The Nürburgring, known as simply "The Ring" by enthusiasts, is a motorsport race track in Nürburg, Germany. It was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel, which is about south of Cologne, and northwest of Frankfurt.
Originally, the track featured four track configurations: the long Gesamtstrecke ("Whole Course"), which in turn consisted of the Nordschleife ("Northern Loop"), and the Südschleife ("Southern Loop"). There also was a warm-up loop called Zielschleife ("Finish Loop") or better known as Betonschleife, around the pit area. Between 1982 and 1983 the start-finish area was demolished to create a new GP-Strecke, and this is currently used for all major and international racing events. However, the Nordschleife is still in use; nicknamed The Green Hell by Jackie Stewart, it is widely considered the toughest, most dangerous and most demanding purpose-built race track in the world.
The Nürburgring also plans to build a massive Air Thrust Coaster by S&S Power in 2009. It will be called Ring°Racer and will reach speeds of nearly , making it the fastest roller coaster in the world, claiming the record from Kingda Ka.
In the early 1920s, races called ADAC Eifelrennen were held on public roads in the Eifel mountains. This soon was considered impractical and dangerous. In order to provide work and lure tourists into the area, the construction of a dedicated race track was proposed, following the examples of Italy's Monza and Berlin's AVUS, yet with a completely different character. The layout of the circuit in the mountains was similar to the Targa Florio, one of the most important motor races at that time. The original Nürburgring was meant to be a showcase for German automotive engineering and racing talent, and was built with both purposes in mind. Construction of the track, designed by the Eichler Architekturbüro from Ravensburg (led by Architect Gustav Eichler), began in September 1925.
The track was completed in spring of 1927, and the ADAC Eifelrennen races were continued there. The first World Cycling Championship race took place on 1927-06-19, and the first German Grand Prix a month later. In addition, the track was opened to the public in the evenings and at weekends, as a one-way toll road. The Gesamtstrecke consisted of 174 bends (prior to 1971 changes), and was in width on average.
In 1939 the full Ring was used for the last time in major racing events, as future Grands Prix would be held only on the Nordschleife. Motorcycles and minor races mainly used the shorter and safer Südschleife. Many memorable pre-war races took place at the circuit, featuring the talents of early Ringmeister (Ringmasters) such as Rudolf Caracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and Bernd Rosemeyer.
On August 5, 1961, during practice for the 1961 German Grand Prix, Phil Hill became the first person to complete a lap of the Nordschleife in under 9 minutes, with a stunning lap of 8-minutes 55.2-seconds (153.4 km/h or 95.3 mph) in the Ferrari 156 "Sharknose" Formula 1 car. Even 40 years later, the highest performing road cars have difficulty breaking 8 minutes without a professional racing driver or one very familiarized with the track. Also, several rounds of the German motorcycle Grand Prix were held, mostly on the "Südschleife", but the Hockenheimring and Solituderennen were the main sites for Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
In 1953, the ADAC 1000km Nürburgring race was introduced, an Endurance race and Sports car racing event that counted towards the World Sportscar Championship for decades. The 24 Hours Nürburgring for touring car racing was added in 1970.
By the late 1960s, the Nordschleife and many other tracks were becoming increasingly dangerous for the latest generation of F1 cars. In 1967, a chicane was added before the start/finish straight, called Hohenrain, in order to reduce speeds at the pit lane entry. In 1970, after the fatal crash of Piers Courage at Zandvoort, the F1 drivers decided at the French Grand Prix to boycott the Ring unless major changes were made, like they did at Spa the year before. The changes were not possible on short notice, and the German GP was moved to the Hockenheimring which already had been modified.
According to the demands of the F1 drivers, the Nordschleife was reconstructed by taking out some bumps and installing Armco safety barriers. The track was also made straighter, following the race line, which reduced the official number of corners. The German GP could be hosted at the Ring again, for another 3 years from 1971 to 1973. Safety was improved again later on, e.g. by removing the jumps on the long main straight and widening it. A second series of 3 more F1 races were held until 1976, but even higher demands by the F1 drivers and the FIA's CSI commission were too expensive or impossible to meet. So the 1976 race was deemed the last ever, even before it was held.
Primarily due to its extraordinary length of over , and the lack of space due to its situation on the sides of the mountains, the Ring was unable to meet the ever-increasing safety requirements, and was also unsuitable for the burgeoning television market. Niki Lauda, the reigning world champion and only person ever to lap the full Nordschleife in under 7 minutes (6:58.6, 1975), proposed to the other drivers that the circuit should be boycotted in 1976 because of the safety arrangements. The other drivers voted against the idea and the race went ahead. Ironically, it was Lauda who crashed in his Ferrari, probably due to failure of the rear suspension. As his car was still loaded with fuel in lap 2, he was badly burned, being saved by the combined actions of fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger and Harald Ertl rather than by the ill equipped track marshals. Also, the crash proved that the distances were rather long for regular fire engines and ambulances, even though the "ONS-Staffel" was equipped with a Porsche 911 rescue car, marked (R). For Formula One, this crash marked the end of the old Nürburgring. It never hosted another F1 race again as the German Grand Prix was moved to the Hockenheimring for 1977.
