After a frenetic but entertaining time in Munich, and a coach journey that took the best part of nine hours, we finally rocked up at the very dark, and very cold Nurburgring and checked in to the Lindner hotel. This new, business-orientated guesthouse is right in the centre of the brand new facility that’s causing some bother among ‘Ring aficionados, concerned that the recent commercialisation of the track is unwise and poorly executed. I don’t feel well qualified enough to comment, but I’m not sure the toasters on sale in the hotel reception were what I expected to encounter on arrival at such an iconic place.
Still, after a good night’s sleep I awoke to a cold but dry morning and a proper view of the Eifel countryside. It’s Nurburgring time.
Our first day was spent on the Grand Prix circuit, where we would be wanging around in a range of BMWs before hitting the Nordschleife on day two. In the shadow of BMW‘s new DTM machine, the competition winners were all of a hubbub in the Castrol-branded pit garage as they prepared for a day of motoring nirvana. I chatted to a workshop mechanic from Perth who’s never been outside of Australia before and a couple of grinning guys from the UK.
One of them, an enthusiastic chap with bright blonde hair called Will Gibney, was there as a special guest of Castrol. He was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer at the end of 2011 and promptly set up a bucket list of motoring dreams he wanted to achieve while he still could. His visit to Germany came hot on the heels of a drive in a Ferrari Enzo and a visit to Lotus F1‘s garage during pre-season testing in Barcelona. He told me he’s been offered a trip to Sweden soon after to drive a Formula 1 car. It’s amazing what people will offer in situations like this; enough to reaffirm my faith in humanity. Will’s courage in the face of such adversity was incredible, and I wished him the best of luck in ticking items off his list*.
Back to the day in hand. First, a briefing on what lies ahead – lots of M cars.
There follows several hours of cone dodging and track driving around the GP circuit, none of which I photographed as my battery failed me. So here are a few highlights courtesy of the official photographer.
Castrol had brought in official BMW DTM drivers Augusto Farfus and Dirk Werner to give some taxi rides. With speed, and sideways action.
I’ll be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the action – with weeks of anticipation for the uncompromising challenge of the Nordschleife, doing emergency lane changes on the GP circuit seems somewhat tame. That said, I did enjoy the timed slalom challenge in the M3…
…because I won. Woo!
After the day’s driving, we headed into the village of Nurburg for some dinner at perhaps the Greatest Restaurant Ever.
The Pistenklause, located in the basement of the Hotel am Tiergarten, is a shrine to motorsport, with stickers, banners, bits of race cars, graffiti and memorabilia across every wall and ceiling. It’s run by the family of renowned local hero Sabine Schmitz, and does an excellent steak-on-the-stone. Perfect.
A walk back to the hotel showed the split personalities raging at the Nurburgring, between the family owned, long established independent businesses in the village…
…and the corporate moneymakers, with their shopping promenade, toasters and rollercoaster (which apparently doesn’t work).
Still, no amount of neon lights and bread heaters can change the Nordscheife. OK, there are catch fences now, but it’s still largely unchanged from its original route created in 1927, when it was part of a larger 28km Gesamtstrecke. Here, the greatest names in motorsport have charged around in some of the most iconic racing cars ever known.
And so, bright and early, on a very cold morning, I finally had my chance to drive the track. In a BMW M3. Wicked.
In my mind, I pictured a fairly ludicrous display of driving heroism, where I entered the Karussell completely sideways, barrelled through Hatzenbach at Mach 2 and actually flew at Flugplatz. This would probably have resulted in a fairly spectacular death, so I didn’t object too much – bearing in mind the freezing temperatures – when it was announced that I’d be following a more experienced driver in a pace car.
As a result, my debut at the ‘Ring was sensibly sedate. With ice lining the famous bends, and frozen mist rolling in off the hills and billowing up over the barriers, I took a spirited but restrained tour of the 154-corners, lapping in around 12 minutes. Three times.
And despite the years of watching clip after clip online, scrutinising in-car videos and banging in laps on computer games, I had no idea where I was going. It all looked a lot different up close, more… well, hilly, for a start. No TV screen or video game conveys the sense of elevation at the ring. Sections I thought were flat are steep inclines. Camber is off more often than I expected. The fast bits have no, and I mean NO, run off. The thought of barrelling around here at full speed is pretty intimidating. One mistake and you’re in the wall. And once they scrape you up, you have to pay for the wall you crashed into.
So barely an hour later, I was done. A long flight, an even longer bus journey, all for three laps with no opportunity to really open up the taps. Was it worth it? Yes indeedy. There’s such a sense of history, occasion and myth around the place, even when you’re just pootling around. I spent a large part of my time in Germany trawling through countless motorsport memories and clips in my mind, tallying what I saw with what had been ingrained into my brain over the years. I fully intend to go back as soon as possible and start learning the place, try to make sense of this awesome, timeless track that simply couldn’t exist if it was proposed today. It’ll doubtless take several trips and dozens of laps, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. And one I’m looking forward to very much.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without Castrol, makers of fine quality lubricants including the very high-tech Edge. As Castrol says, it’s not just oil, it’s liquid engineering. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for more information on all things lubed. Mmmm.
*Sadly, just before publishing this I learned that Will Gibney lost his battle with cancer at the end of May 2012. The sincerest sympathies of all at crankandpiston.com go out to his friends and family.
Additional pictures courtesy of Castrol