Track Systems was testing Traqmate at the Nürburgring on the afternoon of Monday, October 10th.
Ever since I first saw the video of Tazio Nuvolari tuck his Auto Union Gran Prix car into the banked Karussel I have wanted to drive the Nürburgring. This week I finally got my chance.
For those of you short on Gran Prix history, the ‘Ring is one of the most famous racing circuits in the world. The 21 kilometer (13 mile) track set in the Northwest Eifel Mountains of Germany, not far from Bonn, is almost indescribable. Its lush dark forest, high-speed undulating terrain, and blind turns have given it the nickname, ‘The Green Hell’.
Some years ago it was deemed too dangerous for Formula One Gran Prix events so a new modern track was built south of the original track. This caused the old track to be known as the Nordschleife, or “North Ring”. Every year the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring is still held on the combined North and South Rings. But, more importantly, on selected days Hans Q. Public can also drive on the North Ring. You drive up, slide 15 Euros in a machine and you get a voucher for one E-ticket lap on the ‘Ring. As the old saying goes, ‘You pays your money, you takes your chances’. If you screw up (and three people did the day I was there), they scrape up the remnants of your car and keep going.
I was staying south of Stuttgart which is a pretty good distance from the ‘Ring. Luckily the Germans saw fit to invent the Autobahn for just this little problem. Now all I need is a suitable vehicle. Since I can’t airlift my Spec Miata in for the week (oh that I could!!) I needed to rent something. I requested an Audi or BMW with a manual transmission. The rental company’s outdated website lists 2 litre gasoline cars in that class which would have been fast enough to have fun but not outright dangerous. Unfortunately high fuel costs have led to Diesel-Mania in Europe and I ended up with a FWD 1.9L Diesel Audi A4 Station Wagon on all-weather tires. But, hey, it did have a 5 speed! Now I must say that the car handled pretty well with only moderate understeer and the fuel mileage was incredible. However, swift it was not.
Undaunted I pointed the wimpy little diesel north on the Autobahn and jammed the pedal on the floor. The best I was able to do after several downhill miles while drafting a BMW was 205kph or 123mph. Of course I took along a Traqmate for official timing and scoring. I must say the German road manners are impeccable and their roads are fantastic. Unfortunately the Autobahn can be congested and there are lots of construction zones. Even when all is clear, driving at such elevated speeds requires high levels of concentration and wears on you after a while. After a few tense hours I pulled up in front of the Grüne Hölle (Green Hell) Bistro, the official clubhouse of the ‘Ring.
The parking lot was filled with every type of performance car and motorcycle imaginable. I met Alfa Romeo owners from Seattle, Porsche owners from Britain, BMW owners from Belgium, and a gaggle of Deutschlanders, all ready to tackle the Ring. I was a little nervous but I got my ticket and chugged my little Audi into line with the Porsches. I inserted my ticket, the gate went up, and I charged into the unknown – and I do mean unknown. Every time I crested a hill I had no idea which way the road would turn. I learned to read the rubber marks on the road for clues. Soon the faster cars and experienced drivers started overtaking me and I could hang with them for a while.
On my third lap I latched onto a driver in a race-prepped VW Golf. Driving a diesel hard was the strangest thing. I expected low-end torque but there was not much. However the mid-range (2500-3500 RPM) was great. The redline was at 4500 and it was worthless above 4000 so you have to re-train yourself to shift early and often. Furthermore, there is no engine braking so you can’t use that to help slow you down. I started getting the hang of it but the smoke pouring off the brakes and engine and the red mist filling the cabin told me to take a break.
After lunch someone managed to mangle the guardrail so with a long drive back I had to settle for only 3 laps, but they were sublime. As I motored home on the Autobahn I reflected on my day’s accomplishments: First and foremost, I drove in the tire-tracks of greatness. Also important to me was recording video and Traqmate data of the ‘Ring that we can combine into a marketing promotion, and finally, I sure got my money’s worth out of that rental car!
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