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Nurburgring signTechnobabble - A Practical Guide to the Nurburgring

by Dave Coleman

A few months ago, Kojima told you what it's like to do the Nurburgring like a rock star. Now I'm gonna tell you what it's like without the helicopters, the luxury suites, and the long nights of trackside debauchery. This is how you pay your own way.

I recently had a business trip to Germany and had my girlfriend, Sarah, fly out so we could stick a vacation on the end of it. The way things were scheduled, I had two weekends within comfortable driving distance of the Nurburgring with nothing else I had to do. My knowledge of the 'ring is far from comprehensive, (If you want the complete history, use the Google), but this is what I could figure out in the short time I was there:

 

Picking a day:

The track is open to the public most of the time, but not all of the time. The track is closed periodically for private track days, development testing, maintenance and weather. To check the schedule on everything but the weather, go here: http://www.nuerburgring.de/en/nuerburgring-race-track.html (note the unusual spelling) and follow the link to "hours of operation Nordschleife". After making your plans, re-check the schedule before you drive there, as last-minute changes are standard operating procedure. In fact, don't be surprised if the schedule changes between buying your tickets and pulling up to the track entrance. It really is that unpredictable. While we were there, the track was shut down for 2 hours so a motorcycle tour could ride around the track at painfully low speeds. This was on none of the schedules.

 

Getting There:

Type "Nurburgring" into you nav system and do what it says. Shit, do I have to tell you everything?

Nurburgring from a helicopter, bitch!

 

Finding the Entrance:

This is actually not trivial. The massive main hall, shown here from the helicopter Jeff and Mike took, is where you buy the tickets and the souvenirs. To get to the track entrance, you drive out of the circle where the orange bus is parked, turn left onto the main road and drive away. It will seem like you're leaving, but really you're just driving parallel with the main straight. You'll drive past all the fancy manufacturer R&D buildings on the right (Mazda doesn't have one, sadly) and feel like you're going entirely too far from the track. Finally, you'll see a small sign for Nurburg on right. Even though the track is on the left, turn right. That road will loop around, drop under the main road, under the track, and pop up in the infield. Before you know it, you'll be stuck in a traffic jam of GT3s, Skylines and BMWs.

There is a small traffic circle right in front of the track entrance, with two small paved parking lots right next to the track, and two bigger dirt ones on the other side for overflow. Park and explore the scene on foot before driving in. 

 

What to Drive:

The Nurburgring is technically a toll road, so any car legal to drive in Germany is legal to drive there. Sort of... It seems most rental car companies got tired of replacing brakes and tires after 'ring toursits thrashed the living hell out of them, so they've written Nurburgring exclusion clauses into their contracts. As a result, several companies have sprung up around the track specifically to rent cars for use on the Nurburgring.

Nurburgring sweet Mazda3

For my first weekend at the track, I borrowed a Mazda3 with a 2.0-liter engine and an automatic transmission from Mazda's R&D center in Germany. It worked better than you might expect. Using that first weekend as a scouting trip, I spotted these three rental companies. 

Rent-Racecar.de offers Suzuki Swifts, VW Golfs, Sciroccos, BMW 120is, 325is, 330is, E46 M3s, E92 M3s, 996 911 Carreras and 997 GT3 3.8 ClubSports. I saw plenty of their cars out there, but their pricing was not that compelling for a cheapwad like me.

Nurburgring rent a scirrocco

RSR had a shop very close to the track entrance and an intriguing back lot full of old Alfa Milanos that looked affordable. I stopped in and chatted with the owner for a bit, only to learn he was sold out on the weekend I wanted to rent. Then I asked him about the smashed Milano I saw them dismantling in the shop. 

Turns out the car had been crashed on its first lap while the track was still damp and the driver still cold. The driver misjudged the karoussel, looped it, and destroyed both ends of the car on the guardrail. RSR could salvage the engine and suspension, but the rest was toast.  

Nurburgring Rental Lamborghini

This is where I learned the most important detail about these 'ring rentals. Most of them don't have insurance, and work on a simple you-break-it-you-buy-it system. The driver bought the Milano when he hit the guardrail and effectively sold the engine and suspension back to RSR for spares. The rest of the Nurburgring (and, it seems, the rest of Germany) works on a similar system, which means that if you bend the guardrail, they'll charge you to fix it. Typical cost is about $6,000. In all, this poor sap's overzealous first lap cost him over $14,000.

RSR has a tempting fleet of cars, including the aforementioned Alfas, Renaultsport Clio Cups and R26.Rs (widely regarded as the hottest factory front-driver of all time), Lotus Exiges, E92 M3s, GT3 Cups, GT3 RSes and even a Lamborghini Gallardo. If it costs $14,000 to make a mistake in a shitty used Alfa, imagine what it costs in the Lamborghini.

 

Nurburgring Renault

The R26.R is as hot shit as front-drivers come. That carbon hood is factory. So is the roll cage. I couldn't even afford to ask the price.

 

Nurburgring Rent 4 Ring

Finally, I spotted some rentals that were more my speed. Rent-4-Ring rents nothing but Suzuki Swifts. They cost a few Euros more than the Swifts from Rent-Racecar, but Rent-4-Ring's cars come on R-compound rubber (Toyo R888s), with track pads and, most importantly, they come with insurance that covers both the car and damage to the guardrails. It seems that renting only low-power cars with super-grippy tires gives you a commendable track record that insurance companies really like.

