My day on the Nurburgring
Perth tarmac rally star Robert Buys has for years been a regular in Classic Rallies, Targa West and other local motorsport events, but after doing hundreds of laps of Nurburgring’s Norsdschleife on Playstation, his ambition was to one day do it in real life. That happened just a few weeks ago. Here’s his account...
As a devoted petrolhead I had made a booking of some extravagance before leaving Western Australia for my five-weeks adventure in Europe. The second last day of my trip was, depending on two points of view, to be the high or lowlight after more than a decade of Sony Playstation fascination: The Nurburgring’s Nordschleife.
In real life it is simply the longest, most difficult piece of bitumen in the world. The 21km of old track remains as a permanent toll road, collecting millions of euros in revenue for Germany from the ever-arriving enthusiasts who wish to pay homage to the Nazi pre-war vision of an international F1 track. It is still intact today and as demanding as it was originally, a smooth-topped but bumpy at high speed contorted piece of motorsport road – and art.
The locals started a trend by colouring sections with graffiti, so much so the entire track now resembles the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. If you like art there is that aspect. If you prefer scenery, that’s also great – but it’s not the best place for it.
People who go to ogle the lush greenery simply get in the way of the enthusiasts who come from all parts of the globe for a lap or more of the famed Nordschleife and bottom line is they’ll pay €26 to be called rude names, in many different languages. My time at the so-called Green Hell finally arrived, and the race-prepared VW Scirocco I had booked was one of seven in the car park at the entrance.
As public opening time grew near, Jura, my first co-driver/passenger, was anxious, downing his third beer and nervously fidgeting about as I talked with an old-school IMSA racer who had booked a ‘ring ride in an M3. He tells me that the day before, the road was closed due to rain and low light.
I tell Jura to go and have a look at the Scirocco while Phil tells me how he used to work on old Porsches but now prefers to take his Ducati 998ST up the Devil’s Pass in California on weekends. The Nordschleife is just one of those bucket list things he’s ticking off.
I start thinking I should move the Scirocco into the main car park as a plethora of exotic cars begins to arrive. But as they pour in, I just stand in awe of the arriving exotica: Lamborghini Diablo VT, Murcielago, Gallardos, Ferrari 430s, 458s and a hello yellow Enzo, which arrives between a Ruf 993, a 997 GT3 RS and a succession of 996 GT3 RS Porsches.
In between the exotics are the serious trackheads in Golf Mk 2 and 3s, ex-super touring BMWs and a fierce-looking Mini van boasting Koln (Cologne) rally stickers, since it was manufactured in 1977. I shuffle Jura into the seat of the half-caged Scirocco which also sports Bilsteins and semi slicks. He is fairly cohesive in English so as we take off behind a rental Megane RS and M3 he said something about it being ‘extreme’.
Now, being from Oz and trying in vain to keep up with the lingo of Y gens while focussing on the two slower muppets in front on my warm-up sight lap, I interpreted this to mean he was having a good time and it was the best day he had ever taken off. Well, after dispatching the M3 and Megane at 185km/h into Schwedenkreuz, a right at 145km/h, I discovered that my passenger was not as happy as I had thought.
The dialogue, his with a German accent, went something like:
"Rob, yes, but this is extreme!"
Yeah, it's so cool isn't it?
"No, no, it is too extreme, yes, too extreme! Ooh, hoo hoo whoo – I want I want my life! I like my life!"
What, you want your wife?
"No! I like my wife and my life I want to live – I don't want to die. Please, please this is too extreme!"
So I backed off and begrudgingly let the Megane through down Fuchsrohre as I tried reassuring Jura I did actually know the track and had played many, many hours on Sony Playstation to give me the confidence to safely plough through the next turn.
I have to focus on not being the slowest one on the track and getting in the way of others. Please understand, it is dangerous otherwise. OK, OK. All this as an M3 and two Porsches fly past us like missiles near Ex-Muhle. "How long still to go?" About 10km, Jura, we’re half way. "Oh god, no please, please catastraufe... (catastrophe)?"
Dude I'm going as slow as I can without embarrassing our manhood. You’ll be alright. I’ll get you home. Just try and relax and enjoy mate, like a rollercoaster. Your wife told me you love roller coasters. The track becomes damp despite being dry all day as we plunge down deep into the forest past Metzgesfelt. Here comes a KTM Crossbow as we near the Caracciola Karussell.
