Car Advice

What is the Nurburgring and why should you care?

Why should you, the car buyer, care about some racetrack in Germany called the Nurburgring? A track that almost every car maker ‘hones’ its cars on…

Tuned, or honed at the Nurburgring is a now a stock phrase on new sports car, and even some passenger car releases. Even sporty SUVs, like the Range Rover Sport are run around and around and around the place. Manufacturers proudly claim lap records for fastest front-wheel drive car, fastest whatever.  Many of them have permanent technical bases near the track, and those that don’t often spend much time there testing.

The question is why, and then, what does it mean for the average car buyer.
 
So what is the Nurburgring?
It is a public road in mid-western Germany near Belgium that is also a racetrack.  There are actually two parts to it – a modern circuit called the “GP Track” built in 1984 which hosts professional racing up and to Formula 1, and the Nordschliefe (northern loop), the older racetrack dating from the 1920s which is what people mean when they refer to the “Nurburging”.  Sometimes the two tracks are joined to make one super-long track, often for endurance race events.
 
Why is the Nurburging special?
Fundamentally, the Nurburgring is a racetrack.  But is is the most difficult, longest and most dangerous racetrack in the world….by a fair margin.  The average racetrack takes around one to two minutes for a roadcar to complete a lap and is 3-4km long.  The ‘Ring takes between 8 and 10 minutes and is nearly 21km, so it’s around five times longer but perhaps twenty times more difficult.   The average track has 7 to 10 corners.  The ‘Ring has 70, many of which are blind and off-camber.  The elevation changes have to be experienced to be believed.   The ‘Ring is a classic example of something which would never be made in modern times because it’s just too dangerous and too expensive.
 
I have driven cars on many racetracks, including Silverstone, Spa and Phillip Island – all of worldwide fame as fine examples – and if they rate 10/10, then the ‘Ring must surely rate 15/10 on the same scale.  This opinion is shared by many other enthusiasts and race drivers, and there would be an easy winner if all were asked to nominate the world’s most challenging racetrack.  
 
Then there’s the history, the tales, the nostalgia on which many a book is written.  Niki Lauda nearly died, it was the scene of some of Fangio’s finest driving and Jackie Stewart’s best performances.  I’ll leave that there, you get the idea.
 
Today, the ‘Ring is the Mt Everest of racetracks.  Every petrolhead aspires to do a lap, every racing game either has the track in its virtual list, or the makers are subjected to a barrage of questions about when it will be included.   A big part of the attraction is that the track is actually a regular road, and you can drive anything on it from buses to Ferraris, just for a nominal fee.  Inexperienced drivers can and do take to the track, often with disastrous results – simply settle back, Google “nurburgring crashes” and you will see what I mean, hours of entertainment.
 
The ‘Ring has been around in one form or another for ninety years, but it was really in 2005 that it entered the public consciousness when Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear attempted to drive a Jaguar around it in under ten minutes, only to be challenged by local legend Sabine Schmitz who said she could get a Transit van around quicker.  She nearly did, and that episode (Series 6, Episode 7) remains one of the classic Top Gears.
 
Should I care about Nurburgring lap times or whether a car has been tuned there?
 
No.  
 
It’s all just marketing malarkey, only marginally more meaningful than a celebrity endorsement. Comparative laptimes are meaningless as the track conditions can change very significantly from day to day, and even during a lap such is the length of the track.  Buy sportscars based on how much you love them, not on their artificial lap times.  Sometimes the stoush over laptimes is entertaining, as in when Porsche and Nissan had a public spat over whether the latest 911 or GT-R was quickest. Of late the three recent hypercars – McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 – haven’t all posted official laptimes, giving keyboard warriors something to fight about for months.
 
On the tuning front it is true that the ‘Ring is an excellent place to tune a car, with its myriad corners, undulations, length and general complexity.  But that work can be done elsewhere.  Don’t buy a car just because it’s ‘Ring-tuned, buy it based on the usual criteria.
 
What is a ‘Ring laptime exactly?
Good question.  Most racetracks are short, so a lap is a complete circuit, starting and finishing in exactly the same place, the start/finish line.  But the ‘Ring is so long that the outlap to get to the start/finish point at speed is the equivalent of about four normal race laps, which is about the maximum a roadcar’s brakes can handle, if that.  That is why many timed ‘Ring “laps” are measured from the entry on to the track to the exit – this is a “bridge to gantry” lap (BTG) and misses out the part between the last gantry and the first bridge.  A full lap is 20.832km, and a BTG lap is 19.1km, which equates to around 20-30 seconds less time.  Public driving days (“touristfarhten”) do not permit full laps, so only BTG is possible.
 
So if someone claims an impressive laptime, raise a quizzical eyebrow and ask “ah yes, but was that a full lap or BTG?”
 
So why do manufacturers fuss so about the ‘Ring?
Well, I can’t explain the inner workings of a marketing manager’s brain, I’m a technical editor and my stock in trade is logic and evidence.  I suppose they think people will consider cars associated with the ‘Ring better than those that aren’t.  In fairness, an impressive laptime does generate a bit of publicity, and in-car videos are always good to watch.   Toyota even made a fuss about the Prius’ laptime!
 
Should I drive it?  What’s it like to drive?  Can i drive it?
Definitely, a true bucket-list experience, and yes! [Having had the chance to drive the Nurburgring during a closed session, thanks Jaguar, and be piloted around it in a prototype Jaguar F-Type, I can tell you that it is definitely a track that you should try and get to … and, no, Gran Turismo doesn’t prepare you for the place. I got 15 laps at the place and loved every single kilometre. – Ed]  We’ve got a complete blog post on this topic here.
 
There are many Nurburgring videos, but we finish this post with one of the best ever, back in the days before it was famous.  
 

 


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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper