June 22, 2009

From Bogota to Bergwerk: A first timer's trip to the Green Hell

What to write about the Nürburgring that hasn't been written? It is after all a staple of motoring journalism, there are hundreds of web sites devoted to the track and the place is surrounded by a carefully cultivated "Fight Club" mystique.

However, the Nürburgring does mean very different things to very different people, some are willing to risk their necks while others are content with lapping the track in a tour bus so, to start our small series of articles on the Axis' recent trip, we will start with an account of a tracktard's "deflowering" at the legendary German track.

Andres is a long time Axis reader and friend from Colombia, in late May of 2009 he joined Team Axis in the Eifel forests, here is his story:

I have been struggling to explain people why I went all the way from Bogota, Colombia to a town that is 15 blocks by 3 blocks, in the middle of nowhere in Germany for just two days.
So you went racing, they ask, and I have to answer with a no. So was it a track day, the people that know a little more ask, and once again I have to say no. So is it a race track? A yes followed by a no gets delivered. So how do you explain a one way, not speed limited, toll road that runs on one of the most (if not the most) legendary race tracks in the world to any one? I just say I went to Disneyland.

A Disneyland for motorheads, where Mickey Mouse and the other characters are replaced by nice cars and where there is only one ride but it is an impossibly complex, exciting and long ride that you don’t want to get out of. It’s definitely a crazy concept and even crazier that you are to find it in Germany, where they are known for being square! I blame EVO (the magazine) for starting my bug, and CG and the AOO crew for feeding it.....

So how was my first experience at the Nürburgring?

First I have to say that preparation is key (just ask AC). We started planning as early as February and by March we had all booked (hotel, planes and cars, both for the track and the commute). A preliminary list of 5 was raised previously but by the time came to book only CG and I came through. AC decided on joining at last minute and just managed to sort thing out.

This early planning allowed for pretty good rates, got us a room facing the F1 racetrack at the Dorint and the (track) cars we really wanted. Nevertheless, I managed to screw up my timing and 24 hours before leaving I realized I was to leave a day earlier (don’t ask!). A hectic day was followed by an overnight flight to Madrid that continued to Frankfurt. I had to finish a report so after dinner I had to work and send the file. Did I mention that I have trouble sleeping in planes? Obviously I was knackered. That was my first lesson: if you are flying far and are greatly affected by jet lag as I am, do arrive a day early. It makes little sense to drive at the Nurburgring while being completely drowsy. (ed: oh yeah? Read about GC and AC's first 'ring trip!)

Day 0

Day 0 was used to meet AC and CG at the airport (from different flights), travelling to Nurburg, standing for a little while at one of the viewing points (and getting really anxious about the speeds people were doing and the huge elevation changes that seemed not that relevant in the videos and, shall I dare say it, GT4), having a nice Grillhaxe, buying lap tickets at the parking lot, visiting RSR Nurburg.

The day ended with a Track Walk (with RSR Nurburg) which I greatly recommend! I really recommend the experience, it really helps you to appreciate the cambers, and the elevation changes at the track, find references for your turning points, apexes and exit points. . Apart from learning the racing line and the (multiple) dangers of the track, I think I took great value from one of their recommendations: “You paid exactly the same as the other people at the track”. That way of thinking is very important for your first day. You are there not to race (well mostly!) and if you are slow (as a rookie should be) you will just getting out of people’s way. The basic rule is that all passing should be on the left and that you should signal the way you are going (as opposed to the way you want them to go). Thinking this way should give you the peace of mind of concentrating on your learning and your speed, without being a hazard to others. A note regarding the track facilities: it has to be said that there are plenty of Mc Donalds with parking lots larger than this and with better restrooms. (ed: that are free..)

That night we went to the Pistenklause for dinner and had Argentinean steak on a stone. Sadly we didn’t manage to catch Sabine, but the food was excellent. It’s simply a must do; in fact it’s so good we repeated next night.

Day 1: Learning and that’s not just about the track.

Day 1 started with a quick breakfast and then going to Theo’s (rent-racecar.de) to pick up the cars. A VW Scirocco DSG for AC, a BMW 120i for me and the mighty Porsche 997 GT3 for CG. A brief introduction to the cars and rules, sign the insurance excess form and off we went. Theo wanted to give me an instruction lap lap but he had another 3 renters ahead of me and asked me to wait for him.

