Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleife: was I insane?

Planning
Re-planning
Lufthansa A330 Old First Class DFW-FRA
Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleife
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Oslo to celebrate Chris Guillebeau
Singapore A380 Suites Class FRA-SIN
Singapore Airlines Private Room and Singapore 777-300ER First Class SIN-HKG
Hong Kong and the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui
Cathay Pacific’s The Wing Lounge and 747 First Class HKG-SFO

Well hey there.  Last time we spoke, you learned all about a fun and happy adventure I had on a really nice Lufthansa flight from Dallas to Frankfurt.  The seat was nice, food was excellent, and service was very punctual and genuine.  It set a very good benchmark for me, because the astute reader will remember I’m going to be comparing this to Suites Class on Singapore Airlines, First Class on Singapore Airlines, First Class on Cathay Pacific, and, the one you’re most excited about, Domestic First Class on American Airlines (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNSZgbJsSxU).

The one critique I have of the Lufthansa flight is the scheduling.  The flight leaves DFW at 4pm, which makes it hard to get more than 3-4 hours of sleep.  Or, in my case, an hour and a half.  The temperature of the cabin (which I forgot to mention in my last post) was set to Scald, which for this cold sleeper didn’t lead to a wonderful sleep experience.  Now, you might think it’s hard to complain about a flight in international First Class, but I’m a Top Gun Complainer, so there.

Face-melting temperatures aside, I arrived in Frankfurt on a very cold and very snow flurryish Saturday morning.  The re-routing of my trip through Frankfurt was for a few reasons, but the main reason was I wanted to drive the Nurburgring Nordschleife, which is about two hours from Frankfurt.  If I can say this without sounding un-‘Merican, I LOVE driving in Germany.  It is a place for the driving purist to enjoy all that driving was meant to be.  The driving laws make sense, and most people generally follow them, unlike ‘Merica, where people pretty much do whatever they want as long as a certain finger is extended and their horn is honking.  Not in Germany though.  Everyone drives fast, well, and all while listening to heavy metal (my imagination).

Now here’s some actual consumer advice for the Frankfurt Airport if you ever would like to rent a car: DO NOT FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER USE THRIFTY/DOLLAR RENT-A-CAR.  When you search for pricing, they’ll always be the cheapest.  But they require people to purchase insurance at about a EUR20/day rate.  Have rental car coverage through a credit card?  Great, that’s fine, as long as it’s Mastercard (for those of us living in the States) and you have a LETTER from them describing the coverage.  Even when you bring all of this it is still a beating to get a car from them at the price to which you agreed.  I’ve even brought the letter they requested, but since it was from Visa they would not honor it.

I went to Sixt this time and picked up a BMW 318d diesel sedan.

Sixt pick-up area at Frankfurt's Terminal 1

Sixt pick-up area at Frankfurt’s Terminal 1

The conversation went like this:

“Hi, here to pick up my rental [hands over reservation documents]”
“Ok, your car is ready, could I see your card?”
“Sure, here [hands over card and driver’s license]”
“Thank you.  Would you like to purchase additional insurance?”
“No, I’m covered by American Express.”
“Good!  Enjoy your trip!”

Now, compare this to my experience at Thrifty (it was 2009, so my memory of the exact events may have faded a bit)

“Hi, here to pick up my rental [hands over reservation documents]”
“Ok, your car is ready, here, meet Gunter [points at big guy wielding a bat]”
“Why do I need to OW, GUNTER, STOP BEATING ME, QUIT IT, OW!  I HAVE A LETTER FROM VISA!  WHY DID YOU BURN THE LETTER AND LAUGH AT THE ASHES?!”
[some time passes]
[Andy, bloodied and mostly lifeless, gives in and signs the insurance agreement for EUR20 more/day]

In summary, I couldn’t recommend Sixt more strongly.  It was a pleasant experience, they were ready for me, and the car was in pristine condition.

