Thread 12.9 miles of paved road into approximately 90 corners, each with their own character, Throw in elevation changes of around 1000ft, a long straight, jumps, compressions and off-camber turns, then open it to the public. This is the Nürburgring Nordschleife (North Loop).
The Nordschleife is usually what people refer to as the Ring, rather than the modern F1 GP track. The old circuit remains the most daunting, thrilling, intimidating, challenging, absorbing and intoxicating track on the planet. There is nowhere else like it, even if its inspiration was the original Targa Florio route through the Sicilian mountains.
As a testament to the human spirit, people began racing cars and motorbikes as soon as they were invented. In the 1920s, safety was an afterthought but the circuit surrounding the village of Nürburg was instigated to take the racing off the public roads.
Construction meant jobs and tourism for the picturesque Eifel region (inspiring Jackie Stewart’s Green Hell nickname) in western Germany. The track opened in June 1927 and the first race occured the day after.
The first German grand prix was held there one month later, won by Otto Merz. His previous job was chauffeur to Archduke Ferdinand, whose assassination would spark WW1.
There are legendary names associated with the track, such as Rudolf Caracciola and the Karussel curve, or the Flugplatz (airfield) where drivers were really trying to take off. However, the Ring we know dates back to a rebuild in the early ‘70s, making the track wider with more run-off area.
In a macabre way, Niki Lauda’s fiery crash during the 1976 German GP was a blessing for the Nordschleife. If F1 hadn’t abandoned the track, its stringent requirements would have sterilized it long ago.
In 1984, the Südschleife (South Loop) was renovated and reconfigured to accommodate modern F1 racing and is combined with the North Loop for the Nürburgring 24-hour race.
The Nordschleife has become a public playground, as well as a facility where many manufacturers test and tune their suspensions. If a car works on the Ring, it’ll work anywhere.
An essential element of driving the track is using your mirrors to spot faster vehicles, but don’t forget to look ahead for the tourist bus around the next corner. And because of the track’s size, there are several microclimates within: It can be dry through one section and snowing in another.
The fastest recorded lap was 6:11.13sec by Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956C in 1983. Even so, an 8min lap in a road car is impressive, and drivers come here to set personal records but let’s not forget, people still die here. The run-off is very poor and opportunity for disaster lurks around every corner. And yet anybody who considers themselves an enthusiast, should put the Nürburgring on their bucket list – throw down some euros and run a few laps in a rental (it’s possible to hire proper racing machines at the track).
There’s a wealth of advice on the web about how to get there, where to stay, eat and drink. Before you go, familiarize yourself on Gran Turismo, but always remember there will be somebody faster than you!
You better get there soon. The Nürburgring is in financial trouble and the future of this 80 year-old facility is currently in doubt. The owners have requested help but the EU is uncertain of its status and things are a mess. Go online to offer your support to this international heritage site because the world would be infinitely poorer without it.