Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn

The Nürburgring is different than other racetracks. It was built when safety and motorsport where opposites. There are jumps and a straight so long you have time to ask yourself "How fast am I really going?" There are 73 official corners on the Nordshliefe plus another 11 on the GP course, but that's not what makes the Nürburgring so difficult to learn. There is something about the track itself that makes it more challenging than any other modern circuit in existence.

Note: I flew to Germany in April and rented a seat from www.race-the-ring.com with my own cash. Robb Holland trained me to race the Nurburgring in just 72 hours and we won our class. I took home a huge trophy from the Nurburgring and qualified for the 24hrs of the Nurburgring which starts tomorrow. I couldn't afford the seat and will have to sit this one out till next year, but somehow I went from a $500 Craig's list car to winning at the Nurburgring in just 5 years. I have two articles coming next about how I got there(licenses, travel, costs, etc) and another covering the whole experience. But with the 24hr race starting tomorrow, I wanted to give you guys a feel for why this track is so awesome.

Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn

I've been to Nürburgring a few times, so not counting Gran Turismo, which you really can't count, I had roughly 10 laps in rental cars by the time I arrived at the circuit. I had three days to learn the track in limited practice sessions. During those three days I realized there are three major things that make the Nürburgring very different than any other track in the world.

Length

Sure the length is a problem, we know this. But it's not because of the memorization of the 170 corners(84 official) or "learning the line." It's because the 15.2 miles(full 24hr circuit) means you have to wait nearly 10 minutes to repeat a corner and practice it again. And as you can see with three days until the race I still had a lot to learn.

At a traditional racetrack you might see the same corner ever 90 seconds. Your muscles still remember the last time you went through it because it was only a few moments ago. But at the Nürburgring, your muscles will have long forgotten the movements from 170 corners ago. That also means improving your corner speed by 1% is going to be difficult. Bumping slightly up to the limit, lap after lap, after lap, isn't really an option. You need to go out on track and drive, drive, drive.

Some of the racing schools get around this by breaking the track into sections and allowing you repeat the same two miles all day long. But you still need to put all 15.2 miles together at the end so might as well learn like any other track. And don't forget to add the slow deterioration of the tires. Your tires could be fine one lap and go off 8 minutes later just before you return to the corner again expecting to go flat. Good luck with that. Constant Rhythm Sections

The Nürburgring changes as you build speed. This is true of all tracks because a higher exit speed from one corner translates into a higher entry speed into the next section. But at a more traditional track that means you enter the braking zone faster and you simply brake a little earlier.

Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn


Except that he Nürburgring doesn't allow this luxury as it generally lacks the massive braking zones that are so common at a modern circuit. The entire Ring is one giant rhythm section followed by another. You're cutting left and back right, over one crest and thru a compression, then back to the left followed by a right and it starts again. Increase your speed by a little bit and the next thing you know, you're a few inches off-line and now the car wont go back because an object in motion stays in motion. And the track is turning the other way…

Compression & Elevation Mean Serious Consequences
That's the thing about the ring. 110mph thru a corner and your fine. 112mph and the track ejects you. It's not like you slowly slide off. The track literally throws you into the air and you're gone. Into the armco. Take the Fuchsröhre for example. You stay on the gas accelerating from little apex to little apex. The front left gets way light. Is it in the air? Maybe. But you're still flat to the floor, and have been since the hairpin-like corner(Aremberg) before it.

Then you see it. The bottom of the valley before you go rocketing up to the tight left against guardrail. It looks smooth. It seems fine. But that compression at speed is unlike anything else. And it doesn't just bottom out. It keeps you loaded up because of the uphill right after it. Then you go left in a hurry to miss the guardrail. And I think you might be in the air again. But its fast and so much is happening at once you just keep driving. Mostly because there's some time to go back to the gas before you get ready for the next section.

So you can't really learn the Nürburgring like other tracks. Bumping slightly up to the limit, lap after lap, isn't really an option. You don't' get to see the same corner every 90 seconds. Instead you come back after 600 seconds… And if you step over the limit there are serious consequences unlike modern GP circuits with their massive gravel traps.

But that doesn't matter because it's not like you're going overshoot a corner by a 1% and drift off. The Nürburgring will eject you. The crash will happen fast and you won't have much say in the matter. Once you cross that line and start hitting guardrails, you're along for the ride so you better know where you're going and more importantly how the compression and jumps will affect your line.

This photo is from Pflantzgarten, top of 5th gear and the landing is into a nearly flat out right hander. Welcome to the Nüburgring. As you could see in the videos above I was still breathing the throttle down into Pflantzgarten as I learned the track. But once you're flat, you end up jumping into the next corner. The track changes significantly with speed.

Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn

After three days of practice and 6 hour race we finished with a class win in SP-8 and I can say I learned the Nürburgring. The locals say it takes a 1,000 laps to truly know it, but my times were respectable and that works for me. And I never pushed on the two fast corners to ensure I wouldn't stuff the car and "be that guy."

Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn

I also qualified for my dream race, the 24 hrs the Nurburgring, which starts tomorrow and my name is still in the program and on the entry list as car number 45. After 5 years of racing without a real job, I'm out of cash and I just couldn't find one company that wanted to help. So I'm sitting this one out. Next year!

Why the Nürburgring is so difficult to learn

In the meantime, check out the 24hr race this weekend live at this link and cheer for my friends in the number 108 Rotek Racing Audi TTRS. Robb Holland, Rob Huff, Richard Meins, Kevin Gleason, and

Photos by Max Müller and Wyatt Knox