How to Plan a Trip to the Nürburgring


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You’re never going to the Playboy Mansion. Sure, we’ll get two emails from lucky readers who have actually been there, but the rest of you? Forget about it. The sidelines at the Superbowl? Nope, not going there either. Bridge of an aircraft carrier? The Golden Globe Awards? Opening pitch at Fenway? Area 51? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

Yes, there are people who go to these places, but their names are Not You, and they are most certainly not you, as their names so succinctly imply.

There remains, however, one stretch of hallowed ground that may still be enjoyed by the great unwashed: the best racing circuit on the planet.

We’re talking, of course, about the Nürburgring. It’s that infamous ribbon of asphalt through Rhineland that has become the yardstick (technically meter stick, since it’s in Europe) by which car manufacturers measure their creations against one another, and by which drivers measure their ability to defy every single one of Newton’s laws as well as many of his mere suggestions.

Unlike those rarified experiences we mentioned earlier, the Nürburgring does not discriminate. It opens its gate to all comers for about the price of an “Elysium” Blu-ray, and provides a level of entertainment that Matt Damon never could.

A Few Facts

The Nürburgring we know today has remained mostly unchanged since 1971. In that year, a few of the twistier sections were straightened, Armco was added, and some of the rougher sections of pavement were smoothed.

Before 1971, the track existed largely unmolested since its completion in 1927. Until 1939, the track consisted of the Nordschleife, or North Loop, and the Sudschleife, or South Loop. The Sudschleife was mainly used for testing as well as a few minor races, but it didn’t receive the attention that the more popular Nordschleife did. When the Nordschleife was revamped in 1971, the Sudschleife was not, and that began its slow descent into history and ruin.

But the Nordschleife–and the attached, state-of-the-art Grand Prix Circuit built in 1984–persists today as arguably the greatest racing complex in the world. More than a race track, the ’Ring serves as a world-class test bed for race teams as well as manufacturers of automobiles, tires and performance parts. It’s an asphalt laboratory, and the mad scientists in the huge industrial park across the street from the front straight are all too happy to produce unholy creations tuned on its curves.

Dipping a Toe: How You Can Get on Track at the ’Ring

Here’s the point of all this hype: Experiencing the Nürburgring firsthand is easier than you may think. Even racing on it is within your grasp. But we’ll get to the hardcore stuff in a minute. First: easy mode.

Public Days

Driving the Nürburgring is as simple as showing up on one of the many public days held by the track. Yes, we said public days.

These are not “track days” as we know them in the USA, simply because the Nürburgring–while a famed racing circuit–is not technically a race track. It’s actually a stretch of limited-access, toll-restricted, one-way highway. On public days, this highway is open to anything with a license plate, and German road laws apply.

German road laws are a bit more liberal than those in the U.S.: There is no enforced speed limit on most of the circuit, though some areas will have temporary speed limits enacted in case of accidents.

To attend a public day, you first need to be in Germany. We’re not a travel magazine, but you probably know this is as easy as buying a ticket from an airline and taking your seat. Flights from most major U.S. airports tend to total between $1000 and $1400. Frankfurt is probably the best destination for a ’Ring vacation, although you can drive to the track from most any German airport in less than a day. Hotels are typically a great deal less expensive than what we’re used to paying in the States, so you can actually do a ’Ring getaway on a reasonable budget.

Once there, you’ll need a car to do your laps in, and this is where it gets a little tricky. See, although the Nürburgring is a public highway, most rental car contracts specifically forbid driving on it. Take your Hertz VW Golf there for a few hot laps, and there’s every chance you’ll be hit with a hefty fine when you turn your car back in. We’re not saying you can’t get away with it, only that we don’t know a reliable way to get away with it–and if you do, you’ll likely commit fraud in the process.

But fear not because there’s a better option anyway. A cottage industry has sprung up around the track of local companies that will rent you anything from a VW Polo to a Porsche GT3 for your lapping pleasure. We highly recommend these arrive-and-drive options.

Public days run at unrestricted speeds, sure, but the track is also unrestricted when it comes to access. This means you’ll be sharing the track with other cars, motorcycles, tour buses, motorhomes full of vacationing Belgians, and other people and machinery that have no business being on a race track at speed.

Entry and exit of the track are controlled. The lineup for the entry tollbooth operates much like the staging line at an autocross, so cars are sent out at intervals to prevent chaos. Of course, there’s still the potential for some serious speed differentials.

To combat this, we recommend doing your laps on one of the short, midweek days. During the workweek, the track is typically rented by one of the many manufacturers that inhabit the industrial park near the track. But when those workers clock out for the day at around 5 p.m., the track tends to open for a couple of hours of public lapping.

These crowds tend to be smaller and more hardcore than the weekend crowds–it’s not unusual to see roll bars, helmets and race seats in the staging line. You’ll be limited to the laps you can squeeze into a couple of hours, but chances are those laps will be more satisfying.