Rent-4-Ring actually has 3 grades of Swifts to choose from, with the more expensive ones carrying cages, race seats, and unspecified modifications to bump the power up from 130 to 150. We took the cheapest one and had a blast.

Rent-4-Ring's owner is pretty young and actually went to college in Santa Barbara, so his English is flawless. They've got a really friendly staff and can even help you find accomodations in town. They found us a room to rent in a local's house one night, and got us a crazy discount in one of the deluxe new hotels at the recently completed Disneylike rack compound on the second night.

What they lacked, though, was a big enough selection of helmets to borrow. They had a few, but by the time we picked up our car, none were in our sizes. Obviously, if you have room in your luggage, bringing your own helmet would be more pleasant anyway. We were about to drive to Italy in a tiny Fiat Panda, so we had packed light. Like many people, we just drove without helmets.

Nurburgring Rent 4 Ring Swift

Our trusty ride was surprisingly entertaining, considering its 130 hp. Being a lowly Suzuki made it easy on the ego when we had to move over and let GT3s pas, and it made it really satisfying when that EVO V had to move over and let US pass.

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Comments
Stephen Ingram
Stephen Ingramlink
Monday, September 27, 2010 3:37 AM
Great read, Dave.

I especially like the Bitchen Camaro reference ;-)
dj06482
dj06482link
Monday, September 27, 2010 4:12 AM
Great article, I'm going to have to reference this if I ever get the chance to drive the 'Ring! Love the car show pics and comments!
Dustin S.
Dustin S.link
Monday, September 27, 2010 6:13 AM
good stuff as always Dave. now i have a guide for how to go broke for less if i ever make it to the 'Ring... :)
Rush
Rushlink
Monday, September 27, 2010 12:35 PM
Great article! keep up the great work
bigmac88
bigmac88link
Monday, September 27, 2010 1:50 PM
Awesome article. "This is what the EVO wants to be when it grows up." HA! Uber thumbs up for that one.

Group B + Nurburgring; it doesn't get much better than that.
OMG Its Weasel
OMG Its Weasellink
Monday, September 27, 2010 2:50 PM
ive always been intrigued at how europeans tow their vehicles.
i wonder how they recover smashed vehicles where the wheels arent exactly attached.

Aldayo
Aldayolink
Monday, September 27, 2010 4:28 PM
Great guide... loved the fact you drove a swift, as it is my current car...
pcruz
pcruzlink
Monday, September 27, 2010 6:21 PM
Dave... you are officially super cool...
thanks
spdracerut
spdracerutlink
Monday, September 27, 2010 6:51 PM
Your Swift was far superior to the car I used at the 'Ring, a 110hp, 3200lb Citreon C5 on some all-season tires. I faded the brakes on my first lap out because I was being overly cautious and extending the braking zones too much.

The C5 did have adjustable ride height air suspension though! I was able to cross a ditch out of the dirt lot to bypass the traffic onto the main road, so there!

In the four laps I did, there was a brand new Civic SI (euro only version that was the funky hatch) that had gone absolutely flying by me and ended up totaled, a totaled GT3, a Caterham that was missing a wheel, another car that had smacked the barrier, another 5 cars or so that had accidents, 4 motorcycles down, and a passenger in the 'Ring Taxi that was puking on the side of the road.
Steve
Stevelink
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 2:54 AM
The Polo was all over when I lived in Stockholm in the late 1970's, I remember thinking "THAT is what we should have" - better looking than a "Rabbit", and having already driven our '77 VW Scirocco family car which was a little upscale for avg consumer, the Polo would have been a great fit here. The Mk1 Polo didn't have any balls in stock trim, but it had the "package" down cold. Same car as an Audi 50, they were all over Germany back then. In bright primary colors ,idk if I ever saw one that wasn't bright green, yellow, or red, lol!

If you do meet the guy(s) responsible for denying us a new gen Scirocco, pls kick them twice in the balls for me. Dumbasses...
BenFenner
BenFennerlink
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 3:56 AM
Loved every word of it. I wasn't playing favorites until now. Dave, you make reading a joy.
urbanjacup
urbanjacuplink
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 3:58 AM
Great article, you had me rolling with that German spin on that GTR...hysterical!
rsmotors
rsmotorslink
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 4:34 AM
Awesome post Dave forgot to comment yesterday when I read it :P I cant wait I am planning on taking my G/F there once she is done college as she is from Germany and there car may do a weird detour to the Burg....
Rittmeister
Rittmeisterlink
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 6:03 PM
Great writeup Dave, and love the pictures.
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 6:55 AM
Epic article. Awesome.

I'll make sure to have my kid kick you in the balls in about 16 years for inspiring me to want to spend some of his college fund... :)
sr20boston
sr20bostonlink
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 7:54 AM
Excellent read. Oh how I want a Clio Sport.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:44 PM
We were talking about who murdered their shit out first at lunch the other day. I think it was you with the s13. Then it was the dumbasses who bought brand new CLS55s, murdered them out, and lost 2/3 the car's value overnight.
Greg Amy
Greg Amylink
Thursday, February 24, 2011 3:48 AM
Super write-up, as always. - GA
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