Nurburgring - the most challenging race track in the world

The taste of danger, the terrestrial limit of the passion. Who won here wins twice as he hasn’t died. Nestled in dense forests of Western Germany, it’s the most legendary, arduous and dangerous automobile racetrack of the world, the Nürburgring. Seductive cocktail between man, car and nature, it is characterised by one of the worst climates we will find on a circuit. Considered the greatest and most challenging circuit ever devised, the original Nürburgring (permanent road course: 22.835 km (1967-76 version)) – infamously nicknamed the “Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart – was a 160-turn behemoth that wound its way through the Eiffel Mountains of western Germany.

The Nordschleife takes the cake as far as epic old school tracks go … an incredibly high speed roller-coaster ride. 15 miles of pure folly. As soon as you leave the circuit where Formula 1 ran and enter Nordschleife’s amazing world, you feel teleported in another place. Kerbs rise and become untouchable, the street becomes narrow and trees, grass and guard rail appear, asphalt constantly changes colour and adhesion level as well. It starts quite an adventure, with slope changes, jumps and hollows. Your breathing slams to a stop, the stomach gets tight. It’s difficult to be surprised in seeing Augusto Farfus, after near a decade from his first 24 hours of Nürburgring, still crossing himself whenever he starts a new lap. There was a version of the Nürburgring that included the Sudschleife (South Loop) that brought the total length to 28km. This was pre-war grand prix racing. Cars racing out in the countryside on a beautifully smooth piece of track, and nothing but fields and farm land in the distance. No spectators anywhere. Totally surreal.

Lauda crashed in his Ferrari coming out of the left-hand kink before Bergwerk, for causes that were never established. He was badly burned as his car was still loaded with fuel in lap 2. Lauda was saved by the combined actions of fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger, and Harald Ertl, rather than by the ill-equipped track marshals. Today the Austrian says: “A kid today doesn’t know anything or not very much of what happened in that 1976. A kid today wasn’t even born in the ‘70s. If you can’t understand that era you cannot appreciate what we were doing. We were risking our life every day. Have you seen the new circuit? Have you been through doing a lap of the old one instead? (the old circuit is the Nordschleife, the 23 Km of hell and turns where Lauda was about to die). There are differences that go beyond the circuit. The old track was pure risk. And that risk was what we had to face on a daily basis. Today that track, and I say thanks God, is much safer, and represents what Formula 1 has become today. Today you can have an accident and nothing happens. Then, instead, you died. But, believe me, the real difference it’s not even exactly that. Even today on the track anything can happen. The problem is that it would be a bump. Then it was normal: we had to continuously face with the probability of dying somehow. It was almost all we could think about. That idea is the actual difference. You say that modern drivers are risk employees? I don’t know. But I think that if you don’t have such idea in mind, as due to Formula 1 progress you don’t need it, then everything changes: it’s useless to expect a modern Formula 1 driver to have the same character of me or James Hunt, because it’s just impossible as it all changed. But, of course, a Formula 1 like the modern one seems fascinating to me, I would turn towards such a sport, as if I’d have competed now I’d have made ten times that and above all I would still have my ear”.

Nürburgring is a 150,000-capacity motorsports complex located in the town of Nürburg, Germany. It features a Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old "North loop" track, designed by the Eichler Architekturbüro from Ravensburg (led by architect Gustav Eichler), which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg. The north loop is 20.8 km (12.9 mi) long and has more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) of elevation change from its lowest to highest points. In 1929 the full Nürburgring was used for the last time in major racing events. In 1970 the German GP was moved to the Hockenheimring, hosted at the Nürburgring again from 1971 to 1976, and then finally moved to the Hockenheimring, due to safety reasons. An English journalist, Jeremy Clarkson, noted in 2004 that "over the years this track has claimed over 200 lives". However, the shortened Nordschleife is still in use for racing, testing and public access.

The Nordschleife was formerly known for its abundance of sharp crests, causing fast-moving, firmly-sprung racing cars to jump clear off the track surface at many locations. By no means the most fearsome part of the circuit is Flugplatz, perhaps the most aptly (although coincidentally) named and widely remembered. Right before Flugplatz is Quiddelbacher-Höhe (peak, as in "mountain summit"). Soon after the very fast downhill section succeeding the Flugplatz is the Fuchsröhre, one of the fastest and most dangerous parts of the track because of the extremely high speeds in such a tight and confined place; this part of the circuit goes right through a forest and there is only about 7–8 feet of grass separating the track from Armco barrier, and beyond the barriers is a wall of trees. Perhaps the most notorious corner on the long circuit, Bergwerk, was the scene of Niki Lauda's infamous fiery accident. Although being one of the slower corners on the Nordschleife, the Karussell is perhaps its most famous and one of its most iconic- it is one of two berm-style, banked corners on the track. Soon after Bergwerk and having gone through a section called Klostertal (Monastery Valley), the driver turns right through a long hairpin, past an abandoned section called Steilstrecke (Steep Route) and then goes up another hill towards the Karrusell. The entrance to the corner is blind, although Juan Manuel Fangio is reputed to have advised a young driver to "aim for the tallest tree". A favourite spectator vantage point, the Brünnchen section is composed of two right-hand corners and a very short straight. The Pflanzgarten, which is soon after the Brünnchen, is one of the fastest, trickiest and most difficult sections of the Nürburgring. The Schwalbenschwanz is a sequence of very fast sweepers located after the Stefan Bellof S. The Kleines Karussell is similar to its bigger brother, except that it is a 90-degree corner instead of 210 degrees, and is faster and slightly less banked. Once this part of the track is dealt with, the drivers are near the end of the lap; with two more corners to negotiate before the 2.135 km long Döttinger Höhe straight.

Nov 17, 2017
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