Jura comes to life again: "How long, how long?" About 8km, Jura. Nearly there. "Phoo phoo phoo aaawe!" Dude relax, I'm going slow. I've reassured you enough now. I need my other hand on the wheel. It’s my first time round here, OK, buddy?
OK, now focus, I tell myself, as the next section has spectators who have recorded hours of public crashes and posted them on YouTube. We get through the next 3km, Hohe Acht to Schwalbensschwanz with repeated sighs and hyperventilation from the passenger side as a swarm of locals begin to catch us.
I pump up Jura's hopes as we approach the final bend onto the straight just as the Exocet Mini flies by, entering the turn at about 140km/h on three wheels, and disappears. A physically shaking Jura exits the VW, telling me I can take Sanja around next lap. OK, sorry mate. I tell him. I did not mean to scare you. I honestly thought you were prepared for a gentle quick lap. I mean, people pay good money to be taken around quickly – and you made me go slow!
Sanja, my partner and regular co-driver in Targa West, jumps in and immediately we are off. She is squeaking with awe and excitement as I get my sight lap completed with only three passes on the Scirocco.
The track is much less scary now with a familiar voice in the car singing the praises of the creators of this monstrosity of a track. She stays in for the next one which I think is a bit faster but she says is significantly quicker and confesses that the iced coffee she’d had after lunch will repeat if she hangs around for the last lap.
I let her off in the car park and look out for my new mate from California. But he’s nowhere to be seen, so I decide to set off into the now diminishing light. At the gate the yellow Enzo behind me is a menacing sight, a 12-cylinder 6.0litre monster compared to my little 2.0litre four-potter with a strapped-on hairdrier, so I get going and step on it to see how far I can get before it shrieks past. A Ducati 1098 takes off behind it with one light beaming and its Termignoni exhausts barking joyously .
I have a blinder of a lap, not being held up much and passing a green Fiat Panda doing 185km/h! Sweeping through Quiddelbacher-Hohe I flash my lights as I rapidly catch an M3 at Ex-Muhle then a 325 and another Scirocco from the same race car hire firm as mine, at Wippermann, just after karussell. I press on unabated and was really flying when I saw a Focus RS pull off to the right of the track in a very bad spot, right on a blind high speed bend at Pflanzgarten, three turns before the second concrete karussell.
It was a blur as I sped past. Not the best spot to stop for a pee, I thought. At the end of the lap I saw the Ducati gaining on me as I decelerated from 220km/h to take the right into the exit slip road. Strangely, there was no sign of the Enzo. In all it was a day of ultimate highlights. I had dulled it down, promising myself to have fun but also thinking of the €6000 itb would cost if I bent the VW plus a bit of Armco and maybe needing a tow, and also the wellbeing of my Frankfurt host and passenger, Jura.
Then there’s the unknown ability of other driver’s skills and many other factors that put a caution on some overtaking moves. At this place it’s best to be safe. Still, I did the last lap in under 10 minutes. Somehow, like at the end of a spectacular day when I was a child, everything fell into place on the last lap and the universe let me have a moment of splendour.
• Book your date early. Don't try to take a rental car around. You will be banned for life and charged for damage and premature wear after they download the GPS and find out you lied to them about taking it through the town of Nurburg, but not on the track.
• Take a pair of balls for your pocket if they are not already attached. This place was designed by hardcore nutters. It has killed many a driver, and at speed it is not for the faint hearted.
• A pair of driving gloves is a very good idea. With 73 corners and speeds reaching 180-220km/h seven times in a lap (in a VW Scirocco) you don't want your mitts getting sweaty. Visit one of the ‘Ring shops if you don’t already have a pair.
• All inclusive packages will help having to think how many € you have left in the bank so you can focus on the corners.
• Weather predictions are gold.
• If you can, stay near the track so you can soak up what's on the calendar.
• Once on track, constantly check your mirrors. You may think you’re The Stig, but there is a ‘70s Mini out there that will humble-pie whatever supercar you put yourself in. Also, the last thing you want is to be the creator an angry train of faster drivers stuck behind you.
Thanks to Andrea and the team at Rent Race Car who made the booking easy as pie. Thanks to my mum and especially dad for giving me the insight and genetic talent to feel truly alive at that moment. And to my partner Sanja for being someone who truly enjoyed every second of her two laps.
Also VW for the Scirocco and all the Golf underpinnings that make it pretty darn good. It was able to keep up with BMWs and even blow off the odd coloured Ferrari. And Jura for providing me with the inspiration to write this after missing capturing it digitally, which would have made us both famous.