In 1980, the German motorcycle Grand Prix was held for the last time on the old Ring, moving also permanently to Hockenheim. A year later, in 1981, work began on a 4.5 km (2.8 miles) long new circuit which was built on and around the old pits area. At the same time, a bypass shortened the Nordschleife to 20,832 m (12.947 mi), and with an additional small pit lane, this version was used for races in 1983, e.g. the 1000km Nürburgring endurance race, while construction work was going on nearby. In training for that race, the late Stefan Bellof set the all-time lap record for the Nordschleife in his Porsche 956, which is still unbeaten at 6:11.13, or over in average - partially because no major racing has taken place there since 1984.
The former Südschleife had not been modified in 1970/71 and was abandoned a few years later in favour of the improved Nordschleife. It is now mostly gone (in part due to the construction of the new circuit) or converted to a normal public road, but since 2005 a vintage car event is hosted on the old track layout, including part of the parking area.
To celebrate its opening, an exhibition race was held, on May 12th, featuring an array of notable drivers. Driving identical Mercedes 190E 2.3-16, the line-up was Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Denis Hulme, James Hunt, Jacques Laffite, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, Manfred Schurti, Ayrton Senna and John Watson. Senna won ahead of Lauda, Reutemann, Rosberg, Watson, Hulme and Jody Scheckter.
Besides other major international events, it has seen the brief return of Formula One to the 'Ring, as the 1984 European Grand Prix was held at the track, followed by the 1985 German Grand Prix; the only time thus far that the "new" Nürburgring has hosted its country's race. As F1 did not stay, other events were the highlights at new the Ring, 1000km Nürburgring, DTM, motorcycles, and rather new type of events, like Truck Racing, Vintage car racing at the AvD "Oldtimer Grand Prix", and even the "Rock am Ring" concerts.
Following the success and first world championship of Michael Schumacher, a second German F1 race was held at the Ring between 1995 and 2006, called the European Grand Prix or, in 1997 and 1998, the Luxembourg Grand Prix.
For 2002, the track was changed, by replacing the former "Castrol-chicane" at the end of the start/finish straight by a sharp right-hander (nicknamed "Haug-Hook"), in order to create an overtaking opportunity. Also, a slow Omega-shaped section was inserted, on the site of the former kart track. This extended the GP track from , while at the same time, the Hockenheimring was shortened from .
In recent years, both the Ring and the Hockenheimring events have been losing money due to high and rising license fees charged by Bernie Ecclestone and low attendance due to high ticket prices; starting with the 2007 Formula 1 season, Hockenheim and Nürburgring will alternate for hosting of the German GP.
The Ring has, however, kept its association with the tragic. Despite the high standards, a few single-seater drivers were paralysed or killed in freak accidents. In F1, Ralf Schumacher hit his brother in 1997, which may have cost Michael the championship. In 1999, in changing conditions, Johnny Herbert managed to score the only win for the team of former Ringmeister Jackie Stewart. One of the highlights of the 2005 season was Kimi Räikkönen's spectacular exit, while in the last lap of the race, when his suspension gave way after being rattled lap after lap by a flat-spotted tire that was not changed due to the short lived one set of tires rule.
Prior to the 2007 European Grand Prix, the Audi S (bends 8 and 9) was renamed Schumacher S after Michael Schumacher.
While it is unusual for deaths to occur during sanctioned races, there are several fatalities and many accidents each year during public sessions. It is not unusual for the track to be closed several times a day for cleanup, repair, and medical intervention. The track management does not publish any official figures, but regular visitors to the track have used police reports to estimate the number of fatalities at somewhere between 3-12 in a full year.
The annual highlight is the 24 Hours Nürburgring weekend, held usually in mid-June, featuring 220 cars (from small cars to Turbo Porsches or factory race cars built by BMW, Opel, Audi, Mercedes-Benz), over 700 drivers (amateurs and professionals) and up to 290,000 spectators.
Several automotive media outlets and manufacturers use the Nordschleife as a standard to publish their lap times achieved with production vehicles.
BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld made history on 28 April 2007 as the first driver in over 30 years to tackle the Nürburgring Nordschleife track in a contemporary Formula One car. Heidfeld’s 3 demonstration laps round the German circuit in an F1.06 were the highlight of festivities celebrating BMW’s contribution to motorsport. About 45,000 spectators showed up for the main event, the 3rd 4 hour VLN race of the season, and the subsequent show by Heidfeld. Conceived largely as a photo opportunity, the lap times were not as high as the car was capable of, BMW instead choosing to run the chassis at a particularly high ride height to allow for the Nordschleife's abrupt gradient changes and limit maximum speeds accordingly. Former F1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck was injured during the VLN race when he crashed his BMW Z4.
The Nordschleife has remained a one-way, public toll-road for nearly 80 years except when it is closed off for testing purposes, training lessons or racing events. Since its opening in 1927, the track has been used by the public for the so-called "Touristenfahrten", i.e. to anyone with a road legal car or motorcycle, as well as tour buses, motor homes or cars with trailers. It is opened mainly on Sundays, but also on many Saturdays and weekday evenings. During the winter months, depending on weather conditions and maintenance work, the track may be closed for weeks.
During Touristenfahrten sessions, German road law (StVO) applies despite a common misconception assuming it is derestricted like in races. There is no general speed limit, however speed limits exist in certain areas in order to reduce noise and risks. As on public roads, passing on the right is prohibited, and the police take an extremely dim view of poor driving as they prosecute offenders with the aid of helicopters.
The cost for driving a single lap of the Nordschleife is €21 for each car or motorcycle. Multi-lap tickets can be purchased for a lower per-lap price, such as 4 laps at a cost of €70 (€17.50 per lap). Additional multi-lap prices are 8 laps for €135, 15 laps for €235, or 25 laps for €370. An annual ticket with unlimited laps, valid from January to December, can be purchased for €995. All prices are current for the 2008 calendar year, and include VAT.
This Nürburgring version is a popular attraction for many driving and riding enthusiasts from all over the world, partly because of its history and the considerable challenge it still provides. The lack of oncoming traffic and intersections sets it apart from regular roads, and the absence of a blanket speed limit makes it an additional attraction mainly for foreigners.
Normal ticket buyers on these tourist days cannot quite complete a full lap of the 20.8 km (13 mile) Nordschleife, which is bypassing the modern GP-Strecke, as they are required to slow down and pass through a "pit lane" section where the toll gates are installed. Since 2006, season ticket holders only can pass mobile toll gates on the track itself, in order to reduce the length of queues at the fixed barriers.
Drivers interested in lap times (a dangerous thing to worry about, as running stop watches are frequently found in crashed vehicles) often time themselves from the first bridge after the barriers to the last gantry before the exit. In the event of an accident, the local police are known to make note of any timing devices present (stopwatches, etc.) in the police report. Consequently, the driver's insurance coverage may be voided leaving the driver fully liable for any and all damage. Normal, non-racing, non-timed driving accidents should be covered by driver's insurance, but it is increasingly common for UK insurers especially to put in exclusion clauses that mean drivers and riders have third-party cover only. Accidents are common, though, and those considering driving around the Nordschleife should read the rules that apply, as well as the "dos" and "don'ts". The 'ring has caught many people out. There is very little run-off and the armco barrier will be hit at almost any speed, should a vehicle leave the tarmac.
Drivers who do crash have a responsibility of warning following vehicles that there has been an incident. They should not try to continue driving as spilled fluids are a hazard to others, especially bikes, and it might be regarded as an attempt to escape the hefty bill for an armco repair. The 'Ring, although being to all intents and purposes a race track when used for racing, still remains a public road when opened to the public, and it is policed as such. Anyone caught or reported as driving dangerously can be fined or banned by the authorities. The costs can also be prohibitive with vehicle recovery, track closure penalties and armco repairs putting some unfortunates up to €15,000 out-of-pocket.
New for 2008 sees the possible TÜV testing of vehicles for which on-track complaints have been received by the authorities. This is only likely to be an issue for heavily modified vehicles, but German TÜV testing is far more rigorous than the UK MOT test. Vehicles which fail these on-the-spot inspections risk being banned from the circuit.
In recent years, the allure of Nürburgring Nordschleife has spread through its appearance in video games, with the shorter grand prix circuit already gaining large attention especially in Formula 1 simulations. It all started in 1998 with Sierra's PC-based racing simulation Grand Prix Legends featuring the Green Hell and the 1967 Formula One season.
Additionally the presence of the Nürburgring Nordschleife has become wide spread on the web via the live webcam. Available here: http://www.nuerburgring.de/fileadmin/webcam/webcam.jpg
Games for consoles followed:
Since 1985 the Nürburgring has hosted the "Rock am Ring", Germany's biggest Rock Festival, attracting close to 100,000 rock fans each year.