An idiot's guide to driving the 'ring

Seventy three corners (depending how you count 'em) strung out over 21km of track is a daunting prospect - especially if you are as green to the Nurburgring as the Eifel countryside that surrounds the track.

As a Nordschleife first-timer, I'd never experienced the claimed intoxicating and infectious nature of the 'ring and its unrivalled ability to get under your skin. So when editor Dan gave me the call asking if I'd like to do two days training learning the track, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. "I'll be turning a sickening shade of green while you're out there..." he said. Sorry Dan.

But even breaking the 'ring down into manageable chunks with the help of BMW's driver tuition, could I really familiarise myself with the track in just two days? Game on.

Based on our tuition from BMW's instructors here's PH's guide to driving the Nordschleife, the map below to reference the corner descriptions as you go. Or you could just buy the T-shirt instead!

Dottinger Hohe - Tiergarten - Hohenrain
The line through the Nurburgring's first turn - the shallow Antoniusbuche left-hander - is under the height restriction sign in the centre of the bridge. Squeeze the steering gently to the apex then let the car drift out to the white line. It's properly fast and the quickest race cars will be touching 185mph through here as they approach the sump-smashing depression before Tiergarten.

"Even in a road car you don't brake before the compression," says our instructor, Frank. Do so, and you'll not only unsettle the car but risk bending the suspension - with the front end already loaded, braking will only exacerbate the weight transfer.

You need to be accurate in the Hohenrain right-left-right chicane that follows - be patient with the throttle and precise with the steering.

The first few corners of the lap are all about carrying speed through the fast flowing turns, bleeding brake pressure where needed and getting hard on the stoppers when the car is straight and stable for the tight stuff. Using engine braking here helps too.

Steely look of concentration from Sean there...
Steely look of concentration from Sean there...
Hatzenbach - Hocheichen
Possibly the most technical section of the 22km-long loop this, but it's all about balancing steering and throttle through the relentless but flowing onslaught of corners.

The first left hander is downhill and it's easy to carry too much speed in - sacrifice the entry for exit speed through the double apex right-hander that follows and you'll save time. Brake at the 2km sign then get hard on the throttle for the subsequent fast right, then it's a firm stop for the Hatzenbach II complex.

You need constant steering angle for the long sweeping right leading into the left-right-left esses. "Imagine there's a piece of string connected to the steering and the throttle", says Frank. "Once you start to straighten your steering, you can depress the throttle." It's seemingly a case of being smooth, just like everywhere round the Nordschleife. Stay off the kerbs, be gentle with the car and concentrate on the line - clipping every apex late - and you'll be able to carry the speed. It's one of the best sensations you'll get behind the wheel, but it takes some practicing.

BMW's training breaks the track into sections
BMW's training breaks the track into sections
Quiddelbacher-Hohe - Flugplatz - Schwedenkreuz - Aremberg
This section is fast, open and a place you really don't want to get it wrong. It starts by cresting the jump at Quiddelbacher-Hohe, let the car settle then turn into Flugplatz at the path on the left.

It's another double apex turn dispatched with constant steering angle. Keep the car stable through here then build up speed towards the hold-your-breath Schwedenkreuz corner.

It's a difficult fast left-hander with a near-blind entry, and the countless tyre tracks that end where the grass begins indicate just how easy it is to get wrong.

Brake after the crest taken in sixth gear (in our seven-speed DCT-equipped M3, at least), then turn in on the throttle to keep the car balanced, staying on a tight line for the odd Aremberg corner.

It's an odd bend for being normal. That sounds back to front, but it's actually one of the few constant radius corners on the Nordschleife - whereas a lot of race tracks feature bends of a uniform radius, the Nurburgring is littered with turns that either open or close on the exit, partly why it's such a challenge.

Make sure you brake at the last drain cover on the left - as it's a downhill braking zone it's very easy to go in too hot.

Big speeds, small run-off - welcome to the 'ring
Big speeds, small run-off - welcome to the 'ring
Fuchsrohre - Adenauer-Forst
The downhill Fuchsrohre - translated as Foxhole - is flat out. Straight-line the three kinks into the dip, come out the other side and use the uphill gradient to help you brake into the Adenauer-Forst section.

