Religions have holy sites. So do people who like cars. There are a plethora of racetracks, roads and factories that fanatics dream of visiting. There are circuits that are steeped in history, think Le Mans, Spa and Monza. There are roads that are fabled for their accessibility and enjoyment – Stelvio, Grossglockner and transfagarasan spring to mind.
If ever there was one racetrack that brought together history, racing pedigree, accessibility and a dose of fear, it would have to be the Nurburgring Nordschleife. Chances are if you’re reading this that you’ve driven hundreds, if not thousands, or laps on the ring from the comfort of your living room. You’ve sat clutching a Playstation or Xbox controller for dear life with a forehead glistening with sweat in an attempt to predict the next corner or blind crest. This is typically followed by a huge accident and a controller being flung towards the television or innocent bystander cackling at your failure. Apologies to my dearest sister…but it was the last lap of a 4 hour GranTurismo endurance race and there was no going back.
I’m sure you can understand how I felt when the program leader insisted that ‘Playstation training means nothing from here on in’ on the opening brief of the SportAuto Perfektionstraining Nordschleife event that I had somehow found myself attending. Scared/petrified are two suitable words, this was followed by a seemingly endless stream of Nordschliefe crash videos that followed. The briefing lasted 45 minutes and was delivered solely in German – aside from the Playstation clause that was seemingly presented in English solely to add to my anguish. A night of broken sleep gave way to sunrise and it was time to conquer the ring. First things first – what would I be lapping the green hell in? Porsche we’re hosting me and had given me me the keys to a Speed Yellow 991.2 911 Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet. All-wheel-drive, PDK, rear-wheel-steering and 450 horsepower all made me feel very safe. Yes, it’s a cabriolet, not ideal for any track, but driving from Koln to the ‘Ring was a very pleasant with the roof retracted!
As the sun rose over the peaks of deep green Oak tops, the Nurburgring and Nordchleife snake through the Eifel Forest, I pulled into the only fuel station for miles around – the star of dozens of YouTube videos. Refuelling along side me sat two AMG GT-Rs, a Huracan Performante and a spattering of 991 GT3 RSs…so nothing I wouldn’t see at my local supermarket petrol station. Tank brimmed. The drive to the touristenfahrten is less than a kilometer, leaving me with next to no time to battle my nerves. Heading the wrong way down the pit lane entrance and turning back on myself it was time to find the Porsche group that I would be doing the first lap of the Nordschleife with. And then the rain started.
450 horsepower will take the Carrera 4 GTS Cabrio from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds in the dry and it feels just as feisty in the wet. My confidence in the all-wheel-drive systems was quickly scrutinized as going over one of the dozens of blind crests the car went light and induced a pant browning slide taking the €150k Porsche towards an armco barrier soon to inherit a few speed yellow skid marks. Stamping on the gas and steering towards the next corner immediately countered the slide, confidence restored.
Tip toeing around the drying circuit was a blessing in disguise, as the track got faster I could gradually increase my speed. After the second 5-lap session a dry line had established itself and it was time to see if I could start to reach the cars limits with the help of the instructor car ahead being piloted by Timo Kluck, one of the test drivers that help set the 6 min 57 second record in the 918 Spyder – there are few better people to learn the 22.9 kilometers, 73 corners and huge elevation changes with.
The first session of 5 dry laps is no less terrifying than the wet laps as Timo wasn’t hanging about. Just when I thought I was remembering where I was on the circuit I was confusing late and double apex corners. The Carrera 4 GTS really was proving itself pulling me out of scary situations time after time. The ‘point-and-squirt’ ability of the car is phenomenal.
As the number of laps increased the times fell. Having been chuffed with an 8 minute lap earlier on in the day I was shocked to hear the news that we had hit a Bridge to Gantry time of 7:48.2. On the final session of the day I was keen to break the 7:45 barrier – this goal would have to wait, a rather catastrophic crash brought out the red flags and the day concluded.
I never think I’ve experienced such a long and intense adrenaline rush. My forearms ached from gripping the alcantara steering wheel so tightly. Time for bed.
The second day brought with it a new challenge. The straight was open and we would now only drive in pairs, not groups. Having Timo ahead of me and no one behind me it was time to really test myself. There would be far fewer laps, but they would be much more demanding, mental and physical concentration had never been so important.
Have you ever felt like you were ready for something, that you had been prepared and then been totally blown away? That was me. ‘Are you okay? Car is fine?’ Timo crackled over the radio. Having caught up (because Timo let me) I was keen to hang onto the howling engine of the instructors GTS. My nerves had never been frayed like this before, over blind crests we stayed flat on the throttle.
The tarmac is so narrow and neighbors wet grass, once you run half a tires width wide you may as well call your insurance company and inform them of the accident that is about to occur because there is no going back. Despite this we ebbed and flowed from corner to corner climbing the harsh curbs and licking the white lines that split the security of the grippy road and the doom of the slippery green stuff.
The fear of appearing on a YouTube compilation video of a terrifying accident had been replaced with a fearless determination of going faster through every corner and not losing sight of Timo ahead whom I now considered a driving god.
If trying to eek a couple of tenths here and there was not enough, there was the added complexity of having to keep one eye on the rear view mirror for a GT3 RS or Performante on a hot lap, fortunately we were overtaking more than being overtaken and the lap times dropped dipping into a 7:46s. So painfully close. The 2.8 kilometer straight was open and stretched into the horizon. 250, 260, 270 and we’re almost at Tiergarten, 280 and HARD on the ceramics, stray left and pull for downshifts looking for the sharp right. The lap was clear, not another car in sight, the chrono was ticking.
Into the thick foliage, back out into the open sweeping sections, pin the throttle and grit your teeth, keep it pinned over the blind crests and run onto the rumble strips. Drop into the Karousel earlier than before and jump onto the throttle earlier than then you previously dared – the commitment levels were high and the tires begged for mercy, the Pirellis don’t have anymore to give. Coming through the last few turns is surreal, I’ve got tunnel vision, I feel nothing, just a desire to keep the flow and not lose a tenth anywhere. The gantry is in sight. 7:40.7. Mission accomplished.