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Call it what you will; a rite of passage, a bucket list tick off, a mad fang... driving on Germany's Nurburgring Nordschleife (Northern Loop) 'race track' is something to be savoured by the motoring enthusiast, a must do.
The place has a mystical air and is spoken of in revered terms by pretty much anybody with a modicum of petrol in their veins apart from Jeremy Clarkson who 'disses' the 'Ring for some reason.
Aptly dubbed the Green Hell back in the day by Jackie Stewart because it snakes through ultra green pine forest in the Eifel Mountains, the Nordschleife is actually a 21km, one way, public toll road that anyone can drive on.
That needs to be more clearly defined - as long as you think you are up for possibly the most challenging, almost overwhelming and dangerous drive of your life.
Plenty of punters come unstuck at the 'Ring which must be treated with respect particularly as it comprises some 70 corners, numerous surface changes, variable weather, considerable rise and fall and a 1.0km plus straight on which most cars will approach terminal velocity.
It's the only place on earth where you can can simply rock up, buy a ticket and drive pretty much anything you like - as fast as you can...well almost.
There are a few ways to experience the drive of your life either behind the wheel on a "Tourist Pass" in 'your' car , or in a so-called "Ring Taxi" where you take a ride in the passenger seat of a specially prepared car with an experienced race driver. One Tourist Pass lap costs €27 but the more you buy the cheaper it is. Nine laps cost €209 and that would be a really good hit-up for a car nut looking for a true 'Ring experience.
Get pinched in rented wheels by bounty hunter photographers at the 'Ring and it will empty your wallet
We wanted to savour the 'real deal' and actually drive on the Nordschleife which is not recommended in a Hertz, Avis, EuropCar… any rental. Get pinched in rented wheels by bounty hunter photographers at the 'Ring and it will empty your wallet.
We went legit' and hired two Renault sports hatchbacks from RentRaceCar based at the Nurburgring.
They were a new Clio RS200 and a new Megane RS275 Trophy - both 'bred' for the task at hand. The RingPack six lap rental cost was €549 for the Clio and €789 for the Megane. A large security deposit is also required to cover excess if you prang it.
This is as close as you can get to a race car without actually being one.
RentRaceCar equips its cars with a roll cage, sports suspension, semi-slick tyres, race seats, race brake pads and sports exhausts. This is as close as you can get to a race car without actually being one.
We signed all the documentation, listened to the five minute safety briefing which basically said keep an eye in your mirrors, give way to faster cars and only overtake on the left, grabbed a helmet and the swipe card to go through the track boom gate, then lined up. It was only a minute or two until we were on the main straight accelerating the Clio turbo to the first tight turn that starts your 'tour' of the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
What follows is possibly one of the most exciting things you will ever do …. bar none. But you need to be brave and have reasonable driving skill to fully appreciate the experience.
After the first chicane we shot off down towards Flugplatz through a series of closing radius rights and lefts and then a long down/up straight over a bridge towards Adenauer Forst with the Clio hitting about 180kmh to 200, engine screaming at redline through the gears. Then it's over a blind crest and into a slight left and then a fast closing radius right.
After that shock to the system, we set off roaring into the winding left/right up/down world of the Green Hell loving every second of it and sweating noticeably despite the outside temperature hovering at about 10 degrees.
This is how the next 10 minutes (less actually) unfolded as we scorched through the forest, up hills, down into deep valleys, up long curving 'straights' through the infamous, extremely banked Karussell (Carousel) and tight Wippermann sections, then onto Pflanzgarten and on up to the main straight where the boom gate is. One lap goes quickly and, all fired up, you want to go back out immediately.
You can stay out as the boom gate three quarters of the way along the main straight must be negotiated to clock off your paid laps.
Engaging? Urm yes, exhilarating... in the utmost, challenging at the highest level then, after six laps, we changed cars to the more powerful Megane and everything ratcheted up a few notches, the speed, the intensity, the handling, the excitement level. And it can all be done with a passenger next to you, if they're game.
The whole 'Ring' experience is easy to attain and super well organised. Hundreds of drivers and cars roll up each day so get there early even if it's only to ogle the machinery. Pity you have to travel so far to enjoy such a thing.
WHERE - Nurburgring is at Nurburg 100km south west of Cologne.
HOW MUCH - A "Tourist" lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife costs €27 then up from there.
STAY - A variety of accommodation is available at Nurburg beneath the imposing castle. Stay for as little as €60 in the surrounding villages no more than 15 minutes away.
WHEN - All week though some weekends are for serious racing and training. Check first.
HOW - Google Nurburgring and go from there.