I pulled out of the rental lot and was quickly on the A3 heading north out of Frankfurt.  The weather was not very good, which made me very nervous, as I didn’t want to drive 2 hours to a place that was closed.  There’s no moose at The Ring to tell me that it’s closed either (6 of you will get this joke) (haha, I know, pretty good right?).  I decided to forge a path of manliness, and manliness doesn’t withhold itself for snow: ONWARD TO THE RING.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Nurburgring is an institution in the automotive community.  Built over 16 months by brothers Jeff and Frank Nurbur…ok that’s not true.  Without getting too much into the history of the Ring, the Nordschleife is a bucket list item for any auto enthusiast.  Anyone with a street legal car can race on the Nordschleife (which is German for North Schleife).  It’s technically a one-way toll road, so German road law still applies (no passing on the right, no throwing live camels at other cars, etc.).  As I pulled into the tiny town of Nurburg (not Nurnberg or Nuremberg), I made my way to the entryway for the track (the red dot below).

Now, the actual course: 12.93 miles, 154 turns.  Accidents can be frequent and the track can get crowded.  Especially if you don’t know the track.

Uh Oh Number 1: Inexperience

Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive about 8 laps on the Ring, 4 in 2009 and 4 in 2010.  8 laps is awesome, but they say to truly learn the track you need about 50 laps.

Uh Oh Number 2: Slick Roads

The weather was marginal when I arrived.  Sleet was falling and the skies were cloudy, the temperature was holding steady just above freezing.  One hundred.  Fifty.  Four.  Turns.

Uh Oh Number 3: Wrong Car

Now, the previous two times I’ve driven this track I was in front wheel drive vehicles (in 2010 I actually rented a race-prepped Suzuki Swift from a local outfit), which are great for the inexperienced Ringer, especially if conditions are sketchy.  This time, I arrived in a rear-wheel drive BMW with a diesel engine (which was VERY torquey) and pretty narrow tires for a BMW (they may have been low rolling resistance tires, I’m sure someone will chime in and let me know if those were even an option).

I considered the above points very fervently, after which I courageously…went to the bathroom.  Once I was done with my business, I perused some of the cars in the parking lot.

Ferrari 458 Italia and Audi R8

Ferrari 458 Italia and Audi R8

But then I thought “hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” and before I could answer myself “you could go full speed into a corner, lose control, crash the BMW, and die horribly, or, even worse, Call Me Maybe could come on the radio during your lap” I insisted it was a rhetorical question, got in my car, and approached the entrance to the track, held my Ringcard (which contained my lap credits) up to a scanner, the tollgate lifted, and it was GO TIME.

The lap got off to a very good start.  I was a bit apprehensive at first, but found a pace I was comfortable with, held my lines pretty well, and was actually enjoying myself (read: getting overconfident).  All of the corners at the Nordschleife have German names that I’ve mostly forgotten, but I’ll never forget TerrifyingScaryNurburgringKorner.  Coming up over a crest at about 100km/hr, I turned hard right.  The BMW sportily started to turn to the right, but, almost as if it was in slow motion, the back end started to skid out from me.  As an experienced racer, and experienced driver in general, I know that the first thing you need to do in a skid is to steer into the skid and absolutely do not touch the brake.  Instead of using that advice, first I screeeeeeeeeeeeamed.

Fortunately, I did the other stuff as well, recovered from the skid and continued my lap, thankful that my pants remained unsoiled since I had used the restroom earlier.

I finished up my lap with my heart rate holding about a steady 300.  To calm myself down, I went and got a stupid and wretched-tasting burger from the overpriced diner at the Ring entrance.  I was so busy regretting that decision that I wasn’t even nervous as I got out onto the track for my second (and final) lap of the day.  As a matter of full disclosure, I will confess that I did something unsafe on this lap: I decided to take pictures while I was driving.  The ONLY REASON I did this is because there were almost no other cars on the track that day and I was driving very slowly.  Still, what I did was against the rules, and many of you will call me stupid in the comments.  You’ll be right.

