21 Jun First trip to the Nürburgring
First trip to the Nürburgring
The name ‘Denmark’ has been tossed around in a few political debates and elections around the globe recently. One side of the political spectrum seems to believe we have built a Garden of Eden, where everyone can pick their favourite education from the free college tree, and a trip to the dizzy heights of medical know-how costs you absolutely nothing. A place, where the tears of the many are wiped away by the happy and willing few.
Others seem to be convinced, that we live in a Stalinist hellhole, where a government agent stands ready to mug you at every corner, and everyone, who shows a bit of initiative, gets stampeded by the great unwashed on their daily trip between the mandatory abortion clinic, the free beer bar and the social security office.
The reality of the matter is that Danish society isn’t more or less dysfunctional than most others in the Western world. Say, you’re unemployed and need unemployment benefits. If you fail to secure a job within 3-6 months, you will be sent to an activation course, where you will be taught such skills as building the tallest possible tower out of spaghetti.
Fair enough? If we’re paying these people for twiddling their thumbs and watching the telly all day, we might as well have a bit of a laugh? Ok, then how about this one: If you have some sort of mental or physical disability – but not enough to be eligible for early retirement – you will be sent into an internship to test how much work you can do. If your head is half separated from your body and you are only able to move forwards by gliding on your own drool, you will still be sent into an internship. We had cases where doctors estimated that people could work for 8 minutes a week. The social security office’s plan: Ship them off into an internship for those 8 minutes.
It seems to me that we can do things somewhat smarter. If we look back in time and glance at, say, Germany before those unfortunate 1930s. They had a brilliant way of tackling the questions of unemployment, benefits and rehabilitation into the workforce. When the Eifel region of northwest Germany saw record unemployment levels, the government decided to build race track there.
Their stroke of genius gave 25,000 people a job and gave birth to the glory that is the Nürburgring.
Naturally I had to visit at some point and cross out yet another track on my bucket list: Circuit de la Sarthe, Spa-Franchorchamps, Laguna Seca, the ring. So, quite spontaneously, I packed my bags, kissed my significant other farewell, and set off south when the weather forecast aligned with my calendar and the open Touristenfahrten days on the Nürburgring.
A quick oil change at Porsche Centrum in Faxe to get ready for the trip. The service was as excellent as always!
Most of the 840 kilometre journey would take place on the German Autobahn. That word may conjure up images of no speed limits and wide and open roads that allow you to test the limits of your vehicle of choice. The reality is quite different: Road works, heavy truck traffic and ridiculous micro cars that pull out in front of you while doing 120 km/h tops. On the way down there I never got the chance to let the old 911 stretch its legs.
I had booked a room at the excellent Landhaus Sonnenhof in Adenau. I place I can wholeheartedly recommend. It’s only 7 kilometres from the ring and offers some peace and quiet along with a nice mountain view if you are into that sort of thing. If not, the minibar is free.
You know you booked the right hotel, when you are greeted by a sight such as this.
In any good story, our protagonist has to overcome a great many challenges before the adventure has a happy ending. Unfortunately, in this case the protagonist was me. And the challenges started early in the morning, when I walked towards my car to be ready at the Nürburgring ticket office at 8 am.
My right-hand side rear tyre had gotten a slow leak puncture. Normally it would be less than catastrophic, but to make matters worse this Thursday was a holiday in the catholic parts of Germany, where I was. So back in my hotel room I had absolutely no luck at any of the tyre dealerships I called.
A flat tyre on the morning of the first day on the ring is really the last thing you want to see.
In an act of desperation I decided to walk the 7 kilometres to the Tyre Trade Center am Nürburgring. They hadn’t picked up their phone either, but I thought I might as well give it a try. If nothing else, I could do a bit of car spotting before walking back while crying manly.
To my surprise Lady Luck curled her lips backwards and upwards and barred her stained, brownish teeth. The shop was open and they could help me out. Many, many hours later my trusty old Porsche 911 had a new – and rather unsuited BFGoodrich tyre instead of the Continental ContiSportContact 5 that should have been there.
I had been advised not to drive straight onto the ring, but experience it in a Ring Taxi first. So I popped into an Audi R10 driven by a German bloke who named all the corners while he casually applied opposite lock when necessary. Saying that we went “fast”, is like saying the Kohinoor diamond is “pricey”. The word does not do it justice.
Word of advise: DO take a ring taxi first, if you have never driven at the Nürburgring before.
