The story of the Green Hell
How Germany's very first track became such a great place for petrolheads. Note: James May probably doesn't approve this article
It's 22.8 kilometers long, and it's the most beautiful and one of the most dangerous track in the world. Carved in the woods of the Eifel mountains, the Nürburgring is a sacred ground for all car enthusiasts, and it was made so that Germans could show off their convincing architectural and technological supremacy.
Before 1927, German car makers were more technologically advanced, but they didn't have a proper test track to get the most out of their cars. They could only do some testing on the public track Avus, but that changed in 1927 when Nürburgring was born thanks to politics and the big German ego. This extreme track was made mostly in order for Germany to present its knowledge, power and dominance in the world.
Making of the Nürburgring. Credit: Evo.co.uk
The idea of the wildest track in the world came came to life in 1907 when Fiat humiliated German car manufacturers at the Kaiser Preis Grand Prix. Initially, it was supposed to be used for developing racecars, but the project was put on hold due to WWI. After the war, father of the Nürburgring and the president of ADAC dr. Otto Creutz made a deal with the Mayor of Cologne (later a chancellor) Konrad Adenauer to continue the project. He stated that this would be a good way to lower unemployment in this district. So, the construction began in 1925, and 2500 people worked two years to create this magnificent track.
The very first Nürburgring car race. Credit: Evo.co.uk
The entire project cost about $14 million Deutsche Marks, and it was presented as a track that could be separated on two parts-Südschleife (which was used only for smaller competitions and testing) and Nordschleife (which was supposed to be the mother of all race tracks).
Nürburgring had 172 corners (84 right-hand, 88 left-hand), accompanied with all possible slopes, radii and ascents. Almost every corner is made to get the most out of every car (or every thing) that tries to take it on. Today the track is a lot safer, but, back in the days, it was more than art. Extreme climbs and slopes in the middle of corners, forest blocking the vision, and huge ruins of the Nürburg castle-it was a proper Richard Wagner automotive opera.
The very first race held on this track. Credit: Flickr user Autohabit
In July 1927, Nordschleife was the host of its first race. It was a race of motorcycles and side-cars, and the very first Nordschleife winner was Toni Ulmen. The next day, Rudolph Caracciola a race in the class of over 5000cc on this track in his Mercedes-Benz Compressor Model S. Soon, the Nürburgring became known as a very demanding and tough track, but the WWII put the racing of halt and somewhat destroyed the track.
Caracciola with his Mercedes Compressor Model S. Credit: Dyler.com
After the Second World War, the racing continued and in 1951 this track hosted the most prestigious race of all-Formula 1. It was the first German Grand Prix since 1939, and the first to cross the line was Alberto Ascari, with Juan Manuel Fangio coming in 2nd and José Froilán González 3rd.
1951 German Grand Prix. Credit: F1-facts.com
These three are just some of the drivers that earned the nickname Ringmeister, along with Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Sir Jackie Stewart, Jackie Ickx, John Surtees and many more. Even though F1 cars were constantly showing some technological improvements, they became too fast for a track as dangerous as this, so in 1960, Sir Jackie Stewart gave it the famous nickname-the Green Hell. Until 1969, five F1 drivers died on the Nürburgring, which made it the second deadliest race track on the F1 calendar.
Ian Ashley's crash in 1975. Credit: DailyMail.co.uk
After Niki Lauda's horrific crash in 1976, F1 said its farewell to Nordschleife. It was a tough blow to Nürburgring, and the track became quieter. However, after some time, this track started to be used for something else...something that's used for even today.
Niki Lauda's crash in 1976. Credit: AutoGuide.com
At first, German car makers were using it to test some of their cars, but as the 1970s came with a huge number of sports cars and supercars, the Nordschleife became the place to test these new machines. A lot of manufacturers started to make some insane sporty cars which needed to be tested on a track that offers proper race track conditions and unpredictability of regular roads at the same time.
And that's exactly how you describe Nürburgring. In one lap, you can change four seasons and have encounters with almost the same conditions as on a standard road. No other track offers that. In a heartbeat, the Nürburgring was filled with test drivers from all around the world so that they can test their cars properly. By the end of 1980s, so many prototypes were circling the ring that new rules had to be applied. Many car manufacturers asked for exclusive access, but that all changed in 1990s.
The famous Carousel. Credit: RareDelights.com
The new rules stated that 16 weeks a year are offered exclusively for car makers to test their prototypes. But, what happens when there are no prototypes on the track? Well, you get the coolest place for petrolheads, where you can see Ferrari and a Vespa at the same time, an AMG Merc going flat out while carrying some bicycles on its roof, and where you can see a DHL van overtaking a VW polo.
You don't mess with DHL. Credit: Auto-moto-und-sport.de
During the tourist season, the track becomes something like the Wild West. If you have a driver's license and a car, you can drive around it. But, the rules are the same as on the actual roads, so overtaking is done only from the left side. And the drive is just awesome, because you get to drive on the most insane track in the world, and that's the experience you'll never forget.