One of several eateries trackside.

The Nurburgring — It’s about adapting, not racing

Car: Renaultsport Megane R26.R

Drive: Nurburgring Nordschleife (20.8km)


It’s called the Nordschleife, the much fabled and sometimes fearsome north loop of the Nurburgring in Germany, complete with 33 left and 40 right-hand corners.

And all day long a seemingly impenetrable, thick layer of dark, dank cloud has shrouded the Eiffel Mountains, with the temperature paralysed on a cold and demoralising 12 degrees Celsius.

Rain, it would seem, is not a case of if — but when.

Using someone else’s race car is the smart way to drive the Nordschleife, particularly if you’ve travelled half the way around the world.

Some months out from leaving, I did my homework, trawling the Net on how best to organise a drive.

Good ol’ Google threw up two excellent sites: (which covers off everything you could possibly want to know) and 

The latter are local track hire specialists that have a vast stable of cars to suit all budget and experience levels.

Various reviews put up a compelling case for why I should book with them.

Back to the here and now…

RSR instructor Craig Muirhead is about to give me a history lesson.

But forget the text books; this is very much hands-on the wheel of a pair of Lotus Exige Ss.

We start by leaving the village of Nürburg and check out what survives of the old and long-defunct Sudschleife (south loop). 

Standing there, in the middle of the narrow roadway and – even allowing for the thick forest encroaching in places it never would have been – it’s instantly obvious what a dangerous place this 7.7km of ‘Green Hell’ must have been, even by the madhouse standards of the day.

The authorities pulled the handbrake on the Sudschleife in 1964, and 20 years later much was resumed to make way for the new 5.148km Nurburgring F1 track facility.  

We then continue via a selection of deliciously twisty and billiard table-smooth roads (often used as tarmac rally stages) alongside the Nordschleife, with stops at Hatzenbach, Hocheichen, Wehrseifen, Breidscheid, Brünnchen and Pflanzgarten. 

The little Lotus is a pain to get into and out of so often, but it’s worth the effort.

At each location, Craig points out the ideal line and other idiosyncrasies of the track.

This amounts to a fairly detailed driver’s briefing, something every RSR Nurburg customer gets.

Not so most people that turn up with red mist visor on at these so-called Touristenfahrten (public lapping) sessions – which is a bit disconcerting.

The run from Hatzenbach to Hocheichen, 2-3km into the 20.8km that constitutes a lap, comprises nicely laid-out esses where it’s possible to see right through, from entry to exit.

A startling 80 per cent of the Nordschleife you reportedly can’t. 

“Note those white patches,” Craig indicates to a rubber-stained square nearly indistinguishable among the graffiti that pockmarks the road surface, “That’s your turn-in point.” 

Bloody hell, I think to myself, how am I going to spot that with any sort of confidence, what with something like a Nissan GT-R climbing all over me while I’m trying to line up an Integra Type R.

I’m enlightened to see that