How to turn your Nürburgring fantasies into Nürburgring realities

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Mar 23, 2024 | Nürburgring, Rent4Ring | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: racetracker.de

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You don’t need to hang out around the Nürburgring very long to pick up on the vibe. Sure, there are plenty of tracks in the U.S. with a corresponding town culture supporting them–Watkins Glen and Road America come to mind–but none match the ’Ring for sheer inclusion in the local culture. 

All you have to do is look at the geography involved. The Nürburgring complex covers nearly 15 square miles of German countryside, encompassing four whole villages and a castle within its “infield.” More villages and a rather hefty industrial park full of OEM test centers, race teams, tire development facilities and other motorsport-adjacent business concerns border the outside of the track.

In reality, the area around the ’Ring is more akin to a ski village or a surf town. Every local business, whether it sells brake pads, serves dinner or just wants to give you a haircut, has a motorsport theme. Hotels have available garages. Every third car you see at a gas station or restaurant is an E46 with a roll bar, a race seat, and miles and miles of track rash. The track has a pull, a mystique that comes from being a century-old ribbon of some of the most challenging asphalt anywhere in the world. And it’s well earned.

So it’s no surprise that driving this track is on pretty much any motorsport enthusiast’s bucket list. 

Wait, can’t I just roll up to the gate, buy a ticket and take a lap?” you ask. “After all, isn’t it a public road?” 

Well, you’re not wrong. Technically, the 13-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife is a limited-access, one-way toll road with no standing speed restrictions. Several times each week from spring to fall, nearly any road-going vehicle can purchase access. So you’ll be sharing the track with, well, nearly any road-going vehicle, from a Porsche GT3 RS to a station wagon full of terrified tourists to a motorcyclist terrified of absolutely nothing on this or any other earth. 

And you’d better not have a clock running in the car.

That’s right, timing during public-access “tourist” days is strictly verboten. While this restriction is getting more difficult to enforce as data systems become ever-tinier, the clear intent of the track is to limit competition and red mist to days approved for such activities–and to drivers trained for just those circumstances.

Which is where our Nürburgring story really begins.

Dreaming About the Nürburgring


Photography Credit: J.G. Pasterjak

Riding the ’Ring isn’t quite as easy as flashing your competition license and hopping in a car. Most of the series that compete on the Nordschleife section of the Nürburgring are what you’d call “house” series. 

They sort of exist outside the standard sphere of German motorsport, in no small part because of the additional complexities of the track and its layout. While doing any competitive event there requires an FIA-recognized license, it also requires an additional endorsement.

Here’s the good news: Acquiring this endorsement–even if you never plan to use it–is a terrific use of your motorsport dollars. You get to drive an absolute legend of a track and pick up some crucial techniques and strategies for any on-track experience.

And once you have that Nürburgring certification, it’s good for life. When you first complete your certification course, you’ll be awarded a Nürburgring grade C or D permit (based on whether your FIA competition license has a national or international endorsement).

Obtaining that FIA license, by the way, is mostly a matter of paperwork and a small fee if you already hold an SCCA or NASA competition license. There’s maybe a bit more work and resumé verification involved if you hold paper from a vintage or enduro group.

Once you get your Nürburgring ticket punched at the C or D level, you’re eligible for any of its time trial series and any of the historic races held there. You can also start climbing the ladder to your B card, giving you access to the VLN enduro series. A successful campaign there can provide your A card, allowing competition in more powerful cars like GT3 machines as well as entry into the 24-hour race.

How do you get one of these coveted C or D cards (which aren’t actually cards, but it sounds cool to say it that way so we’re sticking with it)? Well, for us it meant enrolling in Motorsport Akademie.

Motorsport Akademie is run by longtime German racer Christopher Bartz and is one of the easier options for getting your certification for the Nordschleife. But Bartz warned us before we even hopped on a plane that this would be no ordinary driving school.

“Our students need to show up here being competition-licensed or at least track-qualified,” Bartz affirmed. “Our course is much less about how to control your car than how to negotiate the Nordschleife and how to conduct yourself during a race here, because it’s not really like anywhere else.”

Costs for the course vary, based mostly on time of the year and amount of guaranteed track access. Our €870 course–so about $950–took place over two days, the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding the 2023 Nürburgring 24 Hours, and included a minimum of 16 laps.

What the course cost doesn’t include is a car. You have to supply your own ride, which likely means renting from one of the local track rental outfits, many of which have special packages specifically for these permitting courses.

