“Ring, Fazination” is an exhibition next to the “GP” or “New” circuit on the southern end of the Nürburgring, where kids and parents alike enjoy virtual games and entertainment. Just a “click” north of this facility ties the ultimate amusement, a true parallel; hence my sobriquet for the 20.8 kilometer long Nordschleife.
Journeyman drivers know the feeling. You arrive at a new track and find yourself wrapped in the unmistakable aura of fear. Not for having an “Incident,” heaven forbid, but recognition of course difficulty, coupled to peer pressure and loss of youth, an inevitable conflict in a driver of age and wisdom, which he must address prior to the drivers meeting.
English Channel crossings can be macabre in the dawn of a dank winter’s end. Indeed, the powerful sea sprayed salted air under my feet as I stood at the bow of an unfolding French April day. The vast concreted port of Calais lay before my feet. Loudspeakers bawled as livery and tourists padded. their way along the transport’s decks and I stole time to unwrap my mind’s thinly veiled trance, replete with images of turns arriving way too fast for me. Monocratic in tone, the systematic notice echoed throughout the quarterdeck of our Channel ferry, becoming more momentous as the enormous gangplank hydraulics moaned in the background, its cumbersome weight giving way to the marmalade skies of this French embarcation zone. The ticking within me began.
Randy Sesson, Metro’s man in London, held his Range Rover readying at idle as I proceeded to engage the mandated English lock mechanism of his 993 modified Twin turbo. With Europeans gripped in fear, the containment procedure of the dreaded hoof and mouth disease mandated my crossing a wetted trough upon arrival in territorial France. Subjective delousing complete, we made serious tracks due east along the coast. Preoccupation with the subsequent morning’s drivers meeting accompanied my drive, creeping in and around any enjoyment of this continental traverse.
Crossing the border into Belgium at speeds averaging 180 kph, with nary an official stamp nor gendarme in sight, our efforts led us south, then east again. Morning mist had burned away hours before and the midday sunlight saluted us as we passed Spa Francorchamps, the world class course on which I took my first professional drive. Ahh! Spa and The Ring, a duet of early rituals of passage, a validation of youthful exuberance, late braking, early apexes encapsulated with the hubris of life without end, one big party. Less than two hours later, my thirst quenched by the hospitality of good German beer, we relaxed and planned our driving stints at this most formidable racing venue in the world—Nordschleife Nürburgring. Both Randy and I enjoyed the local cuisine, wild boar and venison, as we dined with an old friend who had traveled 600 kilometers from Stuttgart to discuss the purchase of a GT3RS and the logistics accompanying this purchase.
Hotel Rieder’s guest book documents the great motorsports figures who, for more than half a century, awoke to the visual effects that accommodate Eifel Mountains living, in and around the Nordschleife. Their signatures remain an affirmation of how this region has been so untouched by the outside world in the decades since my last stay. Ensconced by this sleepy hamlet a mere three kilometers from my temple of the tarmac god, our window opened to a panorama of endless pastures and mountains, beckoning the driver within us all.
Attention is carefully paid at a drivers meeting. for the Nordschleife section of the Nürburgring. Along with the usual safety discussion comes something unique to this venue: CPR instruction and a host of other ambulatory principles. You see, when you drive 170 turns, drivers must look out for one another. If an accident occurs, one must pull over and minister to the helpless in the wreck, mandated by the sheer magnitude of the area we play within. Several minutes or more may pass before medical professionals arrive at the crash site. Novice drivers drew in the flavor of this experience with gaunt looks at each other. Unfortunately, rescues would be needed during the competition. The degree of skill and course recognition and concentration needed throughout their driving stints was underestimated by the. too fast or foolish.
Taught by several veteran regional drivers, my earlier experiences with this track an its 300 meter elevation changes disciplined my first several laps. “Mauk,” (my teacher had a German affectation with my name), “Mauk, ve moost drife dees truck ass ve drife de roads aroond it.” Vernacular aside, he meant that negotiating these many turns would have to be done as if you were driving a country road at racing speeds, with eyes telescoped, looking for openings in the treetops that hint at where the road is headed. He also taught me to break down the track into the well defined sections you see on the track map. Most importantly, he had stressed the mind and how it would tire because of the intense concentration, before my young body would succumb to fatigue.
Similarities to Bridgehampton could suffice for any of you who have become familiar with blind turn recognition. Blind turn description does little justice to the actual awakening one experiences at 220 kph when negotiating a rise and then dropping into a sharp bend in the Forst of Adenauer with nary a thought of preparing a set of pedal and wheel movements to the left, no right, no left - BAM, you’re dead.
Weather is very much an issue within the confines of this mountain region and at 20 kilometers in length, “Jurassic Ring” in April was mystifying. Intense rain greets a fast car very fast indeed, yet three “clicks” farther along the sun warms spectators sitting in high perches, positioned for the best views of short sections of road. I try to choose a really scary part of the “Ring Fazination,” as they call it, but can’t. Maybe it has to do with the number of puzzle parts that scare the s— out of me.
Being fast there is remembering every section, intimately. Randy benefited froun my prior experience. I benefited from a humble approach to certain sections. The first and last thirds of this Black Forest cake was within my grasp by the third lap, as I familiarized myself with the old landmarks taught to me so long ago. It was the section after Adenauer Forst, on our way down to the lowest sections and working back up through Bergwerk that kept me from the confidence level I had adopted when younger. Kesselchen made me look good a’s my right foot felt comfortable planted on the accelerator, and the right turn before Karussell was comfortable in a 4-wheel drift. (Several wrecks there.) Interestingly, Karussell was and is easy for me to drop into and pop out of, carrying good speed up Hohe Acht, setting up for Wippermann. Schwalbenschwanz is important, as all turns coming into a fast section are, for now that it has been cleared we begin the fastest part of The Ring, a killer straight that seems to go on forever. As I quickly shift into 6th, one eye jogs to the gauges and looks for 6,200 rpm while the complementary eyeball is watching cars we’re passing.
While seeing 300 kph, Forever could be terminated, if one does not respect the bridge and its kink to the left. Quick! Lift on the gas pedal, make a minor movement with the wheel and SLAM, the gas pedal is punished again, albeit only for the short stint before arriving at Hohenrein.
We logged over 70 laps and my best time was 8:04. Randy’s level of skill grew to a point where I felt he was most comfortable. We drove the first day with the GP circuit included… very cool.
Pounding rain dogged our ride back to Calais and London. Ten hours back, whew. There is no substitute. Bring on the “Fazination!”
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