We drove the Nordschleife aka The Green Hell aka the 'Ring. In the rain. And we DID NOT skid off.
I'm get ahead of myself. We drove Saturday from Freiburg to Nurburg, the hamlet that lives inside the Nurburgring, with a stop in Baden-Baden midday. Beth had booked a B&B 10 minutes from the track. This was a fortunate stroke of serendipity since our host, Erich, is fluent in English, has a decades long history with the Ring (more on this later) , is a true raconteur, and a fabulous host as well. When we arrived Erich made us feel right at home, and when he found out why we had come gave us countless tips.
Sunday morning came before dawn, as we were due at the track car rental, Rent 4 Ring, at 7am for a full hour of prep. It was raining lightly. Then it was into the John Cooper Works Mini and off to the track. (You're probably wondering why not a Porsche? TLDR we would have crashed.) We had with us an instructor named Mark, the owner of R4R. We had helmets with built in comm so we could speak without shouting. All very professional so far. It was still raining, and would continue to do so all day, mostly drizzle but with some moderately heavy bursts. We kept saying to ourselves "Oh shit, oh shit" but pressed on with brave faces.
A bit about the Ring. Somewhat simplified, it is composed of the 1929 north track, the Nordschleife, and a modern GP track where all pro racing now occurs. The Nordschleife is 13 miles long, has 173 turns, and covers 1000 feet of altitude. The famous race driver Sir Jackie Stewart called it the Green Hell for the forest surrounding the track after he won a race with a broken wrist. It has no runouts, just Armco barriers at every turn. As a source of income, the track owners host closed factory car test days, closed track days, and touristenfharten, or tourist days, where anyone can drive their own car, or rent one from the many car rentals. You buy time by the lap.
On touristenfharten the Nordschleife is considered a public road. So, only street legal, licensed cars can drive: conversely you can take your track rental and drive into town to get gas, eat or whatever. The rentals are generally various types of fast street cars with varying levels of track prep applied. Our Mini was stripped out inside except for the dash. It had racing seats, full roll cage and 4-point harnesses that really lock you in; I couldn't reach the rear view mirror or close the door when strapped in. It also had track suspension, tires and brakes, but the stock 200bhp engine and transmission remains untouched. Not all rental agencies prep their cars to this extent, a reason I chose R4R.
I come back to the GP track because on most tourist days only the Nordschleife is open. However, a few times a year the track stewards will open the connection between the two, creating a single 15.8 mile circuit. These are unannounced, and Sunday was one of these days. The GP track is very modern, like a flatter Road America, and way different from the Nordschleife. The two together are about as opposite as you can get.
I went out first, and did two laps with Mark. It was bonkers! Having Mark was great b/c these Ring Rats know each of those 173 turns like the back of their hand, so coach you on when to brake, turn and accelerate. Driving a wet track at speed is very different than when dry. Straight line braking only is necessary as corner braking will slide you off into a barrier. And the wet racing line was completely different than the dry line: the apex was rarely the target, instead late turn - ins and hugging the outside line was the rule. The game then is to accelerate like mad, hard braking to the adhesion limit (and even past a bit) approaching the turn down to the fastest speed you think tires will hold in the corner, and then roll on the throttle and down the straight till the next turn. And of course there are the skilled drivers who could fly even in the wet that one had to deal with.
After I came in Beth did two laps with Mark and then we all debriefed at the park restaurant, the Devil's Diner. (It's not uncommon to park up and let the heart rate come down.)
At this point Beth had had enough, so we drove Mark back, and then I did two laps on my own. Frankly it wasn't clicking. Too tense, no flow. So I went back to Diner and we had lunch. We decided I would do a few more laps. They were magic. While still the slowest guy (almost, I did pass a few cars) on the track I was able to develop a flow and found the brake and gas peddles again (meaning I was using them more aggressively/appropriately). Still, it was thrilling to see the Mercedes AMG GT coupe "Ring Taxi" giving professionally driven hot laps just fly by at seemingly half again my speed. Always a good thing to be humbled at times like that.
I'm still processing this experience. While I'm disappointed that I couldn't drive a dry track, I was told more than once that driving the Ring wet is real trial by fire for a first timer. I'd have to agree. Would I go again? Hell yeah.Read more