The Track - The Nurburgring
Touring the German origins of an icon.
2012 Porsche 911 Carrera VIDEO
No real enthusiast can help feeling a bit awe-struck at his or her first sight of the Nordschleife. When Formula 1 superstar Jackie Stewart called the Nürburgring a “green hell,” this part, the old north loop, was what he had in mind. The modern southern end has the Grand Prix now, but the Nordschleife, the narrow, winding, treacherous country road that leaps and dives through the forest, has the pedigree. Since 1927, it has been among the world’s most difficult and dangerous circuits, and the home of heroes. Fangio won three GPs here, and despite his apprehensions, so did Stewart.
Most simply call it “the Ring” these days, and for Porsche lovers, it’s the embodiment of the brand’s motorsports credentials. Winning on this track is a Porsche tradition, from the days when the Type 908 prototypes dominated the classic 1000 Kilometers to the present, with five of the past six Nürburgring 24 Hour races going to 911s. Porsche also does extensive development work at the Ring, and our new 991 knows the circuit well. A 991 has lapped the tortuous 12.9 miles in 7 minutes 40 seconds, a full 13 seconds faster than its predecessor, the Type 997.
We won’t be threatening that time immediately, though. One of the advantages of the off-season is avoiding the teeming summer masses that come to hot-lap during the open access sessions; some people spend their entire vacation that way. But the major disadvantage, of course, is the weather, and in these mountains, even the summers can suddenly turn sodden and chilly. This morning is frigid and icy, and the track is locked down tight.
Which isn’t as unfortunate as it sounds. The afternoon will be better, and this Eifel region is a tourist paradise, full of remarkable scenery and extremely interesting roads. The seven-kilometer run down to Adenau presents enough challenge that factory drivers sometimes incorporate it in cross-country testing, and the historic Ringhotel Blaue Ecke Adenau there has a quiet, timber-beamed dining room with a wonderful menu (the Adenauer Apfelfleisch is marvelous). Nürburg village is nearby, with the Hotel am Tiergarten and its motorsport-themed Restaurant Pistenklause, a favorite after-work hangout of the racing fraternity, including the Porsche test crews. The Dorint am Nürburgring Hocheifel, overlooking the start/finish line of the modern Grand Prix track and the 1927 paddock area, is a regular haunt as well. It’s so racing-oriented that the showers have checkerboard tiles, and the bar overflows with racing memorabilia collected by general manager Josef Moré, who famously plies his patrons with unending shots of 94-proof Eifelgeist, which is apparently German for “you’ll be sorry.”
The one spot you absolutely, positively must visit, however, is the gas station. Technically, it’s a part of the Döttinger Höhe hotel-and-restaurant business, on the main road beside the Ring straightaway of the same name. In reality, it’s “Nürburgring Central,” a combination fuel stop, minimart, deli, motoring bookstore, racewear shop, and social club, and one of the biggest racing model shops in the Western world. You can’t miss it—just ask anyone with a pulse for “the gas station.”
In the sunny afternoon, we can finally sample the notorious Nordschleife. It’s thankfully deserted today, no need to share with everything from tour buses to storming superbikes. But it’s also shockingly slippery, a combination that can easily entice a novice into deep trouble as the lure of an open track meets the many blind, slick corners and hill crests with blind, slick corners behind them. Be forewarned that no amount of video gaming can prepare you for it. The reason Porsches are refined here becomes obvious, too, in short order. A car that can handle this can handle anything, and the new 911 is not only blindingly fast but also utterly composed every inch of the way.
Nonetheless, a couple of laps are probably enough for a first-timer. Adrenaline overload can lead to deadly mistakes, and besides, you’ll feel surprisingly exhausted when you step out of the car. Time to hit the gas station for your Nürburgring sticker—you’ve now earned it. Down your Eifelgeist with pride tonight, and digest well what the day has taught you. The next adventure is the autobahn, and in a way, it’ll make the Ring seem simple.