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Friday 22nd June 2012


RINGSIDE SEAT: HAPPY BIRTHDAY NURBURGRING!

The Nurburgring opened 85 years ago this week - happy birthday to you!


If you’ve got petrol in your veins, maybe you’ve already said it. But if not, raise your 11am cup of tea in a birthday toast to the venerable Nurburgring! At 85 years old, it is one of the oldest racing circuits around. And this week in 1927 the ‘Nurburg-Ring’ held its first race.

For the first German GP it was more like a rally stage
For the first German GP it was more like a rally stage
It was a hell of a show, with both cars and bikes barrelling around the gravel-strewn circuit, and weeks later the Grand Prix of Germany held 300,000 fans in sway. At least that’s what the organisers said...

Either way, it was a golden era for racing, no doubt, but totally mental. While chassis design was in its infancy, the motors were doing just fine. 300, 400 even 500hp motors were not a problem with turbos and superchargers and more litres of displacement than cylinders under the brushed alloy panels.

You can watch some of the Grand Prix highlights from 1931 to 1939 here but safe to say those years before WWII were full of heroes, villains and some downright amazing races.

The 1930s Silver Arrows made the 'ring their own
The 1930s Silver Arrows made the 'ring their own
The surfaces changed quickly in the first few years, from gravel to concrete and finally asphalt, but never all at once. Public sessions were introduced, but for a nation of impoverished workers, they weren’t exactly full of cars or bikes. Most people in the region struggled to own their share of a horse, and a car was just crazy.

Names like Caracciola and Nuvolari will forever be remembered from this decade and a bit. The last race before war finally broke out was in 1939. These days we call a four-hour race an ‘endurance event’ and rules demand that at least two or three drivers share the car.

Back then it was just called the Grand Prix and drivers shared only to avoid collapsing of heat exhaustion. And this was Caracciola’s last GP victory, won in fine style over 20 laps and in mixed conditions driving a 7.1-litre Mercedes-Benz SS.

Caracciola (#12) won the last GP before the war
Caracciola (#12) won the last GP before the war
During the war the ‘ring was not used. It grew cluttered and neglected, and it wasn’t until 1945 that nearly 50 engines would be heard storming up the Nurburgring. But they were heading the wrong way ... and they were all American.

It was March 1945, to be precise, and the 11th Armoured Division had taken to the track. The local roads were littered with burning vehicles and barely passable. While the Sudschleife (south loop) and Nordschleife (north loop) were just a bit weedy. A lap in a Sherman tank would have taken well over an hour, but they only drove as far as Galgenkopf before they got off the track again...

Racing re-occurred in 1950 and I’m going to brush over 26 years of epic racing history in just a few sentences. But suffice to say, it looks brilliant. Dashing through the privet hedges in lethal contraptions, cross-ply tyre to cross-ply tyre. Check out my favourite video here - it’s from 1968.

Summer picnics and Gullwings in the Eifel!
Summer picnics and Gullwings in the Eifel!
In 1976 the ’ring’s fortunes would change forever. The track was getting too dangerous for the modern machinery, whether it was race cars or public car 1970 - Rhapsodie im Blech.

But it was Lauda’s fiery crash that finally put into action a walk-out that should have happened a long time before. F1 left the Nordschleife and in 1984 Senna won the first race on the new, sanitised GP track.

The Sudschleife was gone, and except for one final round of Group C insanity the Nordschleife gradually fell off everybody’s radar.

Only in the last 10 years did the old northloop start to make a resurgence. Whether that’s for better or for worse, only time will tell. A few things will never change though; the track is as beautiful as it is dangerous, and those viewing figures always seem to be a little bit optimistic.

First race at the new 'ring was more like a rally stage!
First race at the new 'ring was more like a rally stage!

 

Author: Dale Lomas
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