The Drive In Automotive
Mission Impossible: Nurburgring Nordschleife
It is one of those things that needed to be ticked-off the bucket list. For a petrol-head, to say you were good on track and never went to Nurburgring Nordschleife was like saying you knew Michael Jackson songs but never went for his concerts. So it was set in stone, we needed to drive this legendary track.
Built in 1925, the circuit is nestled deep in the Eifel Mountains. With 174 corners covering over 22kms, and passing through elevations changes over 300 meters, manufacturers and racing teams alike have used this stage as the proving grounds for all things claimed fast.
Upon arriving in Germany, beautiful weather and clear skies greeted us. Our accommodation was situated in the beautiful Rhine Valley. Overlooking luscious vin-yards, rolling mountains, medieval castles and the calm green river Rhine, you swore expensive paintings were created here. Great food and beers were abundant too. So things could not get better and we had high hopes for the track onslaught due early the next morning. What “Green Hell” we thought..
And then boomz! Our picturesque setting turns into WW2 trench warfare at an instant. Darks skies flanked from behind us and lit the skies with lightning and thunder. Overwhelmed by low passing clouds, soon Malaysian-grade heavy-duty rainfall bombarded every part of the century old restaurant that we were seeking refuge in.
Crews were passing sand bags to form a retaining wall so the rising flood waters would not enter the premise. Policemen began to wail sirens and fire trucks came to divert traffic as muddy waters rolled down the mountains blanketing the streets. Even at 3am the skies continued to pour. Not looking too good, tomorrow’s assault was going to be.
The next day, we started our journey at 6am. Thankfully the rain had stopped but heavy clouds were on standby. It was an hour plus drive to Nurburg so we kept our fingers crossed. As we got closer, the skies began to clear but that gave way to thick fog. According to GPS we had arrived at our destination but we could not be sure due to poor visibility.
A small signboard finally revealed all and we were ecstatic. Behind passing homes, you get a glimpse of tall wire fencing and strong steel barricades. Other places you peek at apexs and strips of the track. Like Pinocchio in a whale, you soon realize how big this circuit actually is. We were in Nurburg town and Nurburgring was the circuit encircling us.
At 7.30am, our race car was ready and modestly waiting for us. Nothing over the top but enough to experience the track first time around. After a safety briefing, we drove to the track waiting area joining more petrol-heads ready to let it rip.
The mood in the track was quiet. At 7 degrees temp, drivers kept to themselves braving the cold while waiting for the pit exit lights to turn green. Everything from ricers to Lotuses, Porsches, SLS and Corvettes came early and ready. They stared at our asian delegation from under warm clothing while we reviewed all the beautiful metals in shirt and jeans. But a petrol-head never shies away and everyone was proud to explain the mods and setups they had developed.
8.30am, the track remain closed due to the fog. So we decided to have breakfast and pay the souvenir shop a visit. After sipping coffee for another hour, finally the visibility improved. Just about time as the car park was getting crowded with more late entrees. So we gathered at the pit exit in anticipation of the lights turning green. Cars were warmed up and helmets went on while we figured out how to operate our in-car video camera.
But before we could even power the camera, water droplets start specking the windscreen. Soon, another Malaysian rendition of monsoon came down on our party and everyone dashed back into the shade of the café building. Another delay and the Café was now filled to the brim with testosterone. It was not long before our morning session would end and we had to leave for our 350kms journey to Stuttgart.
Noon finally came. Distraught and in disbelief. After days of preparation and hours on standby, the track did not open up to us. Not only was Nurburging a hard track to master, it was also a hard track to enter! Fair enough. We will fight persistence with stubbornness, so we delayed our departure and continued waiting.
At 2.30pm the rain finally showed signs of easing but the lights remained red. Some parts of the 13 mile track was flooded while others were covered in heavy fog again. Scouting cars went out to recce but every 30 minutes they would returned and the lights remained red.
At 4pm it dawned on us that the trackday was drawing to a close and that our pilgrimage to Nurburgring may finally yield no result. As then the rain came down again, more cars left the premises.
And then the pit exit lights became green… Shock. Why? How? In low visibility and rain. No matter, we scrambled into our cars like F15 Tomcat pilots on an aircraft carrier. In a scurry we were lined up to exit before someone changes their mind.
Tag the out post, the exit bar raised, pass the zig zag of cones… Finally! We were driving on the Nurburgring. Such a sigh of relief after all the waiting and suspense. So mission accomplished, we could all go home now… just kidding.
We began assault with our tiny engine screaming to 7000rpm. Into the first set of turns, we decided to slow down immediately. Less than a minute in, the circuit has claimed 2 cars going downhill through the esses. It didn’t help that the wipers, going full blast, did nothing to improve visibility. So we decided just to cruise and survive the first lap. More cars continued to meet the barriers during our outlap. Not tempted at the sight of straights, banking corners or braking markers, we patiently completed our inaugural lap of Nurburgring in a time of 18 minutes! Fantastic.
Now that the formalities out of the way, we began to push. And the circuit changes. The second lap was filled with fog and the third lap was flooding at dips; with each passing lap we were gaining momentum and confidence. Now that we were going pretty quickly, the character of the track starts to alter. There are more jumps now, G-forces though the corners get more aggressive, the circuit narrows, curbs spit you out harder, masculinity gets tested at blind high speed corners and sudden track rises churn your stomach.
Everybody is invited. Sports, Hatches, Wagons, Classics
This whole circuit is like one big roller coaster ride. There are only a few moments where your car is sitting planted and if you arrived a sickly car, chances are that you will not make it out in one piece. Every lap is different from the last. As the rain stops the circuit dries quickly too. Making many laps of driving confusing and reassuring at the same time.
After 7 laps we were able to dip below 10 minutes in slight wet conditions. We were satisfied that with all the dramas happening around, we brought the car back in one piece. In between every lap, Red lights would signal track stoppage as countless cars left the tarmac at high speeds or the other way round.
Sadly, we could not stay any longer and further delays meant we would arrive at our next destination close to midnight. So we bid this iconic track farewell. No regrets waiting 9 hours just for 7 laps.
As we left the track, the weather turned perfect with no signs of rain or fog
We may know the Nurburgring as the “Green Hell”. But unless you have waited for hours, shoes got soaked in the rain or froze in the carpark, dashed blindly through fog, slid through water patches, got shaken through every curb, held obnoxious Gs into blind corners or raced passed a full caravan, you may not fully comprehend it's real meaning. Thanks for the suffering and see you again.