Nurburgring, a Guide to the Green Hell
Given the fact it remains one of the most technical and dangerous circuits in the world, the “Green Hell” was from the beginning a one-way toll-road destined for the public, apart from the moments when it's closed-off for manufacturers testing sessions or organized racing events. Even so, the overall time on it has become the yardstick by which almost all sports cars are measured. We have put together a small guide by which almost anyone with a valid driving license can turn their dream into reality by actually driving on the Nordschleife.
Where is it?
Apart from the obvious “It's in Germany, you nincompoop!” answer, a more detailed one would be the following. “The Ring”, as it's affectionately called by its fans (no connection with the sub-par horror-movie), is situated in the western part of Germany, just near the Eifel Mountains. The closest major cities to the track are Frankfurt (to the east) and Cologne (to the north). Since we're talking about settlements, the town of Nurburg (not to be confused with the Bavarian Nurnberg), from where “the Ring” got its full name, is sitting exactly inside the circuit. There are also a few other adjacent towns near the track and you can find accommodations in each one.
How do I reach it?
Depending on where is your departure, you can reach Germany by a number of transportation means. Unless you're flying, in which case we recommend buying a ticket either to the Cologne (CGN) airport, or to Frankfurt Am Main (FRA), but if you're from Europe we would recommend driving all the way to the track, so you can also benefit from as much Autobahn time as possible. The drive from either Cologne or Frankfurt to Nurburgring can take between one and a half and three hours, depending mostly on traffic conditions.
Where do I sleep/eat?
In case you want to be accommodated as close to the circuit as possible, you're in luck. There are a few motels and inns right near the track, the closest being the Hotel An Der Nordschliefe, which is located just inside the bridge at the Breidscheid corner - or the Dorint Hotel - which sits on the start/finish straight of the current Grand Prix circuit. Of course, if you want to make most of the chance to meet Sabine Schmitz, “The Queen of Nurburgring”, you can opt to stay at the Tiergarten Hotel, which sits about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the entrance to the Nordschleife. The Tiergarten is part-owned by Sabine, who can also give you a few hot-laps with the “Ring-taxi” - a race-prepped BMW M5 E60.
How to prepare before arriving at the track?
Of course, any “Gran Turismo” fan will probably jump on the circuit with his own econobox the minute he reaches the gates to “the Ring”, which is not that bad of an idea as you might first think. Many Ring-goers recommend first practicing on racing simulators like Gran Turismo IV or Project Gotham Racing, so as to learn most of the corners (we know, they are many). After you got this (important) step out of the way, you should watch as many on-track videos of the circuit, check out all the maps you can find about Nordschleife and, last but not least, get mentally prepared for the task at hand (read: don't go there with a “Need for Speed” attitude).
You're there. What now?
You should have plenty of sandwiches and drinking liquids with you, this is a long circuit and a single lap can take a pretty long time, especially since not everybody can pull the same times as they did in Gran Turismo. Now, about the rules of “play”, you must first remember this is still a (one-way) public road, so you won't be the Lone Ranger of the course. Keep watching your rear-view mirrors for cars that are faster than you, in which case you should always move towards the right and use your right-hand turn signal to let the faster drivers know you're letting them pass you. Of course, when a pass over you can continue driving in “racing mode”, through each corner's apex point. Keep your cool for the entire duration of a lap, focus on where the braking points might be for every corner, even though most curves are blind. NEVER (and we mean that!) time yourself on the circuit, even if it's “only” from “Bridge to gantry”, like most of the “pros” are doing. The reason for this is of course the fact that the timer is a distraction and there have been many crashed cars during the years just because of this.
What to forget?
Forget your dream about someday being a Formula One racing driver. If you don't have any prior racing experience what you hit “the Ring” for the very first time chances are you won't suddenly metamorphose into Sir Jackie Stewart the second you start your first lap. Also, you should forget about bringing a camera to film your very own hot-lap, they've been illegal (for tourists, at least) for years now.
What not to forget?
First, you shouldn't (again) forget that you're on a public road so you must obey the same traffic laws as on any other road. Always pass the slower cars on the left using your signal and your should also take into account any speed limiting signs you might encounter. As strange as it may sound, there are speeds limits on some of the portions on the track, although they're not usually enforced. Second, be sure to save the following number in case you encounter a life-threatening emergency on the track: +49 8000 302 112. Also, never stop on the circuit unless you really have to (accident, mechanical problems, etc.)
In the end, just about everything else you need to learn about the “Green Hell” can be done on sight, but only if you follow most of the rules/guidelines above. You can have a lot of fun on the track with very few money. For example, a single lap is 21 euros, with the price decreasing with every extra lap you buy in a “package” ticket. Pretty cheap, huh?