When you’re careering down the Döttinger Höhe straight at 155mph a few questions come to mind. How moist is the surface? Is there something coming from the pit lane? Is that GT2 RS in my mirror really approaching at 190 miles per hour? What am I doing here? But you make it through another lap and try to make sense of the experience as you cruise back into the car park.
You’ve just been eaten for breakfast by a fettled Suzuki Swift and a GTR that seems to be piloted by the ghost of Stefan Bellof and you understand the Nordschleife is a place where you could spend your entire life getting it wrong.
It was my first time in Nürburg (Germany, in fact) and its undulating centrepiece was every bit as terrifying as its lauded reputation. Just the afternoon before a biker had had a big one, closing the circuit for several hours. So when – on a sighting lap – someone binned their FWD Seat Ibiza at 35mph on the fourth corner, I became more than a little anxious.
The briefing before was the first confidence shaker. Although it was a Destination Nürburgring trackday, where no motorcycles and coach tours could cause issues, the message was simple: “Of the 250 cars out there we expect 20-30 incidents today… don’t drive like a cock.” I read that as “you will crash but try not to, and if you survive you wouldn’t be able to pay the bill anyway.” I’ll take the Pearly Gates, then.
The fact I was with friends using one of their cars meant there were further punitive consequences, should an M3 CSL find itself buried in the Adenauer shrubbery. But I suppose if there’s one way to ruin your life, turning the M-car connoisseur’s codpiece of choice into an inferno of twisted metal and carbon is one of coolest methods…
Aside from the aforementioned Ibiza mong, the laps behind the pace car were free from drama yet humbling. One thing a PS3/Xbox cannot prepare you for is the dramatic change in elevation that increases momentum quicker than you anticipate (eg Foxhole) and instantly makes you regret the last round of Bitburgers the night before. Not exceeding the 120km/h limit for this first hour may have seemed churlish to those experienced ‘Ringers, but trust me in greasy conditions getting close to this around the high-speed corners requires an inordinate amount of focus.
Soon after people were taking to the track for their ‘hot’ laps unconcerned with the nice layer of drizzle one of the Eiffel’s microclimates had just issued. Not wanting to seem a bit limp, Team CSL (as I shall refer to us) exited the pit lane with ephemeral optimism. It was a poignant, spiritual moment. The leaden skies draped over the rich green hills resonating to a soundtrack that was mostly Porsche flat-6. Now was the time.
Dipping into Tiergarten the asphalt appears wide and inviting and the compression mild compared to the upcoming sections. Through the pit straight you plunge down the Hatzenbach in a section of fast left-rights then over the infamous Flugplatz where you are uncertain about where to lift and where to put the anchors on. The lap seems to extend into a series of fast lefts before a long hairpin down into the dreaded Foxhole, which some can take indecently fast before braking into Adenauer Forst.
From here it gets a little blurry and confusing as you continue to descend to Adenauer Bridge then immediately start climbing back up passing the Lauda Kink, through the Bergwerk hairpin and then a ridiculously quick section on the way to the dreaded Carraciola Karussell – named in deference to Rudolf Carraciola, the original regenmeister I’m told. The ascent continues around to Brünnchen (Spyshot Central) then delivers some delicious sweeping, cresting left-rights that take you to the mini-Karussell before the long right-hander onto Döttinger Höhe and the 1+ mile drag back to the Bilstein Bridge where you decide if you want to go again.
Team CSL wasn’t completely lacking in talent – a racing licence holder, a former competitive karter and an existentialist with balls the size of Galia melons (not me and I’ve seen) – but we were rinsed lap after lap as we tentatively tried to navigate our way around. One particular German in a black R26 R really made me feel like Taki Inoue when he barged passed and disappeared out of sight within 4 corners.
If our own performances were unimpressive, the circuit complex was certainly not. Restaurants, hotels, local trade all depend upon the hallowed asphalt of the ‘Ring and bask in its rich history. People understandably worry about it turning into a sort of automotive Disneyland, but really it’s only the dedicated who want to travel across Europe to test their mettle on such a demanding circuit.
And, to be honest, it’s a guy thing. Of the 400 people in the pits there were probably 30 women and most of them looked heroically bored.