It's technical through here. For the first left-hander you need to brake to the outside of the track, heading for the yellow and green graffiti on the Armco. Look for the late apex again (spot the pattern emerging?) and stay to the left, ready to alter your course for the right at the change of surface.

Keep that imaginary string in mind and build throttle as steering comes off and you'll find the way to carry maximum speed down the Metzgesfeld straight.

Wehrseifen this way round? It's gone wrong...
Wehrseifen this way round? It's gone wrong...
Metzgesfeld - Kallenhard - Wehrseifen
The approach to Metzgesfeld is eye wideningly fast. Once through the first left, you need to be half a car's width in from the white line on the right - it's bumpy in the braking zone thanks to slick-shod monsters rucking the tarmac up, so braking on this line avoids the bumps.

Next up is Kallenhard, a tricky downhill right-hander with the latest of late apices. It's easy to out-brake yourself because of the gradient and turn in too early. Wait until you spot the exit kerbs, then start to squeeze the throttle on the run down to the slowest section of the 'ring at Wehrseifen.

There are no heroics through here - it's very easy to put it in the wall and there's little time to be made. Just keep it tidy for a good exit.

Breidscheid - Ex-Muhle
Similar to Wehrseifen, Breidscheid is an exercise in restraint. It leads into the steep, slippery uphill Ex-Muhle right-hander that forces you to look out the top of the windscreen - pick the throttle up gently as the gradient steepens.

Unfortunately, time was against us and BMW wasn't able to guide us through the following Karussell, Hohe Acht, Wippermann, Eschbach and Br√ľnnchen complexes, but you can see them in our full video below.

Follow the leader - good thinking too!
Follow the leader - good thinking too!
If you've seen a picture of an airborne vehicle at the Nordschleife, it'll almost certainly be here. It's a fifth gear job preceded by a downhill run, meaning plenty of speed carried over the jump.

If your name's not Hans Stuck you'll probably need to dab the brakes before the crest, pinning the nose down and giving some stability. Come off the brakes before the jump, let the car settle, then brake hard. It's all over in the blink of a brake light, but you'll need to be back on the power turning in at the end of the concrete kerbs for the following double apex right turn.

You can really feel the car moving around here, but lean on the grip and be gentle with the steering and the velocity factor is exhilarating. Take a gulp of air and keep the accelerator on until you see the change of surface marking the turn-in point for the Schwalbenschwanz section, then squeeze the now tiring brakes.

Nearly there - don't screw it up now!
Nearly there - don't screw it up now!
Schwalbenschwanz - Galgenkopf
When you arrive here you know you're nearly at the end of the lap, so it's easy to overcook things. The track is grippy though, and you can be really aggressive with the throttle at the exit and on the run into Schwalbenschwanz.

It's also known as the mini-Karussell and just like the Karussell proper, it's horrible. You bob around in the seat and it's a case of guiding the car through the concrete strip with as little fuss as possible.

The long last turn of Galgenkopf requires you to kiss the apex late, turning in at the last drain cover on the left and carrying plenty of corner speed, burying the throttle into the carpet as it opens out into Dottinger Hohe.

Just a few hundred more laps to go...
Just a few hundred more laps to go...
The result
As a Nordschleife virgin, breaking up the track to learn it in sections - repeatedly going through it - made much more sense than trying to adjust your line the next time you come round 10 minutes later.

