- Judging by this, I've never had a good hair cut... ever.

My First Nürburgring Trip

Because what's a family holiday without appendicitis and a racetrack?

9w ago
15.2K

I think it was at the point that we thumped down from the kerb and cut past the BMW 1 Series that it should have probably occurred to us that what we were doing was a bit of a silly idea. Generally speaking, you don't take your brand new car to the redline on the track weeks after first buying it. Especially if it's a brand new Toyota Hilux. And you're 440 miles from home. So how did we get here?

Well, this was supposed to be a small family holiday along the northern edge of Europe. All four of us, Mum, Dad, my sister and I loaded up into the new family bus (a factory fresh Toyota Hilux), pottering through Belgium and Germany. However, this initial plan didn't come to fruition. Days before we were due to leave, my sister's appendix decided to stop being a useless flap of skin and set about detonating within her body, she was rushed into the hospital one evening in an ambulance, the dog bit a paramedic a little bit and all hell broke loose. I somehow slept through all this. Mum stayed over with my sister in the hospital and they were going to be there a while. Which was an issue as it'd hamper the holiday plans and by hamper, I mean completely scupper. Mum suggested just Dad and I go. So a 'Boys' Own' adventure it became. The two of us packed up and headed off to Europe.

A ferry out of Dover deposited us neatly in Calais and then it was only a short drive down the coast to our first stop, the seaside town of De Haan in Belgium. I like De Haan. It's exactly what you expect a Belgian seaside town to be like. A promenade affording idyllic views of the channel, restaurants selling fresh seafood and 'frites'. Broad paved streets with beautiful architecture making up the majority of the area.

I can't remember much of the hotel, but I do remember a German couple asking me about breakfast; a fruitless task as I know very little German, and Dad nearly dropping the screen from the window out of it. We stayed only one night and the next morning I elected to go for a swim. I underestimated just how tidal the area was and found myself about a kilometre from the water so just ended up having a cold and undignified paddle about at 6:30am. Still, our cavalcade of adventure motored on, next stop, Germany.

We ploughed on through Belgium, heading south away from the coast, stopping at a small theme park called Plopsypark. Amusing name aside, highlights from here? Definitely the carting. It's at this point I'm beginning to get into cars and racing and going fast, so being plonked in a whizzy little fun fair kart for a few hot laps was incredibly appealing. Especially as I didn't come last and managed to overtake someone, which no doubt did my ego a great favour. Still, we pushed on into the valleys of Germany aiming for our stop for the next few days. Manfred's.

It wasn't actually called Manfred's, it was actually Gasthof Pension Kramer-Koch. It's a small BnB run by a chap called Manfred that Dad had been visiting there fairly regularly since the 90s when he and his mates would stay there when visiting the 'Ring on their motorbikes. Yes, the 'Ring. A Meccah for the car enthusiast of Europe with bikers and drivers coming from across the continent to turn laps around the public road. And given that it was just Dad and myself, it'd be silly to not go. So go we did.

The car park at Adenau, the cool car spotting had begun.

The car park at Adenau, the cool car spotting had begun.

As you can imagine, I was tremendously excited as any small boy with a love of cars would be. I was at the Nurburgring. The car park bustled with a bevvy of cool cars, TVRs, Porsches, Lamborghinis jostled for space in the queue to get out onto the fabled track. And after much pleading, we too joined that queue. While we could have rented a car to blat around the circuit, we opted instead to take the truck. Our not yet run in, still new car smelling, Toyota Hilux. We shelled out the about €20 for a pass and rolled out onto the track, the three-litre diesel engine pulsing eagerly. None of what we were doing made any sort of sense, if we blew it, we're miles from home and would have no family car or workhorse until it was recovered and fixed. In reality, it was quite a stupid move, but I only know that now as an adult. As a young lad, I just sat there eagerly in the passenger seat as my hero put his driving glasses on.

How does something so cool start with something as mundane as the barriers you'd find at a Milton Keynes car park?

How does something so cool start with something as mundane as the barriers you'd find at a Milton Keynes car park?

Rolling out of the car park, through the ticket barrier, the excitement was palpable. Dad has done the 'Ring many times before. Mostly on motorbikes, at speed. And a few times with a racing school. We weren't facing this unprepared. The big rig built up speed as we set off for Bridge, the turbo whistling under the bonnet, charging 169 horsepower and 253 lb.ft of torque. I set a stopwatch on my phone. Fun fact, did you know most wrecked cars recovered from the Nurburgring are found with stopwatches still running?

To most 12 year olds in 2010, the Nissan GTR was about as good as it got. It was the benchmark car.

