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In the embers of the Green Hell (The Nürburgring)

This may be the title of a novel, but this hell is very real and many of the most experienced pilots have burned their wings.


It all began in 1912, when the project to create the first permanent German automobile track was launched, contrary to the custom of the time, which was to occasionally close public roads. At this point, the Eifel Mountains are just one potential location among many others.

Germany in the 1920s had to show its economic and political greatness through the automobile; it certainly had major automobile brands like Maybach and Auto Union, but no major permanent circuit like its neighbors. French and Belgians, Italians, English who were already hosting the Formula 1 Championship.

In 1898, Daimler was the first German car manufacturer to enter motor racing and, due to the lack of German tracks, participated in races abroad.

But the major argument which will favor the creation of such a circuit is not the automobile but the reduction of unemployment. Thus, Dr. Otto Creuz, a sort of Prefect of the Eifel at the time, managed to convince the German government that a large automobile track would generate many jobs in this rather poor region.

  • The history of the founding of the Nürburgring clearly shows that its actual realization was only due to a network of different interests. None of these interests would have been able to implement such a project alone. Only the combination of

  • a high regional unemployment rate,

  • indirect subsidies to the German automobile industry in order to increase prestige and national and international sales,

  • Test field for road construction and

  • Tourist “beacon” for the Upper Eifel.

Regardless, in 1925 work began on the longest racing circuit ever created, and so after 2 years, 28,265 km of track, 176 turns, and 25,000 worn-out workers, it ended on June 18 1927.

The construction

At the very moment when the first blows of pickaxes and shovels were given on the neighboring hills of Adenau in April 1925, the opponents of the Eifelverein to the circuit project did not disarm and expressed their grievances to Dr. Creutz, administrator of the circle of 'Adenau and president of the local ADAC section. Unable to decently dismiss with a simple wave of the hand the protests of the Friends of the Eifel and the nature protection societies, he organized a major public debate at Nürburg Castle which would be chaired by the president of the government of Koblenz, Dr. Brandt.

Creutz knew full well that organizing such a gathering would take time, and would de facto leave time for workers to advance on the ground. It was always a win and it would then be difficult for the protest organizations to stop the project which remained, remember, still subject to the official approval of the national government. The large gathering took place on July 10, 1925 and resulted in a rejection of the protest at the end of the day. Supporters of the circuit could therefore formalize the work.

The first stone of the buildings which would line the start and finish line was laid on September 27 and a model of the site sent to Berlin. There remained, however, an important point to be clarified: the name of the future circuit. Until now, we had stuck to “Mountain testing and racing circuit”, but everyone agreed that it was too long and unattractive. Once again a competition was launched, and the winner was the president of the honorary government of the Rhineland, Dr. Kruse: since the route would revolve around the ruins of the Nürburg, why not call it the Nürburgring?

Four companies shared the total surface area of the site and employed between 1500 and 2500 people (depending on the period) to build the Eifel giant. Carts on rails were used along the entire length of the circuit to remove or carry away materials. In places, we relied on existing roads to configure the route, between Hatzenbach (shortly after the starting line) and Adenauer Forst for example. On other sections, sections were created from scratch, such as the entire climb between Breidscheid (the bridge next to Adenau, the lowest point of the circuit) and Hohe Acht (the highest point).

One of the attractions of the future circuit was that its route naturally followed the curvatures of the landscape, including the beautiful and long descent which started from the ridges of Hohe Acht to Schwalbenschwanz, passing through places which would become legendary such as Wippermann, Brünnchen or Pflanzgarten. But one of the highlights of the project was undoubtedly this almost 360° turn located on a promontory above the surrounding mountains and valleys. The Karussell would become legendary.

