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Iconic 'Ring up for grabs

2013-10-30 09:42


LEGENDARY NURBURGING FOR SALE: The eventual buyer of the Ring will hope to turn the circuit's fortunes around. Image: REUTERS:


We’ve seen them behind the wheel of a Porsche GT3 RS, Ferrari 458 Italia and BAC mono track car... now ‘Ring masters Sabine Schmitz and Ron Simons return for another epic car duel, this time behind the wheel of 528kW Larea GT1 S9 Evo. Watch the awesome video!

Germany’s famed and feared track, the Nurburgring, has captured the hearts and minds of petrol heads for decades. Now it's looking for a new owner…

FRANKFURT, Germany - Ever since Niki Lauda's Ferrari exploded in a fireball on the Nurburgring in 1976 the circuit has been deemed too dangerous for Formula 1; instead, it hosts new-model testing and amateurs trying to set records on a rush of adrenalin.

After politicians loaded it with debt equating to around 50 years worth of income, the famed and feared track is now looking for a new owner.

Video: Sabine Schmitz Nurburging duel


Completed in 1927, the Ring was built to showcase German auto engineering and racing prowess, but now the country's deep-pocketed automakers have been cited as potential bidders. The assets include the track and adjacent amusement park that features a roller-coaster that mimics the cockpit g-force in an F1 car, although after four years safety concerns have a delayed its maiden voyage..

Porsche bought the Nardo Ring circuit in Italy in May 2012; Silverstone, the home of the British GP, is owned by a group of more than 800 drivers including F1 stars such as Lewis Hamilton.

Indicative bids are currently being assessed for the track and park, which typically has an annual revenue equivalent to R679 to R815-million and underlying profits of around R100-million. By law, any buyer must keep the circuit open to the public and the motor industry.


Track administrator Thomas Schmidt said he had "sufficient legitimate non-binding bids for all the Nurburgring assets" and hopes for a deal early in 2014. Daimler, BMW and VW declined to comment.

Peter Meyer, the president of German motoring club ADAC, said: "The Nurburgring is without a doubt the cradle of German motorsport, which has also said it is seriously considering making a bid. It's an automotive cultural treasure."

German automakers in particular have long had an affinity with the track. Daimler traces its "Silver Arrow" heritage back to the 1934 Eifel Race around the Nordschleife (north loop), which it won after the Mercedes team famously scraped the car's white paintwork off the metal body to shave weight.

Manufacturers still use the Nordschleife to test handling and durability against the gruelling wear-and-tear it inflicts on chassis and suspension. Setting a lap record confers ultimate bragging rights on automakers.

It also brings risks - more than 230 accidents and three deaths in the last two years - mainly motor enthusiasts who flock to the track on days when it is open to the paying public.

Barring ice or fog, the track closes only for secretive "industry pool" days staged from April to October, when automakers rent the course for their own tests and paparazzi lurk in the trees, hoping to snap the latest prototypes.

During the rest of the year, the Ring remains open to amateur racing fiends who pay R353 a lap to put their car through its exacting corners.

German police even applaud the practice, arguing the Nordschleife serves as a valuable outlet for speed freaks that otherwise would pose a danger to road safety. Professionals, however, advise extreme caution.


World Touring Car championship driver Vincent Radermecker said: "It's the toughest track by miles. If you make a mistake here, you destroy the car, and yourself."

It is by far the world's longest race track at 20.9km with a mind-boggling 73 bends, too many for neophytes to remember, and sharp crests that can catapult a car into the air at breakneck speed. To help learn the terrain, drivers bestowed nicknames to sections over time such as Bergwerk, where Lauda crashed, Carousel or Gallows Head, where legend has it a local earl once staged public executions.

In the course of a lap, cars tackle altitude changes equivalent to London's Shard skyscraper and on a circuit this big, parts can be slick with rain while others are dry. Tyre grip is further complicated by the irregular mosaic of rough and smooth surfaces, the result of years of subsidence and repaving.

Undulations in the decades-old track prompt professional test driver Dirk Schoysman to advise newcomers to first learn the course virtually with the aid of a racing game such as Sony's Gran Turismo before taking to the asphalt. "This area is volcanic and even though it's inactive the ground is still moving."

He's covered 16 000 career laps and saays "there is nothing else in the world like it".


The Nurburgring's mystique grew after Lauda crashed despite warning fellow drivers of its dangers and the track's lore holds a particular fascination for carmakers in Asia, where F1 draws some of its most devoted fans. Hyundai spent nearly R95-million building a new trackside test centre, one of only five automakers to do so, in the hope of narrowing a perceived gap with European rivals in ride and handling.

Hyundai Europe’s marketing chief Mark Hall said: "Anything we can make of that facility and the link between the Nurburgring and Hyundai is fantastically useful for me."

Nissan strategy chief Andy Palmer believes fame on the Nordschleife can help him sell his GT-R and wants the R1-million sports car to go down in the history books as quicker around the Eifel circuit than rivals costing 10 times as much.

Palmer said: "I hope it will be the fastest four-seater around the Nurburgring."

Ahead of the upcoming launch of its 918 Spyder, Porsche’s hybrid-electric clocked a lap time that confirms it as the fastest production car yet using street-legal tyres. At the other end of the price spectrum, Honda boasts its 208kW Civic Type R hatchback will claim the Nordschleife speed record for front-wheel-drive cars when it debuts in 2015.

Palmer added: "The Japanese and Koreans certainly see the Nurburgring as the centre of excellence for driving dynamics."


Spa-Francorchamps, an F1 track 64km away in Belgium, shares the same hilly topography and capricious weather as the Nordschleife. It is still in use though because its length - roughly one-third that of the Nurburgring - is more easily covered by firefighters and paramedics.

Christian Peruzzi, Fiat's head of operations in Germany, died at the Nurburgring in 2001, when he suffered head injuries during a crash. Peruzzi’s Alfa Romeo 147 barrel-rolled multiple times on the Swedish Cross stretch.

Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann said: "F1 doesn't race on such long distances any more because it's very difficult to control."
Lauda, of course, was luckier. Although badly scarred in 1976 he went on to win two more F1 championships before re-inventing himself as an aviation entrepreneur. The eventual buyer of the Ring will be hoping to turn the track's fortunes around and restore it to its former glory.
Read more on:    germany  |  nurburgring  |  track  |  motorsport  |  racing

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