Doing the math on that €870 tuition, it already starts looking like a reasonable deal. Just walking up and buying tickets for 16 laps would cost around €500, and those wouldn’t include instruction, the ability to run flying laps without coming into the paddock, or a track clear of hundreds of tourists of varying driving abilities in varying machinery.

Learning About the Nürburgring


First step: school. The permit from Christopher Bartz’s Motorsport Akademie–he’s shown here helping U.K.-based racer Will Hunt–will eventually open the door to cool events like the Nürburgring Historics. Photography Credit: J.G. Pasterjak

To get your Nürburgring permit, class actually starts before class starts. You have to arrive at registration having already completed an online course covering many of the specifics of driving competitively at the Nürburgring. 

And before you assume that your U.S. track knowledge will help you slide by and ace the pop quizzes and final exam, realize that motorsport in Europe–and at the Nürburgring in particular–has more than a few very specific nuances that seem close enough to ours but different enough to trip you up. You need to pay close attention to pass the tests. 

For example, caution flags are handled a bit differently at the ’Ring than at our domestic venues. A single yellow flag still means caution, no passing, and be ready for further adventures ahead. But a double yellow displayed at a corner station also imposes a 120 kph speed limit that begins when you pass those flags. 

A 60 kph speed limit, most commonly referred to as Code 60, can also be imposed–typically when disabled vehicles are being recovered from trackside. Any controls put in place via flag stations are also considered to be in effect until they’re superseded by another control flag. So until you see a green flag, you’re under the control of whatever previous flag you passed. Once you pass that green flag, racing resumes. 

That’s a great system, particularly for a 13-mile-long track that’s simply too huge to effectively have a full-course-yellow condition, but it’s not what we’re used to. 

The online portion of the course also covers protocols for passing service vehicles and slow-moving race cars plus best practices should you become the one causing the drama. Once you’ve graduated online Nürburgring U, you’ll get a page to print out and bring to school.

Before moving to the actual track work, Motorsport Akademie begins with a classroom session. It covers many of the more critical topics discussed in the online course, just to make sure there’s zero ambiguity when it comes to safety best practices. There’s also plenty of time for Q&A, which students heavily take advantage of. Those students tend to be a fairly international mix of drivers at various stages of their motorsport careers, all looking to live their Nürburgring dreams.

The classroom session was followed by a track walk–well, technically not a walk, since negotiating 13 miles of twisty asphalt through steep inclines and valleys on foot would have taken the rest of the evening. But we did take a bus to several key points on track for a close look and deeper discussion of how to negotiate those sections.

After this experience, we plan to do actual track walks whenever we can, as it showed how much information can be learned by simply standing at a corner and studying the surroundings.

One of your greatest allies on a track walk is an angle gauge–a smartphone or camber gauge works here. Either one removes the guesswork from several points on track, particularly ones that have deceptive visuals that mask the reality of the layout. 

For example, one of the track’s key braking areas is into the corner known as Aremberg, a slower, 160-degree, constant-radius right-hander that follows the sketchy, high-speed, left-hand kink known as Schwedenkreuz. Driving through Schwedenkreuz, you’re clearly heading downhill, but then the road levels out at the exit for the braking area into Aremberg. 

Except it doesn’t.

In truth, the road transitions from the rather steep 7-plus-degree downhill grade at the exit of Schwedenkreuz to a lower but still significant 3- to 4-degree downhill grade in the braking area for Aremberg. But at speed, despite your eyes and your inner ear telling you the road flattens, your braking efficiency tells a much different story.

The angle gauge is an amazing tool for discovering small differences that you can use to your advantage. For example, it can reveal where road camber works more in your favor the farther you get from the apex. You might miss the perfect apex, but you can still carry more speed through the turn. 

That walk also revealed visual clues that we likely would have missed while driving, even on a slow recon lap. We saw areas of polished pavement, barely wider than a single tire, that could produce immense grip in the dry but be terrifyingly slippery in the wet. Scratches on track from splitters rubbing under heavy braking decisively showed where the fastest cars with the most downforce were initiating their deceleration. 

Walking also gave us a great chance to see which areas just off track were possibly usable should we need to hang a wheel into the dirt and which spots featured drop-offs that could snag the inside of a wheel and end our adventure in a big, crunchy hurry. 

After the evening’s track tour ended, we were sent home to study the excellent corner-by-corner guidebooks Motorsport Akademie provided. We were given our instructions for the next day: Return for lapping sessions.

Now, Finally, Driving the Nürburgring


On-track training is punctuated by instructor debriefs, while Dale Lomas had his decision to leave motoring journalism validated after a few right-seat laps with us. Photography Credit: J.G. Pasterjak

Before we got into our cars for that first real taste of the Nürburgring, though, we heard some sobering words from Mr. Bartz, our instructor: How many laps had the students in our group run on the Nordschleife?