The other particularity of the Nürburgring was that it was actually made up of two tracks: the Nordschleife (north track) with a length of 22.810 km and the Südschleife (southern track) with a length of 7.747 km, both sharing a common portion of 2.292 km. , the Start und Ziel. The complete tour including the south and north trails alone totaled 28.265 km. Let us point out straight away that this configuration was used very little, the Nordschleife monopolizing almost all the glory of the site, and leaving its "little sister" the Südschleife only races of lesser importance, until its total abandonment in the seventies.

The weather conditions were harsh during the winter of 1926-27, but thanks to excellent organization and motivating bonuses for the workers, the works management announced that the deadlines would be met. In order to convince the skeptics, the elite of the foreign press stationed in Germany were brought in in September 1926. The journalists were lugged all the way on a track not yet paved, but they were able the next day to inform their readers that this new circuit was really promising and would surpass anything that existed in Europe. Relaying this news, the International Sports Commission began to advertise this famous Nürburgring which would open its doors on June 11 and 12, 1927.

The initial circuit

The circuit was opened in 1927 and consisted of 3 different loops. The Südschleife (southern loop) is 7,747 km long, the Start und Ziel Schleife (Start/Finish loop) is 2,238 km long and the famous Nordschleife (north loop) is 20,810 km long. There was also a section of the Nordschleife specially designed for test drives, called Steilstrecke.

The Nürburgring is an automobile and motorcycle complex located in Nürburg, 90 km south of Cologne, Germany. The highest point of the circuit is at 620 meters above sea level on the pit straight, the lowest point being at 320 meters, on the Breidscheid side.

Equivalent to Cape Horn for sailors, K2 for mountaineers or the Mariana Trench for divers, the Nürburgring holds a very special place in the hearts of motor racing enthusiasts around the world. Steeped in a history punctuated by terrible accidents and chilling anecdotes, this fascinating track attracts and repels both with its complexity and its changing weather. However, many amateur drivers take their courage in both hands and make the trip every year to complete a few laps at the wheel of their personal cars, with sometimes unfortunate results.

The name “Nürburgring” (literally “Nürburg ring”) designates a site bringing together two circuits.

The first races

To avoid duplicating the motorcycle championship organized in Saxony that same weekend, the inauguration of the Nürburgring was postponed to the following week: the first race to take place on the new track was reserved for motorcycles. We had thought big in terms of the calendar since we were planning motorcycle, car and even bicycle competitions. Very quickly reality would catch up with the enthusiastic organizers: cyclists hardly interested the crowds on a circuit of this kind and their presence was soon no longer required in the Eifel. As for motorcycle races, they were quickly redirected to the Solitude circuit further south, even if later, major competitions on two wheels took place on the Nordschleife.

On Saturday June 18, 1927, under an overcast sky and "cool" weather (visitors of the day would thus have a small idea of the harsh climatic conditions of the Eifel, even in summer), the guests took their place on the starting line in front of the grand stand – which would soon house the famous Sporthotel – and listened to the speeches of officials and ministers who had traveled from Berlin for the occasion. They were then loaded into beautiful cars for a complete tour of the famous track, and the motorcycles were finally able to set off.

On June 19, 1927, Rudolf Caracciola won the very first race, stunning the crowd by taking the concrete track downhill from what would later become one of the most legendary corners in automobile racing around the world: the Karussell, which was originally intended only for drainage. Today it bears the official name of “Karussell Rudolf Caracciola”.

It was in 1935 and in front of 300,000 German spectators that the first legendary story of the Nürburgring was born, during a fierce battle in which the Italian Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 3.2 Liters emerged victorious, the first non-German to win a Grand Prix against the armada of Mercedes 4.9 Liters and Auto Union sponsored by the Nazis and who had dominated everything until then.

During the 1936 edition of the Eifelrennen (Eifel Race), the track was covered halfway in thick fog, forcing all drivers to slow down. All ? No. Bernd Rosemeyer, who knew the track like no other, lapped 30 seconds faster than all his rivals, including Nuvolari and Caracciola. During the Grand Prix of the same year, he broke the lap record in the race, becoming the first to go under 10 minutes.

