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Taking on the 'Green Hell': How to be a 'Ring leader

2016-06-21 08:33

Top Car: Antony Ashley

THE GREEN HELL: It may be a dream for many to drive around the Nurburgring but the iconic 'Ring is one of the most demanding, dangerous tracks in the world. Image: iStock

Nurburgring, Germany - 'You’re not a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo' - That’s rubbish. The truth is you are only a true petrolhead once you have visited the Nurburgring… 

I know this for a fact because I’ve owned an Alfa and I happen to live, play and race at the Nurburgring. I work for the largest track car rental company in Europe, RSR Nurburg, and as the general manager my core duties include marketing, sales, driver instruction and staff management.

I also specialise in bringing individuals and tour groups from South Africa to Europe for motorsport-related activities. Truth is, my whole life has followed a unique series of events to get me to this point and now I’m finally living the car enthusiast’s ultimate dream. 

The Nurburgring is an enigma. We’ve all heard about it, yet most of us don’t know as much about it as we would like to think. Sure, it’s the benchmark for manufacturers but everyone knows that… What about the Nordschleife? Most have no clue. The Nordscheife (Northern Loop) is the actual track on which all the action happens.

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This is the infamous circuit that opened in 1927 with a total track length of 28km when combined with the Southern Loop. Take a moment to consider that one lap is equivalent to an entire sprint race on local soil.

The ’Ring is a captivating place and once you experience its allure; it’s with you for life.

The Green Hell

The Germans built this track to push man and machine to their ultimate limits, from world-famous corners like the Karussell, which just about rattles your eyeballs from their sockets, to Flugplatz where one can become completely airborne.

This is why Sir Jackie Stewart nicknamed the 'Ring the 'Green Hell' just moments after finishing a race that was so tough he thought he would never be able to race again. Formula 1 was banned here in 1976, after Niki Lauda’s famous fiery crash – one of the central elements in the movie Rush.

Racing today is not much different. The stakes are still high and the dangers just as prevalent. It’s this sense of peril that attracts the enthusiast and becomes an obsession. The Nordschleife has been open to the public since its inception and although every track session presents its own set of hazards, it’s the race events that provide the toughest test of your mental and physical abilities. I know this because I’ve raced here.

READ: An SA petrolhead's bucket list - Driving the Nurburgring

The VLN racing series is a Nurburgring-specific, four-hour endurance championship where manufacturers, teams and drivers from all corners of the globe come to pit their skills against the most technically demanding and dangerous racetrack in the world. Each lap is 24.358km long as a section of the F1circuit is combined with the Nordschleife.

Once a year, the coveted six-hour VLN race is held here. I raced it in turn with my team mate - a gentleman driver who has raced just about everything ranging from F1 classics to high-powered GTs all over the world. The pressure and anxiety was palpable.

Winning at the 'Ring

Our race started off badly: an electrical glitch saw us drop to last place on the first lap, but we kept our heads down and drove consistently fast for the remainder of the race. And this is never easy in the best of conditions. We struggled for the first hour battling the omnipotent Nurburgring and overcoming the treacherous and intermittent wet conditions that plagued the days’ racing. Thankfully, our tyre choices were spot on and, as such, we pulled ahead of our class rivals. Of the 200-plus starters only 138 competitors actually finished the race.

The track space is limited - it’s only about 8m wide for the most part which doesn’t bode well when overtaking, avoiding and slaloming through crashed cars, strewn bumpers, safety vehicles, medical cars and tow trucks attending to the various situations at high speed. But in the end we made it home.

READ: Losing direction? Abroad without maps, GPS

A video posted by Nürburgring (@nuerburgring) on

As they say in endurance racing: ‘In order to finish first, you must first finish,’ and this was precisely our mantra for the day. We did just that in one of our RSR Nurburg company race cars; a BMW 130i SP5 Class. Now, this may not be the fastest car around, especially in VLN, but it still has the right dynamics; which is something you really need to be competitive at the ’Ring.

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Winning at the Nurburgring in any car, class or race series is a dream come true, but winning the six-hour VLN Enduro (the second biggest race here after the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring) is truly amazing. Standing up on the podium and collecting the trophy and holding it aloft is certainly a memory I will cherish for a very long time to come.

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