Story and Photos by Roger Sanders
This summer, Mary and I traveled to Germany and Ireland. Part of our time was spent touring the Porsche factory and going through the new Porsche museum with friends which is a separate story. I also had the opportunity to spend an interesting afternoon on an old German road that many Americans have heard about but few have driven. So, for those who haven’t been there:
What do you get when you mix...
- A place nicknamed “The Green Hell," or the “Ring."
- A place where every car manufacturer in the world brags that their cars are tested.
- A cash strapped business with $480 million dollars of EU debt.
- A 4,000 ft. long roller coaster that accelerates from inside a monster grandstand to 135 mph in 2.5 seconds.
- A world class Formula One track with new hotels and restaurants.
- An old county toll road from the 1920s called, "Nordschleife," (north loop) that’s open to the public and costs $35 to drive on its short, one way road.
What you get is the Nurburgring Motorsports Park with its Nordschleife of today.
For car enthusiasts around the world, the Ring (or Green Hell) is all about driving that old county toll road and not about all the expensive improvements that created their $480M debt. So what’s it like to drive the Ring? To answer that you need to know a little about the track itself and about what it takes to be qualified to drive on such a difficult road course at unlimited speeds. So picture this:
- A 13 mile race track with 174 turns and non-enforced speed limit signs.
- Almost the entire track has a deep, dark pine forest right up to the track edges.
- Armco steel barrier is on both sides to severely damage cars instead of having them hit trees.
- Almost no runoff areas and only about 28 feet wide with constant uphills and downhills.
- Hundreds of skid marks going off track. A dozen deaths and hundreds of serious injuries occur there each year.
- No vehicle safety checks, safety equipment, driver training or helmets are required.
- There are no speed limits and passing is allowed almost anywhere you can get away with it.
- Car to car racing goes on and you can find many “20-something” competitors in the pits.
- You can take passengers in your car.
With all that in mind, after paying our toll my long time friend Willi Jastrob and I entered the Ring in his new 2011 Boxster. For those that have driven at speed on our Oregon Raceway Park (ORP), the Ring is a never ending and narrow ORP, tightly lined with Armco in a deep dark pine forest. Yah, we got blown off the track but are you going to argue with a bunch of sweaty “twenty-somethings” on “crotch rockets” and in hot rodded sports cars that are passing you any place and any time? To our credit, Willi, a skilled driver, did pass a couple of cars. Even at the speeds a new Boxster is capable of, you spend all your time looking in the rear view mirrors.
About half way around the track we suddenly came upon a man on the left side of the road madly waving for us to slow down. As we entered the apex of that right hand turn a group of people were hanging over the Armco and peering out into the very dark forest. When we slowly exited this right hand turn, on the right side, there were about 10 parked cars with a big crotch rocket motor bike laying on its side. Apparently, a motor bike driver either hit a car setting up for the turn or totally misjudged the braking point and crashed into the left side Armco at the apex of the turn. The rider flew over the Armco and likely hit a tree at high speed while his bike bounced off the Armco and slid over the right side exit of the turn.
In spite of this serious crash, we continued to get blown off the track on the way back to the exit. After a short break it was my time to drive. As we entered the track entry point race control officials said that the track was now closed for the day due to the accident. So there I was, ready to lap the Ring and it closed.
The Ring, with all its new facilities is all that you’ve heard about and much, much more! It’s totally different than any American road racing track. Its nickname, “The Green Hell,” is for real and it can scare the hell out of you. With serious drivers, their challenge is to lap the 13 mile Ring in under 9 minutes, or maybe even under 8 minutes. With me, my challenge is to just drive the Ring.
Maybe next year I can do it in under 12 minutes!