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Formula Motorsports

Lord of the Ring

By Michael Tashjian • September 4, 2015

For the Nordschleifes’s 20.8 klicks, my “SPECIAL” 911 should have, at most, an eight minute plus lap. A piece of road unlike any other, on planet Hollywood. An addictive and rushing affair filled with Dips, swoops and the traps of Bathurst, from Klostertal to Arenberg, AKA, the Forest’s Elbow. Multiply that cute little strip of road by 10. I keep coming back in the vain attempt to execute placement, fluency and self confidence, as they are the only shortcuts to fast lap times.

If it doesn’t flow and/or you rush it too fast, go back to your room, for you WILL crash.

As Castles loom and workday traffic scuttles underneath it’s bridges, one can only imagine what it was like behind the wheel of an early Formula One car, …In the blinding rain and fog. Replete with Balloon tires, jockey cap, drum brakes and a pack of lucky’s in your breast pocket. A time for real drivers.

I’ve run out of options, I’m going in too deep and way too fast. I’m somewhere near the Flugplatz and I’ve forgotten the sequence. Under the bridge then the sweepers. Fast downhill left then right. Almost a straight line if your placement is good. Mine is not. A touch of the brakes, flick the wheel, prepare to thread the needle.

The picture beyond my windshield is of brilliant green forest; layers of battered Armco and rusty chain link fence. In a blink of an eye’s it’s gone, but the image remains forever crystal. Funny, how your mind works, slowing things down, enriching the senses. Careful, watch the edge now and fear the grass. Listen, let the engine’s song caress in its chorus.

Feel the oversteer? It’s breakaway progressive, forgiving, every moment so incredibly linear. There are no sharp edges, no surprises. Tip toeing and a deep breath; adjust the attitude with a lift and a flick of the wrist. Wait! Wait for the apex..And PLANT the right foot! Rubber squirms eternally, then BITES. Inevitably, my 911 succombs to the buzzing of the flat honeycomb curbing. Caressing the borders between black and green, the silver bullet ruffles the long summer grass with a rush of wind and heat. We are through. Lungs fill for the first time in perhaps 20 seconds as the throttle is rolled off. I must NOT forget my training at the Elf school, the regular cadence in breath must be maintained as it helps in creating a physical and mental structure for piloting a racecar. The 993 slows on the short straight and I come to terms with it. “That, was too close. Idiot”! Remember the flow. Why Didn’t I recognize the approach? How many years does it take to come to grip with this place?

157 corners around the north circuit. Apart from the few you can safely measure, they loom into view way too soon. I vaguely recognize a dozen others; ones which appear over blind brows or corkscrews out of sight cut through a carpet of fir trees. Paths of light glimmer when novitiates, all too lost, must look up to reposition themselves, thereby losing precious time.

Since 1927, this green, often misty valley, high in the Eifel Mountains has been the altar of motor racing, the Nurburgring. The Ring. From Hatzenbach past the Schwendenkreuz up to Adenau. Then it’s Bergwerk and on to the Karussell. Portraits of Jackie Stewart jumping the Matra high above the spray at “the flying place” in 1968; Bernd Rosemeyer clipping the apex at Hocheichen, his 1936 Auto Union in a delicately controlled slide; Fangio imperious, head straight, arms coiled, gunning his “silberpfiel” through the banked Karussell; then Nicki; poor bastard, trapped at Bergwerk, his Ferrari a fireball. Steamer trunks crammed with ghosts, coal trains of stories laden with glory.

I offer myself to Europe every now and then, excusing it to visit old friends and an auto show. Simply a postscrip to a quarter century love affair. She never lets me know all her secrets. A little international negotiation and I idle by the gatehouse in my “rental” 911. All shiny and glinting in the midday sun. It doesn’t rate a second glance. Gatekeepers, cherub faced and stuffed with wurst have noticed more exhaust heat then a naval flag officer has during his affixation to afterburners lighting a late 60’s night sky as they stream off the carriers deck somewhere in the South China Sea.

Even at eight tenths, eyes WIDE open and the brain in gear, it is unbalanced, ungainly. After a few laps on a normal track confidence begins to flow. At the “real” Ring, you’re still driving it like a blind tarmac rally stage. So much of it lies beyond the line of sight that you’re constantly reacting rather than anticipating. It might be rough but it can be very revealing. If the car isn’t forgiving, you’re unlikely to drive it away. Not enough time to write a book, however the impressions are strong, of car, driver, and circuit.

The faster you go the more to learn. In two places your leave terra firma. In another you get squished into the ground by G-forces strong enough to steal your breath. Every bump is a new challenge, the banked Karroussel, a frightening exercise in precision. It throws cars off into the trees if the driver peels of the wall too early.

There are corners like Wehseifen that literally spit the car across the roads.and Klostertal, where even real men hold their breath. There are more bad cambers than an alignment shop full of NY cabs. Intertwined with the rapid-fire directional changes and the rise and fall is this backdrop of blurred green tranquility.

Please God, let me retire and get the ring around every day of the rest of my life.

PS. I wrote the original story 15 years ago and it still “rings” true.