About 40, we replied, adding up several tourist laps and press outings. We felt pretty good about having some relevant background for the day’s training.

“Okay, so basically none,” was his heartbreaking response. 

Our first look at the track that day came via lead/follow sessions. Radios linked the four students in our group with the instructor for turn-by-turn narration, and after each lap, the lead student would peel off to the back of the line, giving everyone a chance to directly follow the instructor.

Within the first half lap, between Bartz’s narration and some amazing right-seat coaching from Rent4Ring’s Dale Lomas, we realized that the level of granular knowledge provided by the ’Ring regulars can quickly throw even skilled and experienced drivers into a Dunning-Kruger pit of overwhelming sensory input. 

The track walk immediately seemed more relevant as we negotiated several corners, as the seemingly ideal geometric line was traded for one that took advantage of surface conditions and road camber.

Those coming from heavy autocross backgrounds might feel more comfortable. For one, the track is exceedingly narrow, rarely more than 8 meters across–so about 26 feet. Second, there are frustratingly few corners that you’d consider typical, meaning with a clearly defined turn-in, apex and track-out point. Rather, every twisty inch of pavement is a rhythm section with one corner–or really one sequence–leading into another. Every section becomes a battle of compromises and staying ahead of the car. 

This brings us to the third important advantage that an autocross background can bring: staying ahead of the action. When driven properly, the Nordschleife’s average speeds are quite brisk–our four-cylinder Supra rarely dropped below fourth gear–but maintaining momentum requires matching the rhythm of the track by always staying ahead of the control inputs. This need is complicated by the fact that most sightlines don’t provide much of a view ahead–maybe a few car lengths–so inputs need to be anticipated based on track knowledge and muscle memory as much, if not more than, visual input.

And if these techniques sound like good advice on any track, it’s because they are. The more you can attack a track proactively instead of reactively, the better chance you have of success. And when you apply the best practice techniques from an exceedingly complex track to one where the control inputs are fewer and farther apart, everything just feels that much less intimidating.

After our eight guided laps–with a pause for a debrief and some refreshments after lap four–we were released onto the Nordschleife for as many laps as we wanted to complete during the roughly 2 and a half hours remaining in our session. 

With Lomas still in the right seat, this was a great chance to build on our knowledge of the track’s flow and start pushing things in a few spots. The Nordschleife is a harsh learning environment, though. The few areas that are straight are bumpy enough to demand as much or more attention than the actual corners, most of which come at you as though they were being fired from a corner cannon, and the margin for error is almost comically slim. 

Most of the track is surrounded by a grass strip barely the width of a single car, after which you’ll meet the steel Armco or concrete wall bordering the outside edge of the track. There’s space to make real mistakes in maybe half a dozen or so of the 154 corners that make up the circuit. 

For the most part, if you manage to make a mistake that takes you outside the 26-foot-wide asphalt road surface, things are going to get bad in a hurry.

We managed to stay out of the tow truck driver’s logbook and return our Rent4Ring loaner and its attached instructor to their rightful keepers, and that was enough to earn us our C card and the right to compete on one of the world’s most challenging circuits.


Christopher Bartz had moderate praise for the sweaty American journalist who didn’t increase his insurance deductible. Paper in hand, we can now compete in the RCN time trial series, historic races, the VLN endurance series and, possibly, the 24-hour race itself. Photography Credit: Dale Lomas

Truthfully, the certificate itself isn’t particularly impressive. It likely came off an inkjet printer slightly after an ink replacement was warranted. But what it represents is far more powerful than how it looks. 

And more important than that, we can now apply the things we learned from one of the most difficult circuits on earth to our work on any other track we visit. 

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Comments
hybridmomentspass
hybridmomentspass Dork
10/1/23 8:48 p.m.

Absolutely one of my favorite days of my life was renting a 09 3series and doing 6 laps on the Ring as well as blasting (lol, it was a 4 banger) down the highway

Cool write up, JG

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
10/1/23 9:19 p.m.


 


 

Props to the rental company for recreating the iconic Zent Supra theme in a clever way. laugh

Andy Hollis
Andy Hollis
10/2/23 7:44 a.m.

The past two years I've had the privilege/pleasure of going to the Ring and Spa with a group that Ross Bentley vets and assembles.  We use cars from RSR Nurburg/Spa (Ron Simon's outfit).

