A lot of people bristle at the idea of ever changing the Nürburgring. Given its long and storied history as a kind of sacred place where machines and humans are put to the ultimate test, why would you want to change anything? That’s what I thought too, until I realized the ‘Ring has already changed a lot. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Last month I wrote a piece for Jalopnik about the current status of the Nürburgring. There obviously has been major drama starting with the death of a spectator back in March. Since then there has been a major push to implement safety regulations at what is universally acknowledged as the most dangerous track in the world.
In case you were too lazy to read that, let me recap. Three major changes have been discussed: slowing the cars (with weight, engine restrictors, or tires), speed limits (which have already been implemented) and lastly changes to the circuit itself to allow the current crop of GT3 cars to compete safely at the track. I will admit that I have been one of the more vocal voices calling to leave the track the way it is and slow the faster cars.
My viewpoint has always been that there is a long list of historical precedent for banning cars that have become to quick for the limitations of the Green Hell. F1, Group C prototypes, and DTM racing on the Nordschleife all have fallen by the wayside while that track has stood resolute in defiance... or has it?
In his latest post, long time Nürburgring resident and bridgetogantry.com guru Dale Lomas takes a look at how the ‘Ring — still the most demanding, feared and respected in the world — has changed over the years.
One of the main reasons that I have been steadfast in my opposition to any changes to the track is the loss of relevance to anything that has come before.
I have always driven the Nordschleife with the (foolish) thought in the back of my head that I was challenging legendary Porsche driver Stefan Bellof’s insane 1983 lap record of 6 minutes 11.13 seconds in the factory Porsche 956 Group C Prototype. It was, and is, the benchmark of all lap times ever and a record that still stands at the ‘Ring today more than 30 years later.
In my mind, the circuit is the identical one that Bellof worked his magic on. I was massively proud to have lapped the same circuit within shouting distance of Stephan Bellof’s record lap (well, shouting distance if I was using a very large, 20,000 watt amplified megaphone.)
But now seeing this video and looking back at what the track used to be is absolutely humbling. The “modern” track is nowhere near as insane as the old circuit. Several of the bigger jumps have been removed or re-profiled and barriers now line the entire circuit preventing those whose bravery exceeds their talent, from littering the countryside with their machinery. Drivers lapping the ring a half a century ago were definitely a breed apart.
As much as modern racing drivers face danger on a regular basis, drivers back in Bellof’s era and before it faced death on a regular basis. Driving on a circuit that was far much challenging yet without all of the safety equipment we rely on today.
Would I have raced on the old circuit? Fuck yes, I would have. But would I take the same risks I do today? A three wide pass into Tiergarten? Nope. I’ll wait for the GP circuit to get around. Just a brush on the brakes into Schwedenkreuz? Nah. A big bite of the slow pedal for me, thanks.
My focus here has mainly been the ground pounding racecars that make their home of the Nordschleife, but let’s not forget that the street cars they’re based on have massively advanced as well. Fifty years ago a street car with 250 hp was pretty much exclusively in supercar territory. A turbocharged Porsche was just a gleam in Ferdinand’s eye. Lambo was still making farm implements and Konesegg (the man) was still a few years from being conceived.
Today we don’t even roll out of bed for less than 300 HP. Can you imagine a tourist session 50 years ago with the participants all driving modded WRXs and GT-Rs? The YouTube videos would definitely be more spectacular.
As would the fatalities.
Does that make the current circuit boring or less requiring of massive attachments? Absolutely not! The challenging nature of the track still remains. It’s just matured. Kind of like how Robert Downey Jr. has gone from coke-addled gate-crasher to Iron Man. You like them both but you kin of feel like you could hang out with the new improved Jr., have a few laughs, and it wouldn’t end up with the need for you to be cut out of your car at the end of the night.
I think Dale makes some good points, and taking a look at the old videos makes me rethink my view that the Nürburgring is some sacrosanct thing. That changing it somehow makes it less desirable, less of a legend.
I’m thinking that the Nürburgring has not only survived all of the changes made to it over the generations, but thrived. I hope that other solutions can be found and the track in its current form can continue on. But maybe, just maybe, the Nordschleife must change again.
I’ve said it before, sometimes history is just old.
Robb Holland races in the British Touring Car Championship for Rotek Racing. He’s a Jalopnik contributor who basically lives at the Nürburgring most of the year. He is also the tallest man in Germany.