You can never say you know the Nordschleife - the moment you think you do, it'll bite you. But the format in which BMW's M masters teach it means it feels manageable and accessible, and gives you confidence to drive the circuit properly - attacking the line and stringing a lap together - rather than shying away from it or adding to the myriad YouTube disasters.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (69) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Sonic 29 Jun 2012

    ItsJustARide said:
    This vid of an R500 vs GT2 is one of my favourite vids of committed driving around the 'Ring. Not the tidiest maybe but a hoot and the R500 is managing a 7:36 lap. Interesting to see the differing strengths and weaknesses of the two cars.
    Brilliant video that, the R500 looks like a right handful! yikes

  • CarsOrBikes 29 Jun 2012

    I have only driven it approx 45 laps. I would recommend those thinking of game research actually wait, and consider driving it first, for several laps, slowly, then use the gt4/5 to build on for the next visit, this is because the perpectives are all wrong in game and you have no fear do you, or sense of camber or elevation, micro climate, traffic etc, including double decker buses! You may know where a corner is coming up but your learning curve will be steeper than expected probably. Driving it first, you will relate to the section better in game.

    My last visit was in a 968 Sport and was nothing fantastic at about 9-9:15 btg with lower traffic, the first ever was a modified Rover Mini Cooper at about 10:40 btg, that was interesting! I also took a Integra type R dc2 which I lost at the end of swallowstail at the left before the mini carousel, rolling back into the gravel, luckily not collecting the three bikes behind me, carried on for many laps ok though. Completely broadside at 90 odd, these things happen. Even in the 968 it was a little loose at the 2nd right after the carousel.

    Very easy to run into some unexpected changes in driving style or levels of commitment due to other traffic which you MUST respect, but many don't. Just lifting off or small inputs in the wrong place can change a lot.

    The locals aren't great supporters of the british, you often hear comments when the track gets closed, more often due to bikes.

    I remember coming round and out of the long right onto the foxhole, pretty committed, to meet a tourist double decker bus, and a couple of elderly ladies in a vw polo having a mooch up Ex Muhle, what a place!

    Someone else posted not to drive like you are racing the other cars you come across, which is good advice I think. Another likened it to the TT, well there is no comparison to the two locations really, but one thing to take from the TT, is during a race 4 or 5 bikes will be on the same part of the road together, during a race, but they are not racing each other are they in terms of position. They are only racing the clock, and the guy behind could be in the lead, so any new drivers maybe consider the importance of just focusing on your drive with care for the others, and you will more likely come home without incident.

    I'd like to go back, but haven't for a few years, too much going on.

    I know most of you here are probably seasoned visitors, but I'm posting for those that aren't.

    Just a thought.... try and spectate from as many different spots as you can on closed days etc, and if playing the gt4/5 games, try driving it backwards too.

    The closed training days do exactly that.

    Check your car after every lap, and let it cool down, check everything, check steering wheel alignment on the way back after the gantry, check for new oil leaks in particular, and clean anything that looks like it could be collecting or causing drips. Brake fade here is a reality too, so make sure your fluids are changed before you go, and the brakes are in excellent condition and suitable for extreme use. You may have to release pressure from your tyres, maybe 4-8psi for example, ask other drivers, you will see many tyre guages out, so take one with you, and a pump to correct them. Don't take chances if your car has a fault and you have laps left on your ticket, sell them to a mate or another driver don't push you luck and risk a failure in this place. Read the noticeboard by the ticket office, take the emergency number, and take heed of the costs warnings.

    Isn't the other name for it green hell?

    haha the more I think about it, it is infectious.

    Take care anyway

    Just my2p

  • Stefanolux 20 Jun 2012

    To anybody interested in the Nordschiefle.
    Please note that I have a detailed guide to each of the 48 curves in .pdf format.
    In case, don't hesitate to ask.

  • JonathanLegard 20 Jun 2012

    I always pause before decrying a claimed time as impossible at the Ring. I've learned there are some VERY talented drivers around. But many more clueless berks. wink

  • thewheelman 15 Jun 2012

    RB Will said:
    thewheelman said:
    Erm 7:30 is Ferrari 458 territory, as for a 170bhp MK2 Golf doing 8:21, I'd pay to see that video as that's quicker than the average Exige around there.
    You are still thinking full lap you nit. 7.30BTG would be about 7.50 full lap which is achievable.

    I can fully believe a Golf Suitable prepped will do an 8.21BTG

    Here is a video of a Suzuki Swift with about 150bhp and heavier than a stripped Golf doing a BTG of about 8.17
    Bloody hell! That's impressive!

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