A couple things that JG does not mention that I believe are key to a good experience:

1) Do your homework on a sim.  With so many turns, many of which have similar-looking blind entries with vastly different exits, it's key to know where you are going.  The goal being to be able to visualize entire laps from your couch.  I spent a couple of weeks at home doing five three-lap sessions a day with Forza on an Xbox with an inexpensive Logitech wheel/pedal set.  I picked/modded a sim car that was similar to what I was going to be driving on track. 

When I took my first laps in Germany, it was amazing not just how well the sim work translated for knowing what was coming up, but also how much of the steering/braking muscle memory correlated.  The rhythm that JG mentions was already second-nature.  I was on pace within just a couple of laps.

2) TF can be a zoo.  Sure, buy a couple of laps for recon if you arrive a day early, but your money and time is better spent on a private track day.  Also, pick your time on track carefully.  Most days are "open pit lane", meaning there are no groupings.  You go when you want.  I've found that first thing in the am is usually less busy, as is right after lunch (or during, if your group does not take a break).  Same with near the end of the day.  Of course, weather plays a factor, as do red flag closures.

3) Do/don't be afraid of the rain.  It's both terrifying and terrific.  Given how often sections are re-paved (every winter they do some), there aren't that many that benefit from true rim-shot rain lines, but there are some.  Learning those in the heat of the moment with no trophies on the line can deliver a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  But do be smart about it.

MCOOK
MCOOK None
10/2/23 10:11 a.m.

I agree with Andy Hollis. I have driven the Nurburgring during 3 separate trips with Ross Bentley and Tom Roberts SpeedSecrets group, renting the Ron Simons RSRNurburg cars (including the group Andy was with this year).   Now having logged over 100 laps.

Sim: I started using iRacing 6 months before my first trip, continued to use it prior to my second and third trips as well.  It was invaluable and necessary. The sections beginning with Wipperman, through Eschbach, Brunnchen, Eiskurve and ending with Pflanzgarten, a driver can become "lost".  So, a sim is a must.

TF: I agree, avoid the TF sessions, unless during Sunday mornings (when most have been up too late Saturday night and the track is empty)

Rain:  Agree, do not be afraid, but be aware and respectful.  It can be sunny at Tiergarten and pouring down rain at Bergwerk.  So, be prepared - it is a 14 mile long road course with 1,000 foot elevation changes.  Our second day this year (Sep 1) was one of constant rain.  I drive my home course at VIR in the rain quite a lot, so rain is not an issue for me and enjoy it quite a bit.  But, having been my third trip (and driven in rain during one of the prior trips), I elected not to drive that day, after deciding I did not want to pay for a rental car I could not bring home.

For comparison, we drove SPA-Francorchamps during the same trip.  I found SPA, having been modernized for F1 purposes, to be much easier to learn after a couple laps and not as challenging as the 'Ring.  SPA has ample run offs, with gravel pits, so no real risk of damaging the car in comparison to the 'Ring.  Remember, it takes over 3 laps at SPA to cover the same distance as one lap at the 'Ring.

Fellow drivers:  Experiencing the Nurburgring with 20 fellow enthusiasts in the SpeedSecrets group creates some long-term memories and friendships.  Hard to find an equivalent experience.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
10/2/23 4:39 p.m.

Yeah I'll second what both Andy and MCOOK said above. Unfortunately I had limite pages to work with, otherwise that story could have easily ballooned to a dozen more pages with detailed TF discussion.

The thing that I'll add is that coaching is also available and WELL worth the cost. When I did my school Dale Lomas right seated for me and absolutely crushed my learning curve. He or one of his talented crew will ride along for 50-euro, and there's some package discounts available, too. Having that real-time narration is huge for fine tuning your laps, particularly when you have the basic flow of the track down pretty well and want to actually start finding time. There's more than a few parts that are pretty counterintuitive and don't drive the way they look.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
3/25/24 10:55 a.m.

We now just about two months away from the 24 hour at Nurburgring.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
3/25/24 11:12 a.m.
J.A. Ackley said:

We now just about two months away from the 24 hour at Nurburgring.

Yep. Looking forward to it.

I'll be watching from my garage this year, unfortunately. Flights and rooms are just crazy expensive, and the timing sucks from a deadline perspective. Still, even on the livestream, it's one of my favorite endurance races to watch. It's pretty much one of the last sports car enduros where you know you;re not going to make it all 24 hours without SOMETHING throwing you a curveball. Could be mechanical. Could be the result of the insane speed deltas. Could be a surprise weather sysytem. Could be something no one has thought of yet. But at some point, you're going to have to change the plan, and whoever has the most flexible plan is going to come out on top.

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