Track time is purchased by the lap at the ticket booth located at the track entrance parking area. Laps are digitally loaded onto a card that is swiped at the track entry tollbooth. Single laps are currently 26 euro, but multi-lap discounts and even season passes are available. If you do the math, that’s $2.25 per mile of track time. The cost of a typical club track day in the U.S. is in the same ballpark, so it’s refreshing to know you’re not getting screwed. Plus, you’ll be on one of the most famous race tracks in the world.

The Next Step: Track Days

One rung up the hardcore ladder at the ’Ring are track days. Unlike public days, which welcome all comers, track days are more akin to what we’re accustomed to when we think of track days in the U.S. A club or organization rents the track for a block of time, and they control the access and rules.

Where German road laws apply during public days–for example, all passes must be made on the left–track day regulations vary from club to club. Most run very similarly to U.S. track days: Passing is regulated by skill group and may range from open passing to point-bys. Most clubs also allow you to bypass the parking area, where drivers have to stop after each public-day lap to re-enter through the toll gates. Track days usually mean flying laps are allowed, which is a rare treat indeed.

The best news of all: Most of the companies that will rent you a car for a public day will also rent you a car for a track day. Some even sponsor their own track days, or do so in conjunction with other rental outfits.

Most clubs and rental agencies want some sort of resumé before they let you on track for a less restricted day, but your documented U.S. experience or your SCCA or NASA license will usually suffice. Still, a pre-event email never hurts.

Arrive and Drive: Nürburgring Rental Companies

These are just some of the companies that can hook you up with a ride for your Nürburgring adventure. Nearly all of them provide services that range from the most basic rentals to full arrive-and-drive experiences with coaching and a high level of personal attention. We’ve listed a few examples of their fleets and some sample prices, but each company offers numerous packages to suit your needs.

Rent4Ring
rent4ring.de

RSR Nürburg
rsrnurburg.com

Need For Ring
needforring.com

Rent Race Car (official Nürburgring partner)
rentracecar.de

Race-The-Ring: Taking Things to the Next Level

By Robb Holland

Okay, now you’ve been schooled on the history of the ’Ring and how to have a little fun with the rest of the general population. But you’re probably going, “Hold on. This is Grassroots Motorsports magazine, not Rental Car Mayhem Monthly. How do I go about actually racing at the Nürburgring with drivers that aren’t all out to prove how much of a wuss Stefan Bellof really was for not breaking the 6-minute mark?” Well, my friends, we gotcha covered on that angle, too.

In fact, the whole reason the guys at GRM asked me to write this is because, as this issue hits the stands, my business partner/co-driver Roland Pritzker and I will have just fired up our Race-The-Ring arrive-and-drive program out of our brand-new Nürburgring race shop.

Located in the manufacturers’ industrial park (where all the cool Nürburgring manufacturer spy shots come from), the RTR race shop is exactly 1 kilometer from the tourist entrance to the track and 1.5 kilometers from the entrance to the GP circuit. Our programs offer two main options for racing drivers wanting a little wheel-to-wheel action at the ’Ring.

First is the Rundstrecken Challenge Nürburgring (in plain English, the Circuit Racing Challenge Nürburgring), or RCN for short. The RCN has been going on since the 1960s and is known as Germany’s oldest touring car championship. As it’s more of a rally-style time trial than a mass-start race, the RCN is probably the best way for a ’Ring rookie to learn the ins and outs of racing at the Nordschleife.

The RCN is structured so that cars are sent off at 5-second intervals. The objective is to run laps within plus or minus 2 seconds of a reference lap, with penalty points for lap times outside that margin. The first great thing about the RCN is that it’s a time trial event, so drivers are free from the pressure of being overtaken or fighting for position. The danger of contact is substantially reduced.

The second benefit is that, much like in rally racing, you’re allowed a co-driver. This co-driver can be a fellow driver or, as in our program, a pro driver/instructor who can show you the quick way around the circuit for the first several laps. At the first pit stop, the pro switches positions with you and talks you through your first laps at race pace–all at one of the toughest circuits in the world.

The second and far more intense option is the famed Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring (or the Association of Nürburgring Endurance Cup Organizers in English). The VLN (for those of you not into tongue gymnastics) is open to everything from local amateurs driving street-legal Renault Clios with roll cages to Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes factory teams with Le Mans-winning pro drivers and the latest-spec GT3 cars.

The thing that makes the VLN–or any wheel-to-wheel racing at the Nürburgring–so intense is that the track is very fast and very narrow, with 172 corners packed into a single lap. Passing is an exercise in bravery not seen since Tom Cruise’s last movie. In fact, overtaking is so difficult that I have watched one of the slowest cars in the field hold up the overall race leader for well over a kilometer simply by staying on the racing line.

A typical VLN race is 4 hours long and is usually split among two or three drivers. In addition, there is usually one 6-hour endurance race, which is considered the highlight of the VLN season. Each event is held on a single day to help keep costs down; practice and qualifying are combined in a single morning session, followed by the race start at noon. As the Germans take their racing very seriously, the atmosphere at a VLN race could best be described as rowdy, with much prerace beer and bratwurst consumed by the tens of thousands of spectators in attendance.