Quite extraordinarily the Nürburgring Grand Prix Track was open as well in combination with the Nordschleife. So shortly after driving into the track and passing Tiergarten, all traffic went into the GP track. Naturally this meant that everyone, who has anything with a wheel attached to it, was at the track.
That turned my first own lap of the ring into a brown-in-my-pants experience. It was frankly terrifying since I had to look as much in the rear view mirrors as at the track in front of me. Quite embarrassingly that caused me to spin the car in the otherwise pretty straightforward turn 5 of the GP track.
My second lap was a huge improvement. But a Porsche 911 GT3 almost caused the both of us to crash, as he passed me in a corner and pulled in to soon. It wasn’t thanks to him that we could both enjoy the track the next day as well.
The classic McLaren pose at the Nürburgring
The late hour and the heavy traffic made me call it quits for the day. So I returned back to Adenau for a cold beer and an excellent lunch at Die Gemütliche Ecke. Order the US Round Steak or one of their asparagus dishes, if you happen to pass by.
My second day on the Nürburgring was an entirely different experience altogether. For starters, the car hadn’t broken down into a smoking ruin during the night. And while yesterday the ring resembled a Delhi street market, now it had transformed into a quiet rural village on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t entirely devoid of traffic, but it got as close at it can.
DO allow you car to cool down in between laps.
The perfect conditions for a great day at the Nürburgring
So the first few laps were pure and utter joy. I’m sure there’s a Youtube video out there, with some laughing maniac in a black 70s 911 coupe shouting with joy while tearing into the Brünnchen corner. I was as happy as if a team of Swiss scientists in starched, white lab coats and serious glasses had invented an entirely new and even more delicious bacon.
A Porsche 911 driver enjoying an almost empty Nürburgring
But the ring wouldn’t be nicknamed The Green Hell, if there wasn’t a snake in Paradise. In this case, I had just let a pair of BMWs pass, when a motorcyclist – on what was probably a Yamamoto 3000 Hellblazer or something similar – passed us all in a move that demonstrated either incredible skill or equal stupidity.
A few kilometres later it turned that it wasn’t his skill that had brought him here, lying down on the tarmac with a deformed motorcycle crashed against the Armco.
At the ring you are supposed to stop and help, when you see an accident. So the 3 cars in front of me were already at the road side, their hazard lights blinking. I pulled over and saw that Mr. Yamamoto had gotten to his feet, supported by two helpers. There was nothing more I could do here. So I put the car in first gear and slowly passed the accident site.
When I started my next lap it must have been 11 am. or so. Traffic had increased quite a bit. And there was still a yellow flag zone where the motorcycle had crashed. A team of marshals were busy scraping the remains off the tarmac and Armco. This combination of traffic, the recent accident and the yellow flag zone honestly threw me off balance.
Now, the Nürburgring has 73 corners. It’s no good driving 72 of them carefully or even good, if you lose your focus in the remaining one. I did. The car spun out in some corner, and even though I managed to save it, I either involuntarily got off the gas, or applied too much opposite lock for too long. The back stepped out in the opposite direction and I had a series of slides that stopped the car 1 metre short of the Armco.
I still had to get the car back to Copenhagen in one piece. So then and there I decided that I was done with Touristenfahrten (or Terroristenfahrten as the locals call them). I am definitely coming back to the Nürburgring, but for a dedicated track day, so I can focus on my driving, not having to speculate whether the fast approaching motorcyclist in my rear view mirror will turn out to be Tom Cruise in Days Of Thunder or O.J. Simpson in Police Squad.
Instead of pushing my luck, I drove to the Nürburg classic event at the grand prix circuit and had a look around. There were some great cars there and it seems even more accessible than similar events such as Le Mans Classic or Spa Classic.
Not your average Danish track.
After a sightseeing trip to Koblenz – and a good night’s sleep at the hotel – the front wheels were pointed north for the 840 kilometre trip back to Denmark. I set off early to avoid the heavy summer holiday traffic, but once again I never encountered a stretch of Autobahn that allowed me to go past 200 km/h. Then again, it’s not bad for a 42 year old banger, is it? These cars are meant to be driven instead of being stored away in museums or collections. And trips like this one demonstrated that they are still more than up for the task.
So here’s for hoping that governments in places like France or Greece will be inspired by what the Nürburgring did for local unemployment and modern day tourism. I for one would definitely visit a Nyonsring in Provence or a Neraidaring in Thessaly.