Moments of heaven in a green hell
BY RICHARD HESELTINE t taKes a speda sort of to ent to master tne ordscn dfe tnese are tne radng neroes wno, for us, nave stood above tne rest otor sport lore is all about legends. But the painted truth is, the closer you get to the facts, the more those legends tend to evaporate. Except in the case of the Niirburgring where it’s all too difficult not to be overcome by an attack of the cliches describing a circuit that is a hundred times
removed from today’s ‘me too’ Tilkedromes. The facts generally trump even the legends. Ever since that first meeting was held in 1927, this has been the playground of heroes, a track whose ghosts thunder through your imagination. Sir Jackie Stewart famously described it as ‘The Green Hell’ and the Eifel track does take on a decidedly Valkyrian aspect each time you conjure images of teetering pre-war titans or BMW CSL `Batmobiles’ flying the friendly skies. Even now this track, regardless of configuration, sorts the men from the boys and the boys from the rest of us.
Familiarity and predictability often breed the seeds of indifference but to drive the Nordschleife, even in a road car, requires a leap of faith — or a leap of madness. To those of us not blessed with god-like reflexes, cold fear sluices through your veins each time you embark on a lap, the sense of elation that accompanies each successful sortie being of the never forgotten kind. Though not immune to changes over its 84-year history, the ‘Ring hasn’t been eroded, silted and reconfigured to anything approaching the same degree as so many other classic tracks. Which is why we love it still.
While the 24-hour endurance thrash still takes place each year, there hasn’t been top-flight motor sport at the venue since 1983 — for obvious reasons. What started as a general office discussion about the ‘Ring, its legacy, and those who tamed it inevitably turned into a heated ‘best of’ debate; cue a mental stampede as 100 candidates sprang to mind. What follows is a rundown of some of the greatest drives of the Niirburgring. It isn’t a definitive list — how could it be? — but one thing is for sure: anyone who ever won there is a Ringmeister in our eyes.