Nurburgring - Track days


Champion Elect
I've been rifling though old copies of the MX-5 owners club magazine, "Soft Top, Hardtop" again, before throwing them out, and I came across another interesting article. This time, it's by a club member named Nick Dougill, about his adventure, with other club members, to the Nurburgring circuit.

I went off to Germany not knowing much of what I was about to discover, but now I am bewitched - and one day I will return.

<A MX-5 Owners Club member> organised the trip, which started very late on a friday night. I drove to Dover to meet up with others to catch a ferry at stupid o'clock. Being more stupid than the rest, I got there early and ended up on the 4am ferry, then had to wait two hours at the port the other side. So it was, that at 7am in france I met up with the four other MX-5 drivers who were also heading to Germany, including Al Clark, a veteran of the Nurburgring.

Our little procession set off across Europe to drive the 250 miles to Nurburg and arrived in time to see Nick Heidfeld taking the current BMW F1 car around the track. It was the first time a F1 car has been on the main circuit for years... On saturday the track remained closed to tourists, but on Sunday I was able to queue up to buy a pass. This was a process to be repeated often over the next 48 hours.

So I drew up to the barrier for the first time, in convoy with the three other MX-5s, and off we went. It was very much a trip into the unknown, more so than any track I have been on before because you just can't get to see it, unlike Donington or Brands Hatch. The Nurburgring snakes through forests and is just so large that there is no way to get an overview. I believe the are 170 corners. The start of the circuit is easy as it's straight! You run up to the edge of the current Grand Prix circuit.

I had heard all about the hills and bumps, getting all four wheels off the ground, and the "ring taxi" BMW M5s that you can pay for a ride in, that will fly past at 150mph. So I was more than a little nervous. So many of the corners are blind; a fast sweeping left-hander can turn instantly into a sharp right. The track is actually a public toll road so subject to German traffic law, and if you have any of the incidents that you can have on a race track, you get charged for it. Touching the Armco is a no, no - even the slightest of touches, you'll receive a bill. So nothing daunting then! It's probably as well I didn't know this beforehand.

What do I remember of my first lap? Lots of bends, trees and cars going past, and it was over far quicker than I expected. You come on to the main straight not knowing where you are, and you wonder why people are slowing down. Only then does it hit you that it's all over. There is so very much to take in that even the second time round you still have very little idea where you are.

After this I hitched a passenger ride in Al's red MX-5 Mk1 which preformance-wise is pretty standard. Al was shatteringly quick, with the tyres screaming through most corners, and shaming many a car costing upwards of £100,000 more than any MX-5. But he took the time to share his knowledge of the track, pointing out the tiny paint marks at the side of some corners, showing breaking and turn-in points. He showed me where to be careful and most useful. Al said that the hill at Kesselchen is so steep - although in really does not look it - that even flat in fourth a standard MX-5 will not better 80mph up it. This is where you find the seriously fast cars blasting your wing mirrors off. And so it was onto the legendary Karussell and then on to the more demanding part of the circuit, before the run down to the finish. I remember thinking that there is no way on this planet I will go that quick!

On my fourth lap, I took Al out so he could guide me again. and my chest grew a size as he gave his seal of approval. But his words of warning were: "Beware, most people crash on their first to fifth lap". If they crash on the first lap, it is down to the driver just not knowing the way. If it is the fifth lap, it is down to the driver thinking they know the way. And so it was for me, as I merrily sailed across the kerb at Adenauer Forst, a sneaky little corner where you have to turn in really late. Look up this "Nurburgring Adenauer Forst Crashes '70" on YouTube, you'll get the idea! I'm happy to say it was my only incident of the trip.

The YouTube clip, "Nurburgring Adenauer Forst Crashes '70"

One of the great things about Nurburg is that you enter the car park at the end of each lap, allowing plenty of time for socializing with the other drivers and getting some passenger rides in some pretty fast equipment. My highlights included a couple of very, very fast laps in a BMW M3 CSL, and a lap in a Saleen Mustang. These laps also allowed me time to learn the track, without the pressure of actually driving. That's important, because unlike a 'normal' circuit where within an hour you have probably done 30 laps and are pretty familiar with what it is all about, at the 'Ring' that time equates to just five laps. I found as I was going round, that I had no rhythm as I wondered "does this sweeping bend turn into a killer hairpin?" So after around eight laps I found myself wishing I was at Donington or Silverstone. However, all that said, I queued at the little ticket office again, credit card clasped eagerly in my hand, to buy a 15-lap pass.

