The Nürburgring is a motorsport complex around the village of Nürburg, Germany, and passing through many other towns in the Eifel Region. It features a modern Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old North loop track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. It is located about 70 km (43 mi) south of Cologne, and 120 km (75 mi) northwest of Frankfurt. The old track was nicknamed The Green Hell by Jackie Stewart and is widely considered one of the most demanding purpose-built racing circuits in the world.
The Nordschleife, or ‘North Loop’ is the famous 21km long track that is known as one of the most difficult and challenging race tracks the world over. The track was nicknamed the ‘Green Hell’ (or Grüne Hölle) by Jackie Stewart in 1960 – a name that has stuck to this day. The Nordschleife was constructed between 1925 and 1927, and created some 3000 jobs for the region. Also built at the same time as the Norschleife was the Südschleife, or ‘South Loop’. This 7.7km long track was primarily used for motorcycle racing, but was also able to be joined to the Nordscheleife to create a 29km long track, used in 72-hour endurance races. The Südschleife was considered a bit of a ‘poor cousin’ to the Nordschleife, and so did not gain the popularity of the longer track. It was left abandoned and now is broken up into sections, and paved over top of in parts – by public roads and by the Grand Prix track.
Primarily due to its (unmodified, original) extraordinary length of over 22 kilometres, and the lack of space due to its situation on the sides of the mountains, the Nordschleife section of the ‘Ring was unable to meet the ever-increasing safety requirements, and was also unsuitable for the burgeoning television market. Niki Lauda, the reigning world champion and only person ever to lap the full 22,835-metre (14.189 mi) Nordschleife in under 7 minutes (6:58.6, 1975), proposed to the other drivers that they boycott the circuit in 1976 because of the safety arrangements. The other drivers voted against the idea and the race went ahead. Lauda, ironically, crashed in his Ferrari, probably due to failure of the rear suspension. He was badly burned as his car was still loaded with fuel in lap 2. Lauda was saved by the combined actions of fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger, and Harald Ertl, rather than by the ill equipped track marshals. The crash also showed that the distances were rather long for regular fire engines and ambulances, even though the “ONS-Staffel” was equipped with a Porsche 911 rescue car, marked (R). This crash marked the end of the old Nürburgring for Formula One. It never hosted another F1 race again as the German Grand Prix was moved to the Hockenheimring for 1977.
The Nordschleife became it’s current 21km long configuration with the construction of the Grand-Prix track, adding in a bypass to the track when construction started in 1981.
The Nordschleife has remained a one-way, public toll-road for nearly 80 years except when it is closed off for testing purposes, training lessons, or racing events. Since its opening in 1927 the track has been used by the public for the so-called “Touristenfahrten,” i.e. to anyone with a road legal car or motorcycle, as well as tour buses, motor homes, or cars with trailers. It is opened mainly on Sundays, but also many Saturdays and weekday evenings. The track may be closed for weeks during the winter months depending on weather conditions and maintenance work.
German road law applies during Touristenfahrten sessions. There is no general speed limit although speed limits exist in certain areas in order to reduce noise and risks. Passing on the right is prohibited and the police prosecute poor driving with the aid of helicopters.
This Nürburgring version is a popular attraction for many driving and riding enthusiasts from all over the world, partly because of its history and the challenge it provides. The lack of oncoming traffic and intersections sets it apart from regular roads, and the absence of a blanket speed limit makes it an additional attraction.
Normal ticket buyers on these tourist days cannot quite complete a full lap of the 20.8 km (13 mile) Nordschleife, which bypasses the modern GP-Strecke, as they are required to slow down and pass through a 200-metre (220 yd) “pit lane” section where the toll gates are installed. There is also on busier days a mobile ticket barrier installed on the main straight in order to reduce the length of queues at the fixed barriers. This is open to all ticket holders. On rare occasions it is possible to drive both the Nordschleife and the Grand Prix circuit combined.
The "new" Nürburgring circuit - the GP Track was completed in 1984 and built to meet the highest safety standards. The track in its current configuration is 5,200m long (3.23 mi), and as of 2006 alternates the German Formula One Grand Prix with Hockenheim every year. The track is also used for the German round of the Superbike World Championship.
The ‘Ring has caught many people out as there is very little run-off and the Armco barrier will be hit at almost any speed should a vehicle leave the tarmac. The Teffers straight between Adenauer Forst and Metzgesfeld is known for its high number of expensive accidents.
Drivers who do crash have a responsibility of warning following vehicles that there has been an incident. If an accident occurs typical passer-by procedure is to stop only if needed. (Needs include stopping to render first aid or to warn incoming traffic.) Follow up accidents are frequent and, the less chaos at a scene, the less chance for another “follow-up” accident to occur. The ‘Ring, although for all intents and purposes a race track when used for racing, still remains a public road when opened to the public and is policed as such. Anyone caught or reported as driving dangerously can be fined or banned by the authorities. The costs can also be prohibitive with vehicle recovery, track closure penalties, and Armco repairs costing up to €15,000 out-of-pocket.