The old order changes

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The Nurburgring, majestic, daunting and obsolete, has hosted its last World Championship race. The scene of many great triumphs and arguably, Juan-Manuel Fangio’s victory in the 1957 German Grand Prix might have been the most sensational of all — has been consigned to history, overcome by the safety brigade and by the sheer logistics of needing 900 men to marshal a spectator event.

Once the Grand Prix was moved to the Hockenheimring in 1977, following Niki Lauda’s accident, the rest was inevitable. Spectator attendances at the remaining events were decimated, and even the 100,000 or so spectators who once attended the 1,000 Kilometres race were reduced to paltry proportions at the last event . . . why, one didn’t even have to queue in traffic to get in!

In its heyday the grand north circuit provided an unrivalled spectacle of viewing. The racing cars would leap in the air at Pflanzgarten and Brunchen, could slide through the Karussel, and twitch alarmingly at Adenau. Today’s ground effect machines are glued to the road, and a whiff of air underneath to spoil the ground effect spells disaster, as Stefan Bellof found to his cost. Speeds of the Group C cars approached those at Monza, it being a misconception that the ‘Ring is a slow, tortuous track. Rather, it is a series of fast, sweeping curves just like those on the public roads outside, following the contours of the countryside.

The teams said, on our behalf, that the spectators wanted to see more action, the leaders coming by at 90 second rather than seven minute intervals. As spectators, though, we enjoyed the anticipation of the arrival of the leaders, straining to understand the German commentary, hearing the engines echoing in the trees, waiting for the first flash of colour to read the order. More than anything, the Nurburgring built the reputations of drivers. On more artificial tracks the perfection of the car is paramount, and the driver makes it merely more or less competitive. At the Nurburgring this role is reversed, a brilliant driver in the mould of Fangio, Moss or Clark more than able to make up for a rather less competitive chassis. Skill, bravery and knowledge were the main attributes, and no longer do we have a true yardstick . . . deficiencies can always be “the tyres . . . the turbos . . . the wing. . . .”

We have a new circuit at Spa-Francorchamps which retains some of the characteristics of the old, full circuit. It doesn’t have the spine-tingling Burnenville curve, nor Malmedy, the Masta kink, or Stavelot, but it certainly has some compensating features which made it the natural home once again of the Belgian Grand Prix.

The new “mini Nurburgring” may not have any majestic features at all to remind us of the grandeur of the old track, but it should nonetheless be an attractive circuit to rival the Osterreichring, for instance. The German Car and Motorcycle Grands Prix will be held there next summer, as will Formula 1 and World Endurance Championship events, to justify the DM 80 million outlay of public money.

The longest straight, in front of the Sporthotel, is no more than half a mile in length, but the fastest part of the circuit will be the dog-leg back straight approaching Hatzenbach which Porsche’s computer says would see a 935 approaching 178 m.p.h. A lap speed of 105 m.p.h. for an old Group 5 car would probably represent 120 m.p.h. for a Formula 1 car, lapping the 4.54 kilometre track in around 1 min. 25 sec. Two of the turns at the southern end form natural amphitheatres which will stand or seat 25,000 spectators, the total capacity of the track being 150,000 people. Parking is provided for 40,000 cars, and the Nurburgring GmbH has thoughtfully allocated DM 3.5 million for toilets. A grand racing car museum is being built, and needless to say the pits and hospitality facilities will be the last word in comfort and convenience. Even the huge Conti tower has been moved back, centimetre by centimetre, by 10 metres to allow a minimum track width of 13 metres. The last word in artificial road circuits? Time will tell, but we welcome the mere fact that the Nurburgring will go on. The old track, incidentally, will continue to operate for industry testing, non-spectator events, ski races in the winter, marathons and cycle races in the summer . . . and for 100,000 enthusiasts who spend DM 10 for the privilege of driving their cars around the track. MLC.

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