What exactly is this Nurburgring?

Feature article by Simon Bradley

 

The Nurburgring is, without a doubt, the finest racetrack in the world. Like an exotic drug, once you've tried it you'll be hooked, and only expensive and painful therapy will get it out of your system.

Many of you will already, no doubt, have been on track days. Some of you have raced for real, and the sight of red and white kerbs flashing past your knees won't be unusual. I know what you're thinking - I made the same mistake. You're thinking "Been there, done that." Well, I promise you, the 'Ring is like nowhere and nothing else on earth. Imagine, if you like, the Isle of Man with all the dull, irritating bits removed. You're left with 14 miles of track with 72 bends and about 300m between the highest and lowest points. No speed limits. No towns. No lamp-posts or phone boxes. Which is a good thing.

There are lots of places on the Net where you can find out more about the history and so on. Suffice it to say that the circuit was built in 1927, entirely without using heavy machinery, as a means of easing unemployment in the area, and was home to both car and bike Grand Prix until 1986 when the new circuit was opened in response to concerns over safety. Since then, the 'Ring has been used for testing, training, development and terrifying normal drivers in public sessions. Oh, and providing a roaring trade for local bodyshops and recovery companies, of course.

Ring safety

Having mentioned safety, we may as well get that bit over and done with. The Nurburgring is a dangerous place. Actually, that's not strictly fair. It's certainly no more dangerous than riding fast on a public road - probably far less so. But compared to regular racetracks it's very dangerous indeed. There are several reasons for this, but the main ones are the sheer size of the track, the location and the variety of traffic there. What you have to remember is that 1 lap of the 'Ring is equal to about 13 laps of the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch. So instead of doing the same bends 13 times, which should give you a fair idea of where the track goes and allow you to get faster, you do each bend once. And then have a 10 minute wait before you come up to do it again. See that little bit hanging off the bottom on the map? That's the GP Circuit, which may give you a better idea of the scale. Add that to a circuit which, because of its location and design has just three gravel traps and often has triple layer Armco separated from the track by just a few feet of grass and the potential for sunshine at one end and rain at the other and you'll start to see my point. Then chuck in the possibility of mixing it with anything from 200mph Ruf Porsches to ancient VW campers, all of whom want to use the same line on bends and the potential to get hurt gets all too clear. But, there are still remarkably few serious accidents at the 'Ring, and with a little common sense you can avoid adding to the statistics.

 

Riding the 'Ring - a guided tour

You can now only start a lap from the new public entrance complex, half way along Döttinger Höhe. Buy your ticket from the helpful chap in the kiosk and hang around for a few minutes. Partly to soak up some atmosphere, partly to check out what else is out there. If you see a large slow vehicle (bus, camper van, Montego estate) getting ready to go, try to either get out very close or wait for five minutes or so. OK. Ready? Let's go.

When you go through the barrier you come out onto Döttinger Höhe, the 4km straight at the back of the circuit. You have several hundered metres of straight track before curving down and left through Tiergarten, going back up the hill into the right-left-right of the Schikane, coming out by the old public entrance at T13. The surface is pretty crappy along the short straight here before improving just before a long downhill left-hander. This bend deserves some respect as it is longer and sharper than at first appears. On down the gentle slope through a fast right and fast left to Hatzenbach and "The Snake." A sharp right where you don't want to cross the centre line leads into a left-right-left chicane, the last left leading you all the way across the track in a big arc to be ready for the right-left of Hocheichen. Watch for the kerb on the left hander and don't touch the slippery black band at the edge of the track.

From Hocheichen, accelerate up the hill, over the bridge where Manfred Winckelhock flipped an F3 car towards the fast double apex right hander at Flugplatz. Treat the two bends as one and come out smoothly into a gentle left and one of the fastest parts of the circuit - the straight leading towards the left hander at Schwedenkreuz. Straighten up and brake for the long downhill right hander at Aremberg and then straightline down Fuchsröhre. If you have the bottle you could hit 150mph easily down here before banging your chin on the tank and loading the suspension up as you reach the bottom of the hill and climb the other side. The next right hander leads into Adenauer Forst - probably the most common place to fall off. The following long left hander leads straight into a hard right. The track is often dirty and slippery, and the sight lines are all wrong for the direction the track goes. Turn in very late for the left hander or you'll run out of track. Advice: If you do screw up the entrance by pitching in too early, simply pick the bike up and go straight across the grass. Stay off the power and don't brake - you should be OK. Rejoin the track after the bend.

After Adenauer Forst, accelerate onto the straight and carry on down to the double left of Metzgesfeld. The first part is a long past sweeper, followed by a bit of braking into a hard left with a bit of a broken up surface. Then a gentle right leading to the long, hard, off camber right hander of Kallenhard. Turn in really late and get across to hit the apex or you'll run out of track. The into a left-right-right combination of fast downhill bends where you want to miss-hit-miss the apexes. Then further downhill into Wipperman. Get most of your braking out of the way for the first right hander then scrub off the rest of the speed for the left hand hairpin. Again turn in late and get on the power gently because the exit is a little off camber and can be slippery. Carry on down a long gentle left into a short straight before the long left at Breidscheid, the lowest part of the circuit. This is a popular viewing point, there is an exit and a coffee house here, and it is an extremely bad place to fall off. Carry on sharply uphill into a hard right at Ex-Muhle. If you're on a small bike you're really going to have to work it here. Along a short straight, through a left hand king locally known as Grillkurve ("Here vos Nicky Lauda's big crash") and turn very late into the long fast right hander at Bergwerk.