To most 12 year olds in 2010, the Nissan GTR was about as good as it got. It was the benchmark car.

The grey hulk squatted and rushed onwards, the greenery around seemingly blurring through the passenger window. The tyres groaning as the two thousand kilos of South African assembled metal leaned through the weaving turns of Hatzenbach before going light over Flugplatz. Pushing hard with only a running commentary of the corners and sections from Dad, we barreled through Fuchsröhre and Bergwerk. We might have been overtaken once or twice as we made our way around, but crucially, a good corner exit out of Aremberg saw us freight train past a hot 1 Series on the uphill climb out of the long right.

I'd like to think I've had a glow up since then. Or that my taste in clothes has improved?

I'd like to think I've had a glow up since then. Or that my taste in clothes has improved?

The most squeaky bottom moment of the whole thing was when Dad loaded onto the brakes, the big Toyota leaning forwards on its taut suspension, as you pass kilometre marker 13 going into the tight right of Klostertalkurve. Heaving the pickup truck around the 24th right-hander of the circuit before powering up to the iconic Caracciola-Karussell. Klostertal is a mildly terrifying experience as you've come out of a largely flat-out, highspeed section of Kesselchen and Mutkurve; ahead of you sits a tight right with an unsighted exit. The only thing you can see until late in the corner is the Armco on the far side of the track and the abandoned section of Steilstrecke. Steilstrecke is practically a hill climb segment that shortcuts out the first carousel, although it no longer makes up the layout of Nordschleife. The concrete blocks that create the segment are hugely abrasive when it comes to tyres, and the 27% incline saw cars reportedly topple backwards in the early years of the track. You can still see and use this section if you're visiting the track on foot or by bicycle. The result these days is a small run-off area and then the unwavering wall of metal of the barriers.

Despite only being 12 and not yet a smoker, I still knew that this livery was cool. I don't smoke now either, but that's not the point. It's a cool look.

Despite only being 12 and not yet a smoker, I still knew that this livery was cool. I don't smoke now either, but that's not the point. It's a cool look.

Leaning into the carousel the big diesel thumped over the concrete section, aiming for the tallest tree. Spot the towering pine in the crowd, aim for it and gun it to get the best exit from this unique turn. The from this point on, you're onto the final leg of the track, by now the tyres were howling out in pain, not even five thousand miles old, they were being pushed to their limits. While you're on the home run, nailing the remaining sections can make or break a lap time. Pflanzgarten saw the truck go light again and again as the writhing sinew of tarmac weaves through the woodland. Dad's knowledge of this section proving key to keeping the Hilux facing the write way and wheel-side down.

Another carousel, the smaller Kleines Karussell spits you out with two more turns to nail before the sprint down the Döttinger Höhe, the 2.135km straight back to where you begin. Burying the throttle on the final apex and running the rig wide to carry as much speed as possible onto the straight, we hammered down the straight, the speedometer needle inching its way around, passing into the triple figures.

Nearly running out of RPM, we passed under the gantry and I clicked off the stopwatch, 12 minutes, 59 seconds. An impressive feat, sort of. But a long way off of a lightly modified Ford Transit.

The only photo of the Hilux I could dig out. Stashed away in a London car park next to a Roller and a Fezza. My most squeaky bum parking job.

The only photo of the Hilux I could dig out. Stashed away in a London car park next to a Roller and a Fezza. My most squeaky bum parking job.

What an experience, arguably one of the ones that have led to me spending a great deal of time in my pyjamas writing about cars and trying in vain to call it a career. I just didn't know that then. But still. That's the story of how I ended up thumping around the Nurburgring in a 2010 Toyota Hilux.

The holiday went on from there, with a trip to Bruges and its chip museum and some more adventures. All in, this panned out to be a fantastic boy's own adventure. A formative experience. But what about you? Have you been to the 'Ring in something clearly inappropriate? Tell me your story in the comments.

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Comments (20)

  • That sounds really fun...I've only gotten to try this track on my Xbox 😅

      2 months ago
  • That's actually a not bad time especially for a Hilux. Very impressive. Must have been a serious hoot!

      2 months ago
  • That hero image is simply amazing

      2 months ago
  • Sounds like a hell of a fun time

      2 months ago
  • Great article, Jesse - felt like I was in the back seat with you! Well done - to you and your dad!

      2 months ago
    • Thank you, it was quite the experience.

        2 months ago
    • It's a bucket list trip for me - maybe 2022. (I need to make two trips to Amsterdam next year, one in January, and another in May).

      Apparently I've been around the Ring before - but I was a baby and don't remember the event, lol. It was in the 60's...

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        2 months ago
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