Approaching the point where I skidded earlier

Approaching the point where I skidded earlier

Near the Adenau entrance to the Ring

Near the Adenau entrance to the Ring

The final straight, approaching the gantry

The final straight, approaching the gantry

I was happy that I completed safe laps at the Nordschleife, and, seeing that the sleet was turning into snow, counted the trip as a win and set out on the relatively short trip back to Frankfurt.  The turn-in process at Sixt was almost easier than picking it up, and it was back to First Class traveling.

[A side note: The Nurburgring is in danger right now.  The victim of a poorly-planned public-private partnership and profiteering, the Ring complex is currently in bankruptcy and is for sale.  To find out what you can do to help, please visit www.savethering.org and spread the word.  It’s a real shame what happened, and as racing enthusiasts we all need to pitch in to protect a tradition that has been in place since 1927.]

I’ll see everyone in my next post, covering Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal.

11 Comments

  1. German car rental companies are obliged to mount winter tyres during cold season which are usually narrower than summer tyres to assure a better grip on snow.

    Reply
  2. Really enjoying your writing, but I think you should check your insurance for the hire car. I’m pretty sure that if you have an accident on the circuit you will have no cover from the rental co. or your credit card and would be liable for the full cost of the damage (racing is one of the standard exclusions on hire contracts).

    Reply
    • Valid point Stu, as racing on racetracks is not covered by most insurance companies. Since the Ring is not a racetrack, but a public one-way toll road, it would (my opinion, not legal advice) be covered by most US credit card coverage. I believe it’s different for the UK, however.

      That said, even if the car is covered, the fines you pay and repair costs for the Ring itself can be enormous, so my more specific advice would be not to wreck anything. 🙂

      Reply
  3. just wrote up my trip picking up a swift as well – http://www.igobyplane.com/2014/03/22/the-greatest-car-rental-on-the-planet-nurburgring/
    per the comments above, i would not expect any insurance to cover you, or to have a real harried fight for it. a rumor i’ve heard is rental car companies keeping an eye out for rentals to even charge an excessive wear charge. as far as risk though, if you’re just out there doing touring laps i don’t think you’re going to get in much trouble. if you’re actually trying to drive at speed, on the racing line, then best to rent something local although certainly that fun will cost you.

    Reply
    • Yup, done it both ways, it’s definitely a little scarier in a rental versus a track car. I actually received a call from Thrifty’s legal department asking me not to rent from them again in Europe after I used one of their cars on the Ring

      Reply
  4. hey, i’ll take a call over a charge any day… was that because someone saw you on it, or the story had been seen online?

    Reply
    • I think they had a spotter out there (there have been rumors of spotters out there for years). I wasn’t doing the blog at that point so it wasn’t online anywhere.

      Reply
      • interesting. good to know, that ain’t just a rumor… looking forward to more returns in the future, maybe i’ll see you out there. i plan to add more trip reports to my site about some local US tracks (Chicagoland-ish area).

        Reply
        • Fantastic, I look forward to reading them!

          Reply
  5. I like your funny report(s), being one of “zie” Germans, I had to laugh a lot. Whatever class you are flying on these shorter routes over the Atlantic you are garanteed to be tired the next day. My driving after these flights is never good enough for the dense traffic in Germany, not to mention the Ring or high speed driving on the Autobahn. I can confirm your comments on Sixt, always nice cars and good service. Never tell a rental car company you are using their car on the Ring, rental company T&Cs do not allow it (it is a private race course, not a public road, T&Cs refer much broader to racing activities)) and insurance is certainly not paying for anything. With a 318d you have similar fun on the Autobahn, but better after a good night sleep and next time I recommend to rent someting faster in the summer and enjoy the Autobahn. Wintertires are mandatory and usually limited to a top speed of 210km/h, tough times for zie Germans in winter….

    Reply
    • Ive had the privilege to drive the Ring a few other times in perfect weather (including Sabine drifting around me in her Ring Taxi), driving in Germany ruins me when i get back to the States!

      Reply

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