For a long time, major auto races began to focus on the North Loop. Motorcycles and minor races using the less difficult South Loop. The talented pilots quickly became known as Ringmeisters. The race ended with the start of World War II. The track surface was severely damaged by tank traffic. Repairs were carried out at the cessation of hostilities and races resumed in 1947.

The Nazi era

From the beginning, the Nazi state had recognized the propagandistic possibilities of mass racing, particularly at the Nürburgring, and used subsidies to help German automakers build competitive racing cars. This was not surprising since he had owned 80% of the company since 1928. (Even though the 1933 German Grand Prix was canceled due to the lack of competitive German cars, the spokesman for press already knew this at Easter 1933: "We are once again at the forefront with the products of the Berlin International Motor Show, yes, we have taken the lead in building the most economical vehicle, [...] This is why our industry now faces a new task: to concentrate its energies on the international struggle for fast and fast machines in order to once again become a leader in this field.

“So in 1933 the Nürburgring remains what it was and what it wants to be: the most beautiful testing and touring road in the world, until one day these new and fast cars, which today are only being created in the feverishly working brains of our designers, clashing here in the gigantic and decisive battle. »

“Front line”, “leadership”, “international struggle”, “gigantic and decisive struggle” – these are not words chosen at random in April 1933, but imbued with an ideology that considered car and motorcycle racing as a kind of “proxy war” and which therefore also included the Nürburgring and the High Eifel for its own purposes. Only boxing was equally popular at the time and was used by journalists with a similar vocabulary. Issue 3 of the 1933 edition of "Der Nürburg-Ring" begins on the front page with a rising Adolf Hitler and the "Führer's warning": "Work is an honor! - Work creates a German duty ! Every German motorist should finally have their long-delayed car repairs carried out in workshops struggling for work. This 11th Eifel race for motorcycles and racing cars is therefore something of a turning point in the development of motorsport. It's the end of an era and already the beginning of a new one!

Adolf Hitler (far left) inspects one of the "Silver Arrows" developed by Mercedes and Auto Union. With government subsidies, racing cars were used to showcase Nazi propaganda as they dominated Grand Prix circuits in the 1930s.

On July 23, 1939, the last race of the “German Grand Prix” before the Second World War took place at the Nürburgring. More than 200,000 visitors showed up this weekend and celebrated his sixth victory in this classic with Rudolf Caracciola in a Mercedes. Less than six weeks later, Hitler's World War began, in view of which the cessation of racing at the Nürburgring and the resulting tourism seemed inconsequential. For six years, hedges and grasses grew in the concrete and asphalt of the race track, which was visibly falling into disrepair despite some donations from the automobile industry. The Wehrmacht settled in the Tribüne Hotel where the inhabitants of large bombed cities found accommodation. Former parking lots were used as arable land and pastures, the Mercedes tower as a stable. On March 8, 1945, a day after the capture of the Remagen Bridge, American troops drove out a German divisional command post at the "start and finish" with tank fire, used a section of the race track for the advanced with their heavy tracked vehicles and finally took it completely. The Grandstand Hotel suffered serious damage as a result of the ensuing Allied occupation and one of the two administrative buildings burned down. With the political end of the German Reich in May 1945, the supervisory board of the Nürburgring GmbH was also dissolved, which was placed under receivership in March 1946 by Allied Control Board Act No. 52 and was subordinated to the 'Ahrweiler Controlled Property Office until 1952. In September 1946, the new federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate became the legal successor to the former Reich property.

Shifting into higher gear

The races quickly grew in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. But as Formula 1 speeds increased, so did deaths. It was around this time, 1968 to be precise, that Stewart gave the track its famous nickname. The Nürburgring's narrow path and lack of runoff areas made it particularly dangerous. So much so that F1 drivers boycotted the track in 1970. The 1970 German Grand Prix had to be moved to the Hockenheimring. He, who had been fortified with safety barriers after F1 star Jim Clark's fatal accident in 1968, in which his Lotus hit a tree.

