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

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (69) Join the discussion on the forum

  • thewheelman 11 Jun 2012

    Over the years I must have notched up a few hundred laps of the Nurburgring, I'd say I know it very well indeed, but mastering it must be near impossible.

  • gmh23 11 Jun 2012

    very well written article

  • RB Will 11 Jun 2012

    The chap in front seems a little bit wayward.

    Without trying to sound big headed I don't get all the fuss people make about learning this or indeed any track. (IOM TT Course maybe an exception)

  • aka_kerrly 11 Jun 2012

    RB Will said:
    The chap in front seems a little bit wayward.

    Without trying to sound big headed I don't get all the fuss people make about learning this or indeed any track. (IOM TT Course maybe an exception)
    Presumably because the 'Ring is considerably larger/more complex than most race tracks, allows only a small margin of error, is used by a variety of vehicles/drivers all with varying amount of skill and if you get it wrong it can potentially cost you a LOT of ££££

    I always thought the best tip was take note of "The Fear!" and don't drive like you are "racing" the many amateurs and professionals who also use the track.

  • thewheelman 11 Jun 2012

    RB Will said:
    The chap in front seems a little bit wayward.

    Without trying to sound big headed I don't get all the fuss people make about learning this or indeed any track. (IOM TT Course maybe an exception)
    It's odd you mention the TT course, I'd say historically they're on a par with each other & both deserve huge respect. I've only seen the TT course via coverage on TV, but I'd imagine it's just as tricky as the 'ring.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment