For any motoring enthusiast, no trip to Europe would be complete without a visit to Germany’s legendary Nürburgring, the motoring Mecca that has redefined the way we judge automotive performance.
Home to the famous 24-hour race, the Ring remains the Holy Grail for motor sport, yet these days it’s mostly used by car manufacturers from around the globe as the ultimate proving ground. Such are the circuit’s demands that former F1 pilot, Jackie Stewart, dubbed it the "Green Hell".
But once you’ve made the pilgrimage to the Nürburgring, seen the cars and experienced the electric atmosphere, you will undoubtedly want more. You’ll want to drive.
And that’s no problem. You can do so in a Touristenfahrten (Public Driving) session.
Each evening from 5pm - 7pm during the warmer, safer months at the Nordschleife (the 20.8km Northern loop of the Ring), anyone with around 27 euros in their pocket and a current driver’s licence can drive a lap of this incredible place.
These public sessions at the Nürburgring are a tradition that dates back to the very birth of the circuit in 1927. They are the single most outstanding thing about the place and the main reason behind its global popularity. However, it’s not just about performance cars; anybody and everybody can be seen lapping the circuit on a weekend, from campervans to motorcycles and everything in between.
Let me assure you, one lap simply won’t be anywhere near satisfying enough. This hallowed stretch of tarmac is positively addictive.
If you really want to get to know the place, master ring driver Ron Simons from RSR says you’ll need to clock up well over 100 laps just to be mildly familiar with the 170 plus corners and dramatic shifts in elevation.
But if you haven’t freighted your own supercar to Germany, there are still one or two ways to get your backside trackside.
RSR Nurburg is the premier track rental house here in Nurburg, where you can rent anything from the tiny Renault Sport Twingo RS to a McLaren Supercar. The Twingo will cost you €159 for four laps, excluding fuel and lap tickets, while the Mp4-12C costs €2695 for the minimum six laps.
The full list of available cars is both extensive and impressive; Renault Clio RS200, Volkswagen Scirocco, Toyota GT86, Renault Megane RS265, BMW M135i F21, BMW M235i, Mini Cooper S JCW, BMW M3 E36, BMW M3 E92 V8, Lotus Exige Cup 260, Alfa Romeo 4C, Porsche Cayman S, Porsche Cayman GT4, Nissan GT-R and the Porsche GT3 991 PDK.
If you're coming from Australia or the UK, RSR Nurburg also have a decent selection of right-hand drive cars should you not be comfortable driving a left-hand drive vehicle.
They also cater for classic car enthusiasts with a collection that includes an Alfa Romeo Giulia Super ’72, Alfa Romeo Spider 2000, Alfa Romeo 75 V6, Mercedes-Benz 230SL ’66, Lancia Delta Integrale, Ferrari 308 GTS QV ’83, Lotus Eprit Turbo SE ’91 and Porsche 911 Carrera 3.0 ’77.
For those with on-track experience, there’s a Lotus Exige 240S track car, Renault Clio Cup race car, BMW 130i E81 race car (SP5 Class) and BMW M3 E46 race car available for rent.
On the other end of the spectrum, folks that find the Nürburgring simply too daunting to tackle by themselves can use the RSR ring taxi service. This means hot laps with the Queen of the Ring, Sabine Schmitz (of Top Gear fame) in her personal, track prepared Porsche GT3 RS car.
Ron Simons also has his own Ring taxi, which is a specially prepared Nissan GT-R that offers astonishing pace, especially in the wet. With Simons behind the wheel, we were passing fast moving exotics like they were standing still. Simply an awesome display of car control at mind-blowing speeds.
Variable weather conditions at the Ring can sometimes make things very tricky for anyone other than a professional race driver. One part of the track can be dry and sunny, while another section might be wet and slippery. A wet track is all the more challenging, as there are sections of the ring that are plastered with a substantial rubber build-up and these are extra slippery in the rain, providing almost no grip whatsoever.
It’s in these conditions where a less powerful car can make the most sense.
We chose the Renault Clio RS200, with its punchy 1.6-litre turbo engine that develops 150kW and 240Nm of torque driving the front wheels. Tipping the scales at just 1204kg and armed with uprated track brake discs and pads, performance road tyres and a dual-clutch transmission, the diminutive Renault is no slouch.
Mind, you still need to watch out for fast-moving traffic, as protocol insists, by moving to the right of the track and allowing the quicker car to pass. Regardless, there are a few sections where the Clio can exceed 220km/h even in the wet.
Virtually an unlimited number of cars can be allowed on the circuit during the public sessions (up to 10,000 on a busy day), so traffic is definitely a part of the challenge.
Don’t be surprised if you are passed by a late model Ferrari or Porsche (there are fleets of 911s here at any one time), or in our case a McLaren P1 driven over from the UK.
Accidents are also relatively common here, so helmets are mandatory. Luckily RSR provide them, along with a thorough safety briefing. On one of our laps we were met with a BMW M3 on the exit from Hohe Acht, before Wippermann, which had lost its entire front end and had come to rest in the middle of the track, facing the wrong way.
Driving the Ring in a properly prepared track-focused car from RSR is a bona fide bucket-list experience.
We’ll be back for sure, hopefully in dry conditions, because the 911 GT3 has my name on it, as does the M3 race car and Lotus 11.