The Nordschleife has undergone a series of improvements, including the removal of some corners and the elimination of some of the dangerous bumps. Even so, there were still places on the track where a speeding car could take off, and rural development limited access to emergency vehicles. The German Grand Prix returned to the Nürburgring for 1971. But the track's location made television coverage difficult. Nicky Lauda, who set a track record of 6 minutes 58.6 seconds in 1975, proposed boycotting the 1976 GP, citing the track's continued safety deficiencies. His fellow drivers overruled him and Lauda was seriously injured in a violent crash during the race.

If a driver tells you that he is not afraid in the Ring, there are two possibilities: either he is lying or he is not going fast enough to understand what the Ring is.

Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 World Champion

The Nürburg experienced its share of accidents without really making the headlines, until the ultimate accident occurred which would traumatize the world and definitively give the name of green hell to this circuit: the crash of Niki Lauda on the 1st August 1976.

Niki Lauda came close to death in the blaze of his Ferrari, before returning to competition just a few weeks later.

The had started before the race took place, the drivers had already expressed reservations about safety on the terrible Eifel circuit; a safety that is naturally difficult to ensure on the longest route (by far) on the calendar, with its approximately 22.8 kilometers, its hundred turns, its countless climbs and descents, and its dizzying top speeds which made it (and still make it) one of the most dangerous circuits on the planet. The rain forecast for the weekend further added to the danger of the (West) German Grand Prix, the 1976 edition of which was, as we already knew, the last held on the Nordschleife before the Hockenheim circuit did not host its national Grand Prix in 1977.

But several drivers, Niki Lauda in the lead, opposed the holding of the race itself. A vote was organized among the players in the World Championship, who finally decided - by one vote - to compete in the event.

Chronicle of a death foretold

Contrary to popular belief, Lauda's accident is not the cause of the disappearance of the Nordschleife from the world championship calendar: the circuit did not obtain the extension of its approval by the CSI beyond 1976 , and even before Lauda's accident, it was planned that the 1976 edition would be the last to be held on the route which had become anachronistic due to the evolution of car performances, safety requirements and media requirements (it is difficult to broadcast on television in the best conditions an event contested on a route of more than twenty kilometers).

The circuit was abandoned by Formula 1 after the 1976 German Grand Prix and by motorcycling after the 1980 German Grand Prix.

The phoenix rises from the ashes

However, the Nordschleife was not abandoned because it hosted the 1,000 kilometers of the Nürburgring, the flagship event of the Endurance World Championship, for a few years until the construction of the new circuit.

In 1984, a race of champions was organized for the inauguration of the new Nürburgring track. This also corresponded with the release of the new Mercedes 190E which was made available for this gala race.

Today, the Nürburgring hosts several important races, including the German World Touring Car Championship race and the ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours. The place houses a hotel and an indoor theme park. The Nürburgring, as originally planned, is a major center of automotive development. In fact, car manufacturers rent the track for a total of three to four months per year.

What you need to know!

  • The North Loop of the Nürburgring (the “Nordschleife”), with a length of 20.832 km for 73 turns (33 lefts and 40 rights), was nicknamed the Green Hell by British champion Jackie Stewart. In addition to the North Loop, the Nürburgring has two other variants; the short circuit, with a length of 3.629 km including 11 turns, and the formidable Gesamtstrecke, a long version of the route stretching over 25.947 km!

  • The Nürburgring is also open to the general public in certain slots, which are called Touristenfahrten. These are generally open every day in spring and summer, from 5:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

  • Tickets for a tour can be purchased on site, at a rate of €30 per tour on weekends and €25 per tour during the week. For the most keen, a seasonal card allows unlimited access all year round, for €2,200.

