Not long after visiting Spa – Francorchamps, I finally got the chance to get back to the Nürburgring. My last visit and lap dated from 2005. The Nürburgring and then especially the Nordschleife are famous for being the longest and most challenging permanent race track in the World, and of course the fact that you can drive on it with your own car.
The Nürburgring was built in the 1920s, with the Eifel being chosen as location to provide an economic push to this poor region. It was opened in 1927, then consisting of the Nordschleife (North loop) and Südschleife (South loop) that could be used independently or as a single large track. The Südschleife wasn’t used much. Despite increasing concerns about safety, the Formula 1 continued racing on the Nordschleife until Niki Lauda’s crash in 1976.
Extensive construction (which required abandoning the Südschleife) followed,resulting in the modern Grand Prix circuit opened in 1984. The Nordschleife was kept, and these days it is possible to combine both tracks or run them independently at the same time. The Grand Prix circuit was modified several times in the following years, while the Nordschleife has seen some resurfacing in certain areas and the construction of a FIA fence, otherwise the layout is the same as in 1927. Starting in 2007, an amusement park-like attraction centre was built, which led to bankruptcy in 2012. The Nürburgring is now in private hands.
The Grand Prix circuit is a regular stop for most German racing series. The Formula 1 last visited in 2013. The fastest cars that still race on the Nordschleife are the GT cars of the VLN race series and the 24h race. The VLN, its little brother RCN, and the GLP regularity tests, which all race only on the Nordschleife (sometimes including the Grand Prix circuit) are motorsports series accessible to amateurs.
The Nürburgring does not have a direct Autobahn connection, so you’ll have to reserve a bit of time if you want to take a look while driving by on the Autobahn. Should you plan a longer stay, there are plenty of hotels and vacations resorts in the area. Access to the Grand Prix circuit is open on some days, but paid with bigger events like DTM and A the GT Masters. The Nordschleife is much more interesting, of course, and freely accessible outside of the 24 Hour race. A nice guide to viewing points can be found here. Most famous is probably Brünnchen with the large car park and arena-like viewing. You can walk or bike around the whole track.
Besides the racing history, the Nordschleife is (in)famous for its Touristenfahrten, i.e. being accessible to everyone with a road legal car on many days throughout the year. As of 2018, a lap ticket is €25 on weekdays and €30 in the weekend. A season pass is €1,900.
I have mixed feelings about the Touristenfahrten. Yes, it is an easy (and if you stick to a few laps, quite affordable) to drive on the most legendary race track in the world. But be aware of the risks. It’s not a modern race track with paved runoff zones in every corner. A mistake will likely lead to armco contact, a damaged car and a towing and armco repair bill, that your insurance might decide not to pay since you were on a race track. Even if you know what you’re doing, you might be hit by someone else or slip on a coolant or oil spill. In the high-speed sections, the effects of a crash can be severe – people still die there every year. Cars and bikes are also still mixed.
On your first visit, hiring an instructor to sit next to you might be a good idea. So is renting a car if your own car is not track-worthy or you don’t want to risk it. There are several rental and instruction companies in the vicinity that offer everything from Suzuki Swifts and older BMWs to current-generation 911s and M4s.
I would instead recommend a track day or taking part in a GLP regularity event. Things progress in a more orderly faction, there are less cars on the road, and at the current ticket prices, 12 laps of GLP is no more expensive than 12 laps of Touristenfahrten. Also, evening seasons are more relaxed than the often very busy weekend sessions.
Below are some pictures taken at Brünnchen during the RCN race on August 4th 2018.