Now, some of you sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that I’ve left out one small component of our racing program at the ’Ring: the famed 24 Hours of Nürburgring. There’s a good reason for the omission. In Germany, the 24-hour race at the ’Ring is akin to the Superbowl here.

While it’s possible for amateur drivers to race in the 24, it’s only recommended for drivers who have substantial experience racing at the ’Ring. In fact, one of the primary requirements for drivers wanting to enter the race is that they have at least three VLN race finishes in the top of half of their class.

And before you think, “Oh, I’ve raced in Grand-AmALMSRolex24Sebring, so I can talk my way in,” let me share this little anecdote. A factory driver for a U.S. manufacturer was loaned to a German team running said manufacturer’s product at the 24. When the driver attempted to register for the race, the organizers turned him down. The manufacturer stepped in and tried to convince the organizers to change their stance, arguing that this driver not only was a paid factory driver, but had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans the year prior. The organizers replied, “Yes, but he has not yet raced the Nordschleife.”

This brings me to the main premise of our Race-The-Ring program: to bring English-speaking drivers over to the ’Ring for a weeklong, intensive coaching program that includes simulator runs, tourist day street car laps, and finally the race itself (RCN or VLN) in our prepped Rossion 120R track cars.

For drivers who are looking for the ultimate Nürburgring experience and who meet all the requirements, we will be running a factory-supported Audi TT RS (identical to the one we ran at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2013) in the VLN and 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

Massive cojones not included.

Making It Legal: Getting a Racing License Overseas

Before you even think about going racing in another country, you need to get licensed. Luckily, if you have a wheel-to-wheel license from pretty much any U.S. sanctioning body, the process is actually rather simple.

Basically, you need a license with an international endorsement. This is handled through the Automobile Competition Committee for the U.S., which is the U.S. liaison to the FIA; the FIA, in turn, sanctions racing pretty much worldwide.

Just submit your current licensing info and racing resumé to the ACCUS, along with a fee that’s currently around $150. Then, they’ll punch your ticket. The process usually takes a few weeks–longer if it’s early in the year, when everyone is getting ready for the season.

If this is your first international license, you’ll be placed on probationary status for a year, regardless of your U.S. experience. This basically means you’ll be the subject of pop quizzes from local stewards about key regulations that differ from those in U.S. racing–and maybe a bit of good-natured hump-busting.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
Adrian_Thompson
Adrian_Thompson MegaDork
4/16/18 12:02 p.m.

One suggestion, try to schedule your visit when there are two consecutive days of open sessions.  It's very common, especially on weekends during the summer months,  on public for there to be an accident that closes the track.  That happened to us, we got there and the track closed to clean up people hurling themselves at the scenery mad repairing Armco etc.  That nearly scuppered my plans.  We had to cancel the next days activities and spend a whole day kicking around until the next public session the following late afternoon.  Luckily I have an understanding family who knew how much getting on the ring meant to dad.

 

Oh yeah, check the track calendar well in advance, there are a lot of times it's closed for corporate, industry, club or other days meaning that open public sessions aren't as common as you may think. 

trigun7469
trigun7469 SuperDork
4/16/18 12:25 p.m.

Good information, maybe someday.......smiley

welltal89
welltal89 None
4/16/18 1:05 p.m.

Going to Germany in June, hopefully my boss will be ok with taking a 45 minute trip after work to check out the green hell.

CWR67
CWR67 New Reader
4/16/18 2:13 p.m.

Made it there in September.  Even in a rented Mercedes E-class diesel wagon it was amazing!  Did manage to execute a successful pass on a minivan. :-)

 

I only got 2 laps in as too many folks ran out of talent and weren't able to make it back on their own power.  Clearing the track chewed up too much time and  we weren't able to get out there for additional laps.  I still have two laps on my 'Ring card for the next time I make it there.  

 

Remember to swing by Hotel am Tiergarten Restaurant for a meal.  You should be able to find the GRM sticker. :-) 

OldGray320i
OldGray320i Dork
4/16/18 3:30 p.m.

I must've been very fortunate then - no issues getting on, and they ran for a couple hours after we finished.  My son and I ran a lap each, and the only reason I didn't leave all my cash at the 'ring that day was I wanted to see a couple other historical sites (and not make the rest of my stay totally boring... though it wouldn't have been that bad, I could chill in the German countryside for quite a while).

For those that haven't been, it IS as awesome as you imagine it might be.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
4/16/18 4:05 p.m.
CWR67 said:

 

Remember to swing by Hotel am Tiergarten Restaurant for a meal.  You should be able to find the GRM sticker. :-) 

I slapped one in a fairly visible location right near the host stand. I wouldn't be surprised if it got covered up at some point, though. Real estate was fairly precious there and I was surprised I even found a spot. There's at least one more in there that I know of as well.

CWR67
CWR67 New Reader
4/17/18 9:46 a.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

Yours is still there and still visible!

 

Chuck

FPZguy
FPZguy New Reader
4/17/18 1:04 p.m.

This is a great article on a very special track.  But there are others a lot closer than Germany.  I would love to see an article on world class tracks that the average guy or girl can access in this country.

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