By Rob Widdows
I have recently had a timely fix of the Nordschleife in gratifyingly appalling weather. Thanks to BMW I had my first experience of the 24 Rennen at Nürburgring, a quite extraordinary race that starts at 5pm on a Saturday with about 180 cars on the grid, and finishes at 5pm on Sunday with many, many fewer More of this later
The last time I visited the Nürburgring (the new circuit, that is) I was there for something called the Oldtimer Grand Prix, which tries to emulate Goodwood but fails. The highlight of my weekend was a few laps of the Nordschleife with Jackie Oliver in his Jaguar XKR. This was educational, despite heavy rain and low cloud, because Mr Oliver knows his way round. And this is the point ‘You have to learn it he told me, diving down into another of those fearsome corners, “you really need to know it before you can do a good time. In any car And if it’s wet well…”
After those few laps I take any chance I can to watch racing drivers tackle 14 miles through the forest This time it was very wet and frighteningly foggy as dusk descended over the Eifel mountains and the sight of Audis, Aston Martins, Mercedes and BMWs chasing each other into the night was as thrilling as ever Sadly, the race was stopped, in torrential rain, and restarted the following morning. It was just too dangerous, visibility down to virtually zero. To race through that with 180 cars out there, would be stupid rather than brave.
The Nordschleife always was, and still is, unique. OK, it’s covered in graffiti now, the safety has improved, marginally, and on weekdays tourists try to hurt themselves by roaring round in (or on) anything with an engine and wheels. But it is still a mighty impressive place to watch a racing driver Wouldn’t it be just great to see Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen fight it out at this place? You bet it would, but that’s never going to happen.
The vast crowd (they told me 180,000 over four days) brings a special atmosphere. This is not any old race weekend, it is a happening, a carnival, a seething mass of people, many of whom are at least tipsy, high or both. Every spring they come from all over the world to join one of our sport’s last great parties, to be spooked by the track’s Wagnerian vibes.
Some of them even watch the racing.
As if the Nordschleife didn’t have enough challenges, weather is the joker in the pack. Dry at Bergwerk and wet at Flugplatz Imagine that Those two places are many hold-your-breath kilometres apart Tyre choice is a nightmare, as many drivers have discovered over the decades, and the Nordschleife is not a place to be on the wrong rubber If you get it wrong, you can’t change things for another 14 miles.
From the top of the BMW ‘M Gallery’ we watched as rain-filled black clouds sank into the treetops. And then we all got very wet Out there, though, the top drivers continued to hustle through the twitchy twists, turns, dips and crests. This takes a lot of skill and a dash of bravery when the wipers can’t really cope, the lights reflect back off the mist and the traffic is constant owing to the absurd number of participants. I say absurd, but of course the spectacle is tremendous, especially in the early laps. You will have your own memories of the place, races you have seen, late nights around a campfire, traffic jams and finding sustenance other than bratwurst, beer and greasy chips. For me, the ultimate mastery of the place has to be JYS winning in 1968, a victory he describes as a “teeth-gritting effort” and “possibly my greatest drive”. Possibly? Well, I guess there were a few The conditions that day would not be tolerated in the modern era heavy rain, fog and no rear lights back then. That race, like the circuit itself, is a priceless slice of motor sport history