Friday, February 15, 2008

7 October: Disappointment at the Nürburgring

Our fourth trip to the Nürburgring did not get off to an auspicious start. We thought we were being very clever when we anticipated a detour on the Autobahn that we had run into on our trip to Rallye Deutschland in August, and we got off at the appropriate exit despite the rather obscure detour signs. It was not until we were nearly to Trier that I took out the map and realized that we were going the wrong way…we were, in fact, heading almost due west towards the Mosel Valley and not north as we should have been. We should never have taken the detour, but stayed on our previous course for another hour or so. We had simply been on autopilot since we had so recently been up that way for the Rallye. Instead of backtracking, we ended up going past Trier and then cutting back northeast to get to Nürburg, which added about forty-five minutes to our trip.

We probably should have guessed what the day would be like when we arrived at the Nürburgring around 10:00 and found ourselves…stuck in traffic.
A long line of cars was backed up on the road just waiting to get into the entrance to the carpark, which could mean only one thing: the track was closed due to an accident. We parked in the already-crowded overflow grass lot and went in search of Jürgen. He was, naturally, hanging out in the parking lot checking out the hardware. He told us that he had gotten two laps in on his bike before we arrived, but that it was about as crowded as he had ever seen it. We joined the throngs of people milling around the entrance gates. Cars and motorcycles were squeezed into every available space, some just inches apart.

We bought an 8-lap ticket and I took a moment to take a photo of the “General Terms and Conditions for Driving on the Nürburgring” posted outside the ticket booth, which includes the following excerpt from the German Road Traffic Regulations, section 3, paragraph 1 (I should point out that these are the same conditions that apply when driving on the Autobahn):

Drivers are only allowed to drive at a speed where they are always in control of their vehicle. This speed must be suitable for the road, traffic, vision and weather conditions at the time of driving, as well as being within the range of the personal abilities of the driver and appropriate to the capacity of the vehicle and its load.

I wonder how many people take the time to ponder these terms before taking their shiny new BMW or Porsche out on the track for the first time.

When the announcement came that the track was reopened, we hurried back to the car and got in line once more. We hadn’t moved more than fifty feet when the track was closed again. This was starting to look bad…very bad. We went into the Grüne Hölle café for coffee; we came back out and wandered around some more. There were an astonishing number of foreign plates in the parking lot – dozens of drivers had come down from England, Sweden, the Netherlands, and as far away as former Soviet states to lay down tread on the ‘Ring this fine autumn day. We saw a group of middle-aged American guys clustered around a BMW emblazoned with They had their helmets resting prominently on the hood and were talking and laughing amongst themselves. I thought they looked a bit fidgety.

The track finally opened again and I was able to squeeze in two laps (John was letting me drive first for once, so he could “re-familiarize” himself with the track.) Those were the two most harrowing laps I have yet made of the ‘Ring. Never before had we seen so much traffic, cars driving so close together, or so much palpable pent-up energy and frustration. It was a recipe for disaster. A cherry red Porsche actually had the nerve to pass me on the right, which is technically illegal, even though I am very good about pulling to the right to let people pass. I even use my signal, for goodness’ sake. Needless to say, it was not exactly fun. I spent more time looking in my rear-view mirror and trying to get out of the way of a never-ending series of Porsches than actually following the line and enjoying the road.

The closest John got to getting on the track himself today was when he made it nearly to the entrance gate; there were three cars in front of him when the closure announcement came over the loudspeakers. It was almost noon, so, frustrated, we pulled out of line and went off to Bike World to have lunch. It was a lovely day and we sat outside, enjoying our Schnitzel and sunshine, but on the inside we were fuming. We had driven three hours to get here, presumedly for our fourth and final trip to the ‘Ring, and our day was being ruined by a bunch of octane-crazed loonies who couldn’t drive within their limits.

At some point Jürgen managed to get in another lap while we were still parked in line, but then I got a text message from him saying that something was up and he needed to make a pit stop. We met him in the grass lot and he told us that he had been run off the track by some jerk. I didn’t believe him at first, but sure enough, his black leather suit was a bit scuffed. He had crashed, but not badly – his right turn signal was torn off and he damaged his brake lever. Completely unphased, he opened up his bag of tools, took out a spare part, and repaired his bike right then and there. He went out for one more lap, by which point it was about 3:00 in the afternoon, and then told us he was done for the day. I looked at John and said, “Maybe we should call it quits too.” We could always give our leftover laps to Jürgen, but in the back of my mind I was already figuring that we would find a way to come back for another try before winter set in. Jürgen said, “I think that is a very good idea.”

We said our farewells and then John and I stood there for a few more minutes, watching the traffic and pondering the unfairness of it all. We figured we could stick around for another hour or two, as the track wasn’t closing until 5:00, and hope that things calmed down a little bit. Then we both looked at each other and realized that without Jürgen, we would be seriously up a creek if anything happened to us out on the track. Given the way people were driving today, such an unattractive outcome was looking less and less far-fetched. John, finally resigned to the fact that he would go lapless on his fourth trip to the Nürburgring, agreed to call it a day. Disappointed, but already formulating a plan for our fifth trip, we headed for home.

Someone did manage to snatch a picture of me at some point during my two laps (photo, right). We also took a lot of photographs in all of our time wandering around while the track was closed, which I have posted on Flickr:

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