Germany is nearly as famous for it's beautiful landscape as its beer and schnitzel. Race fans, however, know there is a very special place, hallowed ground—a racetrack, hidden in the German forest: The Nürburgring Nordschleife. No other place has captivated me as much as this; even as a born-and-raised German, the mystique overcomes the touristy nature. It's not just the energy that permeates and binds you to the location, but the sounds of race cars flying through the trees and the variety of smells in the air.
At least twice a year, I'm drawn back to this place. It never gets old, with new and exciting things to discover after every corner. Of course, you can't explore the whole track on your first visit to the Nürburgring, because with its 73 curves and a total length of almost 14 miles, it is the longest racetrack in the world and even as an addict, I don't know them all yet.
The Eifel region, where the Nürburgring is located, is one of the most beautiful, picturesque landscapes in all of Germany, equal to a fairy tale. However, the weather at the Nürburgring will welcome you in it's own way. Forget about the forecast; just be prepared for weather changes you've never experienced before. This is one of the things that makes this place so special. As a photographer, you have to accept the challenge the track is offering you. This year's 24-hour race showed everybody that a hailstorm could be followed almost immediately by sunny skies.
In May, it was time to travel back to the Ring with my husband and fellow photographer Nate Hassler to stay awake for more than 24 hours while holding a camera and capturing special moments of racing history. More than 150 cars were fighting for the victory in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring, and along with the big factory teams were the privateers, who prepare their cars with smaller monetary budgets but equal or greater heart and soul.
As soon as I park my car, I'm greeted by several people—I am home.
Dieter, who has been working as a track marshal for several years and calls the Nürburgring home, warns me about the weather conditions for the upcoming weekend and unceremoniously hands me some coffee. I thank him and continue my walk through the paddock, promising to come back for another coffee after the race. Loaded with two Nikon D810s, a Nikon 70-200 2.8, and a Nikon 24-70 2.8, I start my sleepless weekend at the most amazing place I can think of.
Of course, there are more than enough corners at the Nürburgring that are great to shoot, but there are some that I call my favorites.
I begin my own personal race around the Nordschleife at a corner called Hatzenbach. This spot is the place to be after the lights turn green. During the introduction lap, you can focus on the weekend campers and hardcore race fans cheering their heroes of the Nordschleife on to the win. During this year's race, a heavy hailstorm hit parts of the track, but at Hatzenbach everybody, including me, stayed dry. The storm hit the track so hard that numerous cars slid off the track. The race had to be paused until the weather gods decided to bring back the sun.
After the restart, I continued my journey to Pflanzgarten, where you could still see the effects of the storm. The cars were flying through the rain, anxious to get back to the dry section of the track. Due to the rain and fog, I could barely see which car had just passed me.
My next stop was Brünnchen, another part of the Nordschleife that I always come back to more than once during the race. Surrounded by campers, this route section is one of the best-attended parts of the track. Spectators love to get a beer at the numerous beer stands set up around the track and enjoy the action. Not only the fans, but even the drivers can smell the barbecues and campfires while racing past them. Don't be surprised when a German suddenly invites you to join his barbecue party. Take that offer! When you photograph at Brünnchen, you will also experience the world of German folk music and suddenly understand a big part of the rarely understood German culture: the partying.
When you've had enough German hospitality, another part of the track that I love to shoot is the Caracciola-Karussell, though it is not the most accessible place. By car, you first must be sure of the off-road capabilities of the vehicle you are driving, but my little Audi A1 accepted the challenge and made it all the way up to this famous spot. The reward for this little adventure through the forest is exciting photographs of race cars jumping out of the exit of the turn.
After sunset, I decided to go back to the paddock. Particularly at night, I find myself back there checking on the cars that are still in the game and the ones that have a chance of returning. The atmosphere at night is special; you can see the exhausted mechanics sinking into their camping chairs for a quick nap before the next pit stop and the drivers getting psyched up for their next stint.
At roughly 4:30 a.m., I am rushing to my next spot. Sunrise is one of my favorite times during the 24 hours of Nürburgring. I'm not always lucky enough to see the sun peeping out from behind the hills, but this year I was happy I decided to give it a try. At Adenauer Forst, I captured the best light and I'm sure the drivers also welcomed the sun for the new and final day of the race. All by myself, I enjoyed the morning surrounded by engine sounds. Suddenly I realized how tired I was, but I still didn't feel the need to take a break. There were several hours to go and after a quick breakfast, I set off to spots with weird German names like Hohe Acht, Stefan-Bellof-S, and Steilstrecke.
My last stop is the paddock again. You experience very real moments of tension among the fans and team members. Everywhere, people are holding flags in their hands, ready to raise them after their favorite car crosses the finish line. I'm happy and proud I finished my very own 24-hour race at the Nürburgring and find myself celebrating amongst friends, old and new. Someone is handing me a German beer. To another incredible 24-hour race! I will be back next year!