Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome to the Nurburgring!

Lap Counter: 140.5

Hi, welcome to my blog about the Nürburgring. I have been visiting this historic track every summer from the US beginning in 2006 until 2009. At that point, I actually moved to Germany so now I am out at the track much more frequently. I'll write a post about how I got here and background stuff later. Its boring anyways.

What I would like to do for my first post instead is share some tips for first-time visitors to this amazing track. There are several great guides online but hopefully I can give any readers out there some unique tips.

Now this guide can be applied to driving for first time on any track really, but the size of the Nürburgring, blind apexes, limited reference markers, distance, limited run-off areas, combined with hundreds to thousands of other visitors make this checklist absolutely critical!

First Timers Guide To The Nürburgring
by Jim Chambers

Warning: Driving on a race track can be dangerous. This is advice from my personal experience. Results may vary greatly. You are responsible for your own actions.

1. Get instruction first on a normal sized track!

If you are new to driving a car on a race track, then I suggest you first take some lessons on a different track. The Nürburgring Nordschleife is not a place to figure out driving! Learning proper driving technique and negotiating 73 turn complexes is not that easy to do. The GP track at the Nurburgring for instance is a great place to practice before tackling the Nordschleife.

2. It is a race track but don't try to race on it!

As a tourist on a public lapping day or even a private track day its the same rule as driving any other track. There is no trophy waiting for you at the end. You win when you finish! The track is over 13 miles long so don't go out trying to set any records. you won't….at least not the good kind!

3. Get a ride from someone that knows what they are doing before attempting it!

Pro-Tip 1. When in doubt, look for a local! (German registration plate that begins with "AW")

You can go to the first person with the coolest looking car out there and ask them for what I call a "ring roulette ride". They may be the fastest driver out there or you may end up helping that driver direct traffic around his busted up supercar after crashing in the first bend.

Just because they have a fancy car, doesn't mean they have a clue on how to use it or what they are doing on the track. Warning signs include several Nurburgring stickers all over the vehicle, outfit matching their car, and out-of-town registration plates, yet there is not a helmet in site let alone other safety equipment.

What you want is a local who grew up driving the track. You can ask around and its also helpful to look for german registration plates with a leading "AW". This means Arweiler and that is the local region. Another good sign is if the AW plated car is rather unassuming but has a full cage in it. The less hp the better as they have to be that much faster in the corners meaning they are that much more accurate!

Don't be afraid to ask. The ring is a community of gear heads just like you. Its very easy to hop into a car and be off. The polite etiquette is to offer to pay for their lap, but many of the locals have season passes anyways, so make sure to also offer to buy them a cup of coffee if they refuse. The more time you spend with locals, the better off you will be!

4. German road rules apply. Overtake on the left!

What this really means - "BLINK RIGHT, MOVE RIGHT, STAY RIGHT". Ego, cars, inexperience, and this track do not mix well. You need to watch out for extremely fast traffic and at the same time you have to be predictable. If you see something coming, put on your Right turn blinker and MOVE all the way to the RIGHT. STAY all the way to the RIGHT as long as you have traffic near you. Watch your speed as the edge of the track can be very very slippery in places. THIS DOES NOT MEAN drive the entire lap on the right side of the track. If there is no traffic, get back on the proper driving line. Thats the safest place to be. Besides you paid for the entire track just like everyone else so you are entitled to use the entire track.

Pro-Tip 2. Sometimes its not safe to dive to the right to let someone overtake you. Tap your rear-view mirror to let them know you see them. Once the car is in a settled state such as on a straight section, then move to the right but without upsetting the car. This is why its so helpful to have a second set of eyes watching out for you. The earlier you spot a car approaching the earlier you can prepare for it and the sooner you can get on with your lap back on the line.

5. Have someone ride with you.

In order of preference, 1) paid professional such as Sabine Schmitz 2) Ringer with >100+ laps, 3) No laps but experienced driver at familiar with any other race track in the world, 4) Complete newb just like you, but they have sharp eyes and keen sense of self preservation plus know how to operate an emergency brake.

The key here is you want a trained set of eyes helping you both navigate the course and watch out for overtaking cars.

I'll wrap up for now but I'll add to this guide later.

Here is a photo from the international driving school at the Nürburgring hosted by a local BMW Club.

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