I don't know another circuit that is so entwined with it's surroundings. The village of Nurburg is a picturesque place in its own right where the old and new mix well. We retired to a restaurant, where the chef was no doubt too tired after thrashing his VW Golf around the track all day to be bothered to cook. So he heated half a paving slab to the same temperature as his exhaust manifold and we cooked our own steak to our liking while our faces got rather hot.

One of the special things about the "Ring" is that you set your own pace. You do a couple of laps, then take a break, hitch a passenger ride or give one, or wait while the track is cleaned up after an incident. On exiting the Karussell on Monday, a thumping started under the car. My heart sank, but it turned out only to be that the rearmost exhaust mounting rubber had split by the chassis bracing. This resulted in a trip to one of the many garages that are there for just such reasons. Ring Assist replaced the rubber with a new one, all for the price of a tip. It fell off again later, but a friend kindly burned his hand for me putting it back on....

By the time I had got to about 20 laps I was starting to get pretty proficient, although some corners still caught me out. The highlights were when Al said I was "picking it up really quickly", then following a sliding Mk1 MX-5 round a right-hander which left me braking into the gravel. A Caterham also wandered across in front of me at about 110mph, which was very much heart-in-mouth stuff. It was on a par with watching someone spin off behind me, which was pretty upsetting too.

My golden moment was in a fast convoy with Al, and keeping up - something that 20 laps previously I could never have imagined. We passed under the gantry at Dottinger-Hohe nine minutes and 23 seconds after we had started, giving a lap speed of 89mph - a full 36 seconds quicker than Clarkson in his Jag. Not bad for the little 'rag top hairdressers car'! Al's brakes had worn to the metal, so we located a Mazda dealer right next to the Breidscheid Bridge at Adenau, but it was a German holiday.

By chance we met the owner going out for his morning paper, and he opened the garage just for us, sold us some Mk1 front pads for 90 Euros, showed us around the workshop and showroom and offered us a coffee, all on his day off. You don't get that in England Mr Mazda! So with the brakes repaired, there was just time to sneak a couple more laps in before heading off for the ferry which unfortunately we missed by 90 seconds!

For an experts guide to the track, here's a lap Onboard with Hermann Lang. The lap is narrated by Graham Hill. :)
Sorry, the powers that be have deemed this video inappropriate for your consumption! >:(

I don't know about anyone else, but I always fancied taking my own car on a track day at my local circuit (in my case, Castle Combe) but have never got round to it. I don't think I'd have the guts to though. I wouldn't want to crash it! Although, reading this article makes me wish I lived near Nurburg!

Anybody else thought about, or have taken their car out on a circuit track day?
You can get special track day insurance for a single day or weekend.

It's not exactly cheap but it's well worth it if you fancy a blast around the track.

Oh and you'll need some new tyres....and brakes....and possibly more depending on how good/bad a driver you are....
I did a couple of laps on a track day at Donnington in a mates TVR Chimera, that was pretty scary, Unfortunately he'd twatted it round for about 20 laps before me and cooked the brakes so had to start pumping the brakes up going under the Dunlop bridge just to get the thing to start to slow down.

Did a couple of bike track days a few years ago on my old Laverda and my little Honda 400 baby blade, Oulton and Donnington respectively - somehow didn't seem the same as the last time I did these tracks was racing a Waddon Rotax 250 on slicks in the late 70's.

Biggest hoot of all was doing a couple of laps of Snetterton on (in?) a 250 Rotax zip cart - braking for the Esses? Na, down a couple of gears and scrub the speed off into the left hander..

Definately the scariest was a passenger in a proper TZ750 sidecar around Snetterton

Hoping to get a couple of laps in at the Nurburgring when I go over to Italy next year on my Laverda and take the long way home
I was just browsing through and thought I'd view the video of the on board action, as in the original post above, voiced over by Graham Hill.

YouTube have removed it! I'm gutted.
They used to run track days when I worked at Thruxton and part of my job as a spotty little oik was to ride around on a quad with a trailer and pick bits of bent Ferrari/TVR/BMW out of the barriers when people ran out of talent :LOL:
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