From Bergwerk accelerate into the long uphill drag of Kesselchen. 3km of virtually flat out uphill sweeping bends from the gentle left-right-left at the bottom through the daunting and blind left hander of Angstkurve into the right hander over a crest which leads to Klostertal. Be careful in the wet, as there are often puddles where you wouldn't expect them. Klostertal is a wide hairpin, again needing a really late turn in to avoid running out of track. Straightline up the hill through the kinks before the unique banked left hander of the Karussell. Stay about halfway up the banking, keep a constant throttle and look as far ahead as you can. Be gentle with the power on exit, as the bike is off balance and the surface is slippery. Carry on uphill into a fast left hander which in turn leads to a right curve followed by a long right bend at Höhe Acht, the highest point of the circuit. There is a ridge across the track which can throw you off line, and this point also often marks a change in the weather as you move into the next valley.

Höhe Acht leads into the left-right-left-right downhill Wipperman complex, ending on a short straight which curves up and right into the downhill left hander of Eschbach. The surface is a little broken up here and the front of the bike will be a little light as the track drops away. Eschbach leads straight into the double right hander of Brunnchen. There is a carpark and viewing area to the left of the track, and it's a popular place to watch from. Brunnchen consists of two sharp right handers linked by a short straight. The second goes steeply uphill, leading into the blind left of Eiskurve. The track kinks slightly right over a crest, although it looks as though it should carry on left, before heading slightly dowhill into the beginning of Pflantzgarten 1. Straightline the bends and get all your braking over before the jump. There is an advisory speed limit of 50km/h through here. It is a dangerous place to get wrong, although recent changes to the trackside layout have at least improved the run-off area. Turn in very, very late and apex equally late to be ready for the immediately following left hander. Take that in a wide sweep but be ready for the bike to go light or even wheelie at the drop for Pflantzgarten 2.

This is a very fast section of the circuit and although it looks straightforward enough it can be a killer.Then into the long right and straightline the next kinks before the fast uphill right hander leading into Schwalbenschwantz This is an uphill right which is far longer and sharper than it appears, followed by a very short straight and another, smaller, karussell. Be careful on the exit, which is sharp and can throw the bike off balance. Uphill to the long, double apex left hander of Galgenkopf before exiting onto Döttinger Höhe and a blast back to the barriers.

Things to avoid

Noisy exhausts. The locals get pretty tired of antisocial pipes, and the police regularly have clamp downs. If your bike is unreasonably loud and the exhaust doesn't have a TUV or BSI stamp, they can, and often will, confiscate it on the spot. Makes it a laugh to get home. Oh, and they'll fine you loads as well. Plus, the 'Ring management may not allow you on the track. Bit of a wasted journey...

Fatigue. Riding at 100% for 15 miles is hard work. Doing it several times is knackering. And knackered brains don't work properly. Your reactions will slow, your concentration will wander. Take frequent rest breaks. Drink plenty of water or energy drink. Give your tyres a chance to cool down as well. Take the opportunity to look over your bike for loose bits and to check out the other stuff in the car park. You'll see conclusive proof that the Germans certainly do have a sense of humour...

Crashing. It hurts, it's embarrassing and it's inconvenient. It can also be expensive. As well as the damage to your bike, you are also liable for any damage you do to another vehicle, another person or the track and trackside facilities. Even indirectly. Say you crash and drop oil from your smashed crankcases. Then say a car crashes on the oil and trashes the barriers. You, my friend, are liable for all of it. Including your medical costs. Your insurance should be OK, because it's still a public road and you aren't racing, but do you really want to chance it? Oh, and remember that if you've crashed after ignoring an advisory speed limit there's a fair chance of getting prosecuted as well. So be careful out there.

How to get there

Take the ferry or tunnel to Calais. You've got two choices from there. Either take the direct, quick but very boring trip along the Autoroute through Belgium or take a Michelin guide and have a laugh. Either way, if you can get there from Calais in less than five hours you're going some. In case you need a clue as to where you should be going, it's worth remembering that the D258 from Monschau to Nurburg is one of the best biking roads in the world.

Costs

Expect to pay around £9 for a single bike lap. It will cost you a whole heap more, of course, because you'll want to do it again and again and.

A note from the 'Ring management (rather liberally translated)

This was left on all the bikes in the car park one Saturday.

Dear Motorcyclist! For the good of your health: The Nordschleife is not a safe place for motorcyclists. Changeable weather conditions, hills and dips, varying road surfaces and rubber deposits can easily create surprises. Ride with a safety margin. Always expect the unexpected. Ride with the same consideration for yourself as you would for others. Devote your full concentration to riding. Doing too many laps can be both physically and mentally tiring. Take a break, make sure that the Nordschleife doesn't get the last laugh. Over exuberence=Danger!

The last word I think that says it all at least as well as I can. The Nurburgring is one of the best biking places on the planet. But if you get it wrong or take too many liberties it will turn round and bite you. And I promise. It will hurt.

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