 20 minutes (no, seriously), but it felt like 6 or 8 such was the level of excitement.

So much happens so quickly that I can hardly pick out many of the famous sections that I have read about so often. Some parts do stand out, though. Fuchsrore and Karusell (in particular) are just incredible. I expected Karusell to be special, but Fuchsrore took me by surprise with its simply joyful combination of dips, bends, and climbs. A challenge, but one that is within reach. No, I didn’t take it flat, though. One day, maybe.

I drop him off back at the car park, and go for a walk to relax and calm down. By the time I am done, the Ring has closed. Fog is the likely culprit; I hope it was nothing worse. So I go for a drive, and after spotting some of the spectating positions I pull in at one just to take a look. These photos give a hint, I hope, of the nature of the circuit.

They are of the section at and just before Brünnchen; look especially at the changes in elevation. The only comparable part of a UK track that I know of is Craner Curves at Donington, which used to be my favourite bit of tarmac (now relegated to second place…)

There is an opening through the fence here:

Can you imagine this in the UK? First, anyone can just drive up and park by the track, without a ticket or a pass. Try that at Silverstone, and see what happens. Then, they can walk out onto the track itself. The only thing that is there to stop them is a sign pointing out that to do so would be quite incredibly stupid and that the consequences will be their problem, not the circuit’s.

I really love this place.

Eventually, the rain gets worse, so it’s time to go. I need some petrol, so call in at the Ed Tankstelle and collect my prize:

To be applied to a 911 near you, soon

Then back to the guesthouse for some food and some of this:



  1. The transit van on Top Gear did it in 12 mins and that was a woman driver.

    You didn't take me or reply to my last pertinent comment. Life is unfair. My lobbying obviously wasn't effective; perhaps I wasn't wearing the right perfume. :'-(

    I am told the Carousel series of turns are awesome and that the blind bends are terrifying. I am pleased you did it. Shame Sabine wasn't there to give you some tips, eh? I look forward to seeing more photos.

  2. Yes, it was indeed a woman driver. One rather specific woman driver, though...!

    Karussel is amazing - it seems impossible but just works. The blind bends help, in a way; for the early laps they keep you in check as you have no idea what might be round the bend. Then a 20-year old Golf flies past you, the driver somewhat more confident than you.