Why Is The Nürburgring So Famous?

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The Nürburgring racetrack has been the heart of vehicle testing for decades. Not only this, but motoring enthusiasts and journalists use it frequently for test laps of some of the hottest cars on the market.

But what is it about this winding and challenging 25.95km (16.12-mile) motorsport track, based in the small German town of Nürburg, that attracts so much attention and horsepower?

Let’s find out.

Nürburgring

Nürburgring: A brief history

Today, touring car races still take place on both versions of the Nordschleife (“North Loop”) part of the course, which includes a 20.8km (12.9-mile) and an extended 24.4km (15.2-mile) loop. The main one of these is a 24-hour endurance GT (grand tourer) event which takes place annually and features 220 cars that range from 100+bhp Ford models to ludicrously quick Audi R8s.

However, since its conception in the 1920s there have been high-profile F1 races such as the European Grand Prix and has seen its tarmac graced by legends of the sport, including none other than Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Michael Schumacher.

Nürburgring

1920s-1940s

  • Before 1925 all motor races in Germany were held on public roads in the Eifel mountains. Needless to say, this was soon recognised as a potentially dangerous way of doing things.
  • A group of German architects began work on creating the Nürburgring in September 1925.
  • It took less than two years, and in the spring of 1927 it opened, but firstly to motorcycles. Only a day later cars were racing on the track, with the first winner a Mercedes-Benz Kompressor.
  • In its first form the Nürburgring set the standard for a challenging premium racetrack. It had 127 bends on its full Gesamtstrecke course and was between eight and nine metres’ (26-30-feet) wide.
  • A shorter Sudschleife (“South Loop”) was also formed a part of it, which was 7.7km (4.8 miles) but it was also the safest in that it had the least number of bends. Minor vehicle races were also held on this course.

1940s-1970

  • WWII meant that the Nürburgring was out of action, but in 1947 things were back to normal and the Nordschleife became the main venue for the German Grand Prix in the F1 World Championships.
  • Some of the biggest names in motorsport came to stamp their authority on the course with wins – among them were Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx.
  • The first lap under nine minutes was recorded in 1961 by American Phil Hill in a Ferrari 156 F1 car.
  • British driver Jackie Stewart nicknamed the course “The Green Hell” after his win at the 1968 German Grand Prix in thick fog and a rainstorm.
  • Drivers boycotted the course following a fatal crash in 1970 in a bid to force hierarchy to make changes to it.

1970s-1980s

  • Changes were made to the track in response to boycotts – bumps were removed, it was made straighter and safety barriers were put in place to give it less corners and make it less jumpy for drivers.
  • Niki Lauda became the first and only ever driver at the time to complete the Nordschleife course in under seven minutes in 1974, at a time where it was two miles longer than the current version.
  • It was identified that the old version of the Nürburgring couldn’t possibly be made safe, unless the whole circuit was overhauled, which was done in 1984.
  • An exhibition race was held to mark its opening, which Niki Lauda and fellow F1 great Ayrton Senna took part in.
  • Major international events, the European Grand Prix and German Grand Prix were all held here before the ’90s.
  • This new Grand Prix track is what is still used today.

1990s-2010s

  • A second German F1 race was held Between 1995 and 2006 at the Nürburgring following the success of Michael Schumacher.
  • In 1997 and 1998, there were two races known as the Luxembourg Grand Prix that were held here, which was part of the F1 World Championships.
  • The 2013 German Grand Prix was hosted at the Nürburgring in which six-time F1 World Championship winner Lewis Hamilton took part in. However, it was German Sebastian Vettel (four-time World Championship winner) who won the race.

Driving enthusiasts

Nürburgring

Besides being the venue for some of the most important F1 races in history, the Nürburgring has also become esteemed thanks to its open-door policy to the public.

Millions of petrolheads from across the globe visit the track each year to drive their road-legal cars and motorcycles, but you can even use motor homes, tour buses and cars with trailers. Other than the days where a race is on, you can pay a fee of €25 per lap per vehicle (not per person) in the week. Friday to Sunday are busier days, so the price rises to €30.

This has been in place since it first opened in 1927, but has become more and more popular since the arrival of the Internet. After this point, manufacturers testing premium and prototype models began uploading videos of lap times as a sort of self-proclamation. And to promote the vehicle in question of course by showing off performance.

Should you wish to go round the course, you won’t have to use your own car. There is an official car rental garage which is part of the entire Nürburgring and lets you hire a wide range of performance cars, starting from hot hatches such as the Ford Fiesta ST-Line and Volkswagen Golf GTI, but moving all the way up to hypercars like the Nissan GT-R and BMW M4. Included in the price is a lesson too in order to get you familiarised with the track.

Popular TV Series Top Gear have previously used the Nordschleife part of the course for car challenges too, which has furthered its cause.

Manufacturer lap times

Known as the ‘industry pool’, there are 16 weeks each year where around 30 manufacturers (with associates and parts suppliers) rent out the track. This allows them to carry out endurance tests on cars which then make it possible to highlight potential issues or areas for development.

Nürburgring current standings

So infamous is the testing of vehicles around this tricky little track that an official rankings table has been created to demonstrate which cars and drivers hold the bragging rights.

The current standings are as follows.

It’s widely recognised as one of the most influential marketing tools for sports car manufacturers to “Beat the ‘Ring”.

Course difficulty

Nürburgring

What makes the Nürburgring so popular in the automotive world is its vast, varying surface. Motorists take it on in large numbers each year because it offers a proper challenge. There’s long and fast straights, banked corners, bumpy and jumpy parts, hairpin bends and rises and falls around 1,000 feet as you go round it.

So renowned is the course that it has a number of named segments which contribute to its legendary status.

Nürburgring_Nordschleife

The most notorious is the “Bergwerk”, an almost 90-degree-right which comes just after a fast long section. It’s been responsible for serious and fatal accidents over the years.

But it’s not just the turns that cause problems. One of the most awkward sections is a quick, winding downhill stretch known as the “Pflanzgarten” (or “Planting Garden”). This part of the track seems to drop away in short, sharp bursts which makes finding the racing line very difficult. At no point is there a real reference you can use in order to get the right positioning, which often means that caution is taken over outright speed. However, this can then lead to you losing a significant number of seconds which can prove detrimental to your overall lap time.

Once this is out of the way, there’s just one final segment that can prove difficult before hitting the home straight to the finish line. The “Schwalbenschwanz” (or “Swallow’s Tail”) is a succession of quick sweeping bends that go uphill and results in a lot of blind corners. Again, you’ll want to pay attention on your practice laps and any subsequent training in order to get your speed and handling right on this part. Doing this will ensure you salvage some all-important seconds. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast!

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