  • In Germany the Nordschleife is considered a toll road, and not a circuit: there is certainly no speed limit, except near the paddocks, but overtaking on the right is prohibited and the code must be applied of the road.

  • Before setting off on the track with your personal vehicle, be aware that your insurance does not cover accidents that take place on the circuit, and that it is not possible to take out on-site protection. In the event of a problem, you will therefore have to pay out of your own pocket for all damage caused to the circuit, in addition to the deposit if you have rented a car. And suffice to say that the costs are extremely high. For example, be aware that it will cost you €600 to repair your vehicle, and €82 for an escort by security personnel, if your car is still running. If unfortunately the accident you caused results in the temporary closure of the circuit, it will cost you €350 per hour. The best thing is therefore not to overestimate yourself and to revise the route a little before going there, in order to avoid any risk of accident.

  • As it is an open road, any authorized vehicle can drive there, whether it is a sports car, a city car, a truck or a scooter, provided that it is approved for the road and that the exhaust does not exceed 95 decibels, which gives great performances.

  • You can rent taxis to go around, but they are not conventional taxis, but real cars with real drivers at the wheel. Many specialized agencies will be able to help you and offer you all kinds of vehicles, from the Volkswagen Golf GTI (around €250 per ride) to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS (around €399 per ride). It is also possible to board a Ring Taxi, piloted by a professional for a first ride on the track that will leave you with great memories! It costs €329 for a ride in a BMW M5 CS and up to €399 for a ride in a McLaren 720 S.

  • In the event of an accident there are 8 steps to follow: 1. The race commissioner takes out the yellow flag to indicate to the other participants that they are leaving the track. 2. 1 minute after your accident, you see an intervention vehicle arrive. He will first come to see if you are well, then secondly to see the damage caused. Cost of travel: €150 excluding tax. 3. Damn, the marshal explains to you in German that your exit from the track damaged 25 meters of safety railing and 20 meters must be replaced. For information, repairing 1 meter of guardrail will cost you €60.69 excluding tax. 4. Fortunately, 5 meters can be repaired. We add €17.59 excluding tax per meter to repair. 5. You have also damaged the supports of these guardrails which, placed every 2 meters, cost €79.19 excluding tax for the support. 6. The track had to be cleaned because of this accident (fluid on the track, debris from your mirror and front bumper) and as a result the Safety car had to go out for 1 hour. You do not pay for cleaning but leaving the Safety Car costs you €82 excluding tax per 30 minutes. 7. You must take the car off the track. Of course, we explain to you in German that you will have to go through the breakdown service company approved by the Nurburgring (a bit like on our French motorways – forget your classic assistance it will not take care of towing) and that will cost you 300 € including tax. 8. Finally leaving the route, you will have to call your own assistance to repatriate your vehicle. And depending on your insurance contract, your vehicle will be dropped off either at Porsche in Germany or France, or in the nearest multi-brand garage for Low Cost insurance contracts. Conclusion of the accident? To conclude: €30 toll + €150 intervention + 20 x €60.69 = €1,213.80 + 5 x €17.59 = €87.95 + 5 x €79.19 = €395.95 + 2 x €82 = €164 + €300 including VAT + German VAT at 19% = €2,723.92 payable on site by credit card or transfer.

  • Some brands, like Hyundai or BMW, have even decided to install a permanent test base on the North Loop, in order to test their car models as soon as they leave the workshop! And as you might expect, an unofficial competition ended up taking place between the different manufacturers. Everyone sets their record to prove that their latest model is the most efficient.

  • For accommodation, hotels are located almost on the edge of the slope or a few kilometers away, camping... the accommodation possibilities are quite numerous.

  • The Nürburgring Museum. Located near the circuit, this museum offers an impressive collection of historic racing cars, period photographs and objects linked to the world of motorsport,

In the shadow of the more than 800-year-old "Noureburg", the Nordschleife remains to this day one of the most beautiful and challenging race tracks in the world.


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