Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg
This year’s German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring was a novelty. Bernard Ecclestone gave a race away for free. That’s right – the 2013 German Grand Prix was held without the track owners having to fork over a vulgar amount of currency to the toad from Suffolk.
OK, the fact that the track owners are a little bit bankrupt may have something to do with it, but the very fact that Mr. E. indulged in such an un-Bernie-like endeavour shows what standing this track has in the world of motorsport. But this legendary place, which claimed many a life and an Austrian’s ear is in danger of being lost forever…
At the beginning of the 1920’s – since 1922 to be precise – the Eifelrennen (Eifel race) was held on gravel roads in the Eifel region of Germany (not to be mixed up with Gustav Eiffel, that’s the bloke, who built a steel tower bang smack in the middle of Paris). Realising that having cars and bikes blast through villages at unsafe velocities was a wee bit impractical, local powers decided to build the Erste Gebirgs-, Renn- und Prüfungsstrecke (first mountain, race and testcourse) in the generally poor region of the Republic, starting in 1925. Providing work to 3,000 people, two years later the project was finished and resulted in what is now mainly known as the Nürburgring Nordschleife (Nürburgring Northern Loop).
It was here that the myth of the Mercedes “Silver Arrows” was born, mainly due to the exploits of Rudolf Caracciola, who won both the first ever race at the Nürburgring in 1927 and the last one before the war in 1939 and a handful in between these two at the wheel of a Mercedes.
World War II ended racing at the Nürburgring until 1947 and although Mercedes returned shortly to top level racing with Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s, the LeMans disaster of 1955 ended most of Mercedes’ motorsport activities and it took them until 2013 to score a major victory on the Nordschleife again.
The track was used as the venue for the German Grand Prix until 1976, when Niki Lauda’s horrible accident meant that ‘The Ring‘, or ‘Green Hell‘ as Sir Jackie Steward used to call it had become too dangerous for Formula One and prompted construction of the Grand Prix Circuit we know these days. But that doesn’t mean the Nordschleife is dead. In fact you can check yourself that it isn’t.
Deadly, legendary, yet accessible
The Nürburgring Nordschleife is nothing like the Tilke-dromes we’re accustomed to these days. While your average F1 circuit is between two (Monaco) and four and a half (Spa-Francorchamps) miles long, the Nordschleife is a whooping 13 miles long. And instead of the usual twelve to fifteen corners, it has a mind-boggling seventy-three of them. And here’s the kicker – you can just turn up in your own car on a weekend, pay a number of Euros and drive on it for most of the year.
All you need is a valid drivers license and a road legal insured car or motorcycle. In fact for 1,475 Euros you can help yourself to a Jahreskarte, which means you can drive on the Ring all year… ’till the cows come home or your car is wrecked, which is more likely to be honest.
For close to 6 years I’ve been a regular customer at the Ring and nothing short of doing the nasty on the back seats with Kiera Knightley comes close to the euphoria of completing a lap on the Ring without having died in the process. Nothing compares to the almighty thud at Quiddelbacher Höhe telling you that your car had been airborne moments before or the feeling of looking at the next corner through the side window as you blast into Brünnchen in a window-lickingly mad drift you didn’t intend to perform or the violent rearrangement of your internal organs as you dive into Karussell’s steep banking.
The Nordschleife is simply insane and the closest thing anyone who isn’t a professional racing driver can come to feeling what it is like to drive a car on the limit. I did my first laps in 2001 in a knackered old Peugeot 306, but it felt like I was trying to manhandle a live Saturn V rocket up a flight of winding stairs. Before I could kill myself though, the car did the French thing and surrendered when the engine ate itself for lunch in the Fuchsröhre after 3 laps.
It’s not all romantic manliness though. Over the years I’ve witnessed at least ten people being carted out in a hearse and probably at least a hundred in an ambulance. It is without the shadow of a doubt the world’s most fearsome and dangerous race track.
A lap of the Ring in a Ferrari 599XX
But I don’t want to kill myself…
An understandable and commendable point of view that every seasoned Ring veteran will readily acknowledge by offering rarely used honorifics such as ‘Wimp’. But there is an entirely non-lethal option to drive the legendary track. Well known console racing games GranTurismo (Playstation) and Forza Motorsport (Xbox) provide astonishingly realistic renditions of the Nordschleife and allow you to drive on it in everything from a small family box to a full-blown racing car.
So what went wrong? Why are they broke?
- You are on a horse, galloping at a constant speed.
- On your right side is a sharp drop-off, and on your left is an elephant traveling at the same speed as you.
- Directly in front of you is a galloping kangaroo and your horse is unable to overtake it.
- Behind you is a lion running at the same speed as you and the Kangaroo.
What is the safest way to get out of this highly dangerous situation?
Get your drunk arse off the merry-go-round!
Right, that’s exactly what happened. In a bit of demented logic, the track owners decided to build a huge amusement park near the Ring. To do that they got a 400 Million Euros subsidy from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Now seriously chaps; I’m at the worlds most amazing race track. The very thought of driving on it is giving me a wet patch on the front of my britches. Are you really expecting me to chase a Circus horse in an ambulance on a merry-go-round? And even if I wanted to – if I’m spectating at Kesselchen, it’ll take me a bleeding week to get there!
The whole thing, predictably, failed spectacularly as the dads preferred to adorn their cars with armco imprints and the mums stayed at home watching their statistically determined 1.3 children ride the drunken Elk on a merry-go-round at the home town fairground.
In comes the European Union and determined that the 400 Million subsidy for the worlds most useless Disneyland was against European economic competition laws and obliged the track owners to return the dough. Unfortunately they had blown it all on sausage booths, ambulances, elephants and galloping kangaroos for the terminally stupid, ended up neck-deep in the debt and had to file bankruptcy.
For a good half year now there is a bidding process during which potential buyers have to present their offers. The ‘tentative offer’ period ended in September and now every bidder has to submit a detailed final offer. Probably the most promising competitor – the one that a whole nation of Ring-lovers pin their hopes on – is a consortium of Germany’s leading automotive club ADAC and all German car manufacturers, who seek to buy and preserve this piece of national automotive heritage.
If nobody buys the Ring until sometime in early 2014, the Nürburgring will be closed and demolished by the EU. In that case Brussels will learn what an angry mob of Germans looks like. The last recorded case of ‘angry German mob’ happened in the eastern parts of the nation in 1989 and I was right in it. The Berlin wall didn’t survive it…