When my friend Alvin started planning our trip to Germany, he took ideas from all six of us on what to do when we landed in Munich. Although driving on the Autobahn was a given as part of our day trip to Castle Neuschwanstein, the “must do” bucket-list item I volunteered was to take a few laps around “Green Hell,” Germany’s Nurburgring racetrack.
Not all of us are “car people” per se, but Mark elected to join me as he’s also getting more involved in track days in recent years. So, while the other four spent an additional day in Stuttgart, Mark and I hopped in a rented Volkswagen Passat estate and took off down the Autobahn, headed to the town of Nurburg.
Constructed in 1927, the world-famous Nurburgring Nordschleife snakes through over 20 kilometers (12.9 miles) of scenic German countryside. Racer Jackie Stewart gave the track the nickname “the Green Hell” after winning the 1968 German Grand Prix amid rain and fog. According to the official Nordschleife website, the circuit is composed of 73 turns.
Although the Nurburgring is indeed a racetrack, and closed to public driving on manufacturer test days and during official races, there are a few ways to get out and conquer it yourself. Track days and track weekends, similar to those in the United States, are available, but the more attainable way to turn some laps is via Touristenfahrten.
The Nurburgring is technically considered a public highway, and during Touristenfahrten, anyone may get on track and drive, paying per-lap to see how fast they can get around. In years past, rental cars were commonly seen being hurled around the ‘Ring. As social media has continued to evolve, rental agencies have caught on and now include clauses stating the renter will face fines if caught taking a rented vehicle on the circuit.
So, Mark and I parked the Passat and checked in for our reservation with Rent4Ring. Rent4Ring is one of several operations in Nurburg that offer fully-prepared track cars for rent. We each picked the lowest-horsepower Suzuki Swift Sport, which came equipped with a racing seat, six-point harness, proper tires and brakes, freshly-changed brake fluid, and just 138 horsepower. Turns out, that was plenty.
Rent4Ring offers a comprehensive rental package that includes the car, fuel, and first lap for €179. We each chose the optional €199 insurance, and Mark asked for an instructor to ride along. I decided winging it was the way to go. Every lap after the first cost €75, so we agreed to only do two or three in the interest of our budgets.
After a safety briefing, we strapped in to the Swifts and drove the short distance to the Nurburgring’s entrance. Mark had the chatty, hilarious Nicholas riding shotgun. My passenger seat was empty. I swiped my card and drove through the entry gate. As I rowed through the gears of the Swift, I had this moment of “holy shit, I’m on the Nurburgring” pass through my head.
When I was getting strapped in, the owner of Rent4Ring came to check my harnesses. He noticed I was already done and commented, to which I replied that I had a weekend club racing hobby back home. He leaned in to the cabin and pointed. “If you hold the traction control button for 10 seconds, it turns off.” I noted the functionality, and never actually touched the traction control button.
With traction control fully enabled, I took my first lap a little gentle. The track layout was difficult to memorize, but easy enough to follow. The second lap saw much more confidence, and I realized just how easy the Swift Sport was to drive quickly. The tires had warmed up, my brain was engaged, and I was (relatively) flying.
Given the ‘Ring is considered a public highway, one rule does apply and is strictly enforced – pass only on the left, and move right for faster vehicles. Much like my Autobahn experience, my Nurburgring laps showed just how well Germans (and a few tourists, I suppose) can stay alert and drive safely at whatever speed.
As I pulled in from my second lap, I debated if I should go back out or return the Swift. “Well, I’m here, let’s do it,” I thought, and got back in line for one more go. Swipe, gate up, row gearbox.
My third and final lap was the most fun. I remembered segments of the track, and was able to improve my approach to various corners, picking up speed as a result. Lefts and rights, hard brakes, full throttle, third and fourth and sometimes fifth and back down again. And all too soon, it was over.
Mark and I wandered to a local pizza place for dinner and excitedly discussed our laps over slices and pints. Touristenfahrten and Rent4Ring provided a great “get your toes wet” experience, and the well-prepared Swift Sport had just enough power to keep things fun, but not so much that it made things overwhelming. After all, the track’s length and layout are overwhelming enough.
Next time, it seems a full track day is in order. Three laps just wasn’t enough. And maybe then I’ll be confident enough to disable the traction control.