Germany - An alluring place no question, but it’s also deceptively perilous. I’ve completed close to 500 laps of the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife track – on PlayStation – so I’ll be fine, right? Well, not exactly...
Those 500 virtual laps mean didly-squat in reality because there’s no reset button here – just 20.8km and 170 corners of unforgiving, sinuous asphalt.
Visiting this hallowed chunk of Tarmac has been a lifelong dream and the Paris Motor Show was the perfect excuse for colleague Wayne Batty and I to head over to Germany and tackle the Green Hell.
Taking on the 'Ring
Located just 550km from Paris, the Nurburgring is roughly the same distance as driving from Cape Town to Knysna. That’s not far by any stretch, especially for a couple of South Africans, but there was a snag… Our ’Ring weapon, the 2012 Renault Twingo RS Gordini, was equipped sans satnav – a nightmare for any European tourist.
So with just four tattered pieces of handwritten notes and the full moon to illuminate our path ahead, we set out at 2am on a Sunday morning with the hope of arriving at gates of Nurburgring just five hours later.
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The first few off-ramps were easy to navigate, but paranoia soon kicked in as we began to question the accuracy of our sketchy footnotes, but boldly we pushed on into the unknown.
At 4.45am, somewhere just before the Luxembourg border, we filled up with some costly petrol and stretched our legs.
This pit stop also signaled the start of my stint behind the wheel and, as luck would have it, a dense blanket of mist drifted over the E25 motorway reducing visibility to only a few metres.
Again, the uncertainty of navigating pretty much blindly set off a mild case of delirium and panic – especially for Wayne, but as the odometer ticked past 530km the first Nurburgring signboard emerged. Our trusty notes had worked after all.
As the sun began to rise and the ambient temperature pushed into positive figures we were greeted by a rare cloudless sky – bad weather is often the cause of many annoying ’Ring closures, but we couldn’t have picked a better day for our visit.
'Spine-tingling cacophonies of cult supercars'
In fact, most of the local ’Ringers shared our sentiments and in just a matter of minutes the surrounding area was filled with the spine-tingling cacophonies of cult supercars including a legendary Jaguar XJ220, Ferrari 458 Italia and Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
It’s surprisingly straightforward to do a lap of the ’Ring. You simply buy a ’Ring card and load it with credit – one lap costs €26 (the equivalent R430 in today’s currency) and that’s it.
I tentatively pulled up to the mobile ticket barrier, swiped my card, waited for the boom to rise and rolled through a cone chicane. ‘You’re on the ’Ring dude,’ muttered Wayne. No sooner did I take the first corner than the hostile silhouette of an Audi R8 V10 appeared in my rear-view mirror.
‘Pull to the right,’ yelled Wayne. ‘Wait, there’s more coming – three Porsches, a Nissan GT-R, an Artega GT and a Lotus!’ Crikey, this is a stressful place. As I wiped the sweat from my face I was yet again harassed by another motorcade of automotive exotica – this time a jostling Porsche 911 GT3 and BMW M3 GTS.
They don’t call this place the Green Hell for nothing. It’s claimed many lives over the years, but I wasn’t going to let it take ours.
Perhaps, then, it’s a good thing we’ve travelled here in the Twingo – it’s not overtly fast but it’s adequate enough to carve up the graffiti-decked track at a respectable pace. Anyway, I didn’t come here to set any lap records.
Nope, my number one goal was to try my utmost to avoid Ring Sting (crashing into the expensive Armco barriers).
Believe me, no video game can prepare you for this place. What the games fail to show is the sheer scale of the topography, the camber variations and elevation changes that at some points are as high as 300m. You can’t memorise specific corners either – there’s just too many. Every time you go around you see something new, almost as if the track is constantly morphing to coax you into making a wrongful move.
Just as I was approaching the iconic Caracciola Karussell, a Nissan GT-R stole my line and forced me to take the less abrasive outside path.
I managed to get a clean run through the Karussell on my final lap, but the vibrations from the corrugations were so severe that it caused the sweat from my brow to spray in all directions.
I was done for the day – emotionally drained. Of course, I would have enjoyed going around a few more times, but an accident just after my second lap closed the track for two hours. A blessing in disguise perhaps?
What was my best time? I don’t actually know. I was too overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this sacred place that I forgot to arm my stopwatch. All I know is that it was over all too quickly. I envy the local enthusiasts who attend every public track day, but for me two full laps were enough – for now at least.
I spent close to R4000 in total that day, which included both my laps and a stack of ’Ring memorabilia. An expensive outing then, but worth every cent. Will I visit again? Of course! It occupies the first five spots on my bucket list...
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