Just at that moment CG was going out for his first lap of the trip so, instead of having one lap with Theo before I drove, I thought I would have a lap first with CG. It was surely going to be a nice installation lap.... Trouble is that CG and GT3 don’t do “nice installation laps”! Not 30 seconds later we were doing +200 kph and screaming our way through the Fox hole at must have been 180 kph but I thought was 300 kph. Please consider that I had never been in a GT3 and had never had a lap at the 'ring. He continued at a “good” pace until a little after the karrousel, where the track was still damp. I managed to convince him that it was wet and from then on I had a really nice installation lap... but the damage was done, I was not to ride with CG anymore during this trip!.
My first shock was that while I enjoy acceleration, my chip hadn’t been coded for fast turns. Going into a bend at more than 130 kph is not that usual in Colombia as we don’t have such roads. It’s mostly “B roads” which can be taken spiritedly at or below 100 kph. At the ‘ring there are many turns or combinations of turns that you take well above 100 kph, and hence my first shock.

Then I got into the car and started my own lapping. I didn’t use the helmet that day as I didn’t want to feel too competitive on my first day out. To be honest, although I’ve done quite a number of laps in GT4, for those first laps I was only confident about the line up until the Karrousel, from there on it was all a little hazy and I was guessing which turn was really next.

I did four laps and went out for a little rest and a walk around the parking lot. That turned out to be a huge mistake as I couldn’t get back to the track for at least 4 hours! So here it comes, first rule of the “fight club” is: You don’t leave the track unless you really, really have to. CG had previously said you don’t leave the track unless the take you out (in a recovery truck) or you run out of gas but I thought that was an exaggeration. It’s not! The problem was that when I left the track the parking spaces adjacent to the track were full so I had to park across the road. I got some water, ate something, browsed the eye candy in the parking lot (cars not girls!) and inevitably the first closure of the day came. When the track was opened again I walked to the car, got in and prepared to get in the track. That simply didn’t happen.

During the next 30 minutes I barely moved 20 meters inside the carpark. Exasperated, I parked again just beside the exit and got out. By the way, Nürburgring was operating just one barrier making things worse. Only people with the bracelet where able to get through the broken barrier. Surely enough, soon another closure came. So when they opened again, I got in the car managed to get out of the carpark, into the roundabout, into the carpark, and finally into the staging area. When I was four cars away from getting in, you probably guessed it by now, another closure! This means they sent me out again, all the way out! I would have to start the process all over again! You can say I was mildly disgusted at this point.

It was already lunch time and Carlos was running out of gas, I jumped into his car and we got some lunch. Then we got in through the “alternate way in” and I rode with AC for half a lap. Got out at the carpark jumped into the car and went out by myself to find the “alternate way in”. Being new to the area I managed to get a bit lost but finally got there. Of course, by the time I got there it was closed once again and this time it was a pretty long closure. Damn!

With probably two hours left, I was finally able to get back into the track. I got two or three laps and then another closure! Finally, with 10 minutes left, they opened. Obviously everybody realized it takes around 10 minutes for a full lap, so surely enough it was a total mayhem. It was really a race out there! Only CG in the rocketship managed two laps, while AC and me were thrown out of the track at the end of that lap. All in all I managed only 8 laps in the whole day and I was not too happy at this point! At least, dinner at the Pistenklause was excellent.

My first impressions from the track that day:

-Hatzenbach: Tricky but not that fast. The type of curve we have a lot of locally. Late Apexes are safe and that’s how I drove most around the track.
-Schwedenkreuz: Very fast and very tricky with opposite camber and plenty of bumps that you are approaching at +180kph.
-Aremberg: From the videos and GT4 it’s really difficult to appreciate how downhill the braking zone and the whole turn is. Pretty tricky to judge the braking point.
-Foxhole: The speed and compression through this turn is simply amazing, then comes a hard braking zone which you better be well set up for.
-Adenauer Frost: I went out so many times here in GT4 that I had absolutely no issues.
=Ex-Muhle: really fast and really satisfying to get through well. Carry all the momentum you can!
-Bergwerk: probably the hardest turn in the whole track, braking into a downhill curve zone, staying close to the grass without any cobblestones to give you a sense of safety if you overshoot it. It’s a really short trip to the Armco that is not even 3 meters away from where the track ends.
=Berwerk to Steilstreck: The “hillclimb”. You go uphill and reach upward of 180 kph, a “power” zone but pretty enjoyable.
=Karrousel: Not that comfortable to drive, pretty bumpy.

And then trouble for me starts, with a series of really fast blind turns that require big cojones while you build you confidence. You really need to be well positioned or else you could be in the grass in a second.

Particularly hard for me were Plantzgarten (where we stood to watch). It is a curvy steep downhill which finishes with a “double” right to where you can easily get with too much speed. Also problematic for me were the turns leading to the mini Karrousel. They are also downhill, also very fast and one totally blind, so you better know where you are going before you go through without lifting. I eventually got it, on the last laps of the second day but it was still very daunting but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Managing traffic is also pretty intense. You have to watch for the much faster cars, overtake slower traffic, watch for the bikes which are both slower (in the turns) and faster (in the straights) and also hit your “racing line”. It’s quite a workout.

Finally, I had plenty of trouble with the stupid lap card at the gates. As you can see from the photos, I’m not that tall and that mixed with a low racing seat apparently didn’t give me the proper position to place it. I know that CG also had trouble. Maybe AC can share with us his tricks. (ed: get the grumpy track worker to do it for you!) Eventually I resorted to talking most of my upper body out of the window and sometimes even that didn’t work. That meant that I had to stop after the barrier to set the 4 point harness.

Day 2: It gets better!

Next day I picked up the BMW 330i from Theo’s. I want to take a moment here to say how well maintained the cars are, they are spotless and in perfect running order. I started by buying candy bars and plenty of water.

That worked out perfectly as it meant I didn’t have to get out of the track in the whole morning and I was able to rack 12 laps before lunch. Much less traffic also meant that there were many less closures and Nurburgring GMBH also seemed a little quicker with the repairs, even opening the track even though not all parts were totally cleared (they leave a single lane open and signal accordingly). They never did that the previous day. Although CG and AC reported poor behavior from bikers last year, I had absolutely no issues with them, actually it was mostly cars that crashed.

After lunch I went back to the track, had some nice laps, with the track becoming much clearer in my head, the line getting tidier and by trying a little less hard having a more satisfying overall result. Then came the rain and not even 5 kms later a crash. It was nice Nissan 240SX that the day before I had managed to follow for a couple for turns while he was drifting through every single turn. It was a pretty entertaining sight indeed but sadly it was pretty bent today. I decided that I really wanted to end my trip on a high so I left the track and went to Theo’s. AC came not much later. CG took a little longer but came after the track closed once again. This time it was a beautiful new CLK Black Series that we had browsed at the carpark previously. Apparently it had hit both sides of the Armco at Wipperman and was also a mess.

A great experience I have to say. Not perfect, but that has to be expected. The track is really something that you will find no where else. And the complete scene is something that you have to see to believe. Watching GT3s parked on the street in front of a EUR $30 a night hotel is something you don’t see everywhere.

I expect to get back next year (and the following), but now I know that when common people ask me what I’m doing for vacation, I will answer “I’m going to Disneyland!”. They will understand.

So the Nürburgring isn’t your cupcake? Thank you for reading, but seriously, go find your Disneyland!


Come in a day earlier if you get affected by jet lag, you don’t want to drive in a drowsy state of mind at the Nurburgring.
Dive bomb in a safe manner: make sure you are seen before the turn.
Let faster traffic through; it makes no sense to race them.
Have fillet on a stone at the Pistenklaus.
Learn the track in GT4.
Take care of the rental car, they charge for everything!
Get there early (8 am), if you are not making plans for doing a huge amount of laps you might as well plan a nap at lunch time.
Learn curve names, it’s much easier to bench race that way!
Do take a track walk with RSR Nurburg.
Do pray it doesn’t rain.
Book early, for prices and availability.
Late apex for safety!


Don’t get out of the track unless you run out of gasoline, crash or really have to have a break.
Don’t use the across the road parking lot!
Keep hydrated and fed.
Forget to Use sunblock.


Porsche density per squared meter is probably higher at Stuttgart, but GT3 and GT3 RS density per squared meter must be world’s highest in the world. They become invisible.
Those R26R Meganes are FAST, shame they are RHD.
Read Ben Lovejoy’s website
The Effing card readers, get them sorted. They should show how many laps you have left. (ed: actually, they do)
The facilities are too small. One toilet?
Those entry watches are worth their weight in gold times 10. The rentals should include them!


  1. Great post. I'm going to take note of these points for my upcoming August trip. Thanks for writing.

  2. Great write-up and great pics! Love the Axis rear stickers

  3. Very interesting read!
    I think I'll confirm most of your writes on my own virgin trip to Ring on July 30-31 with my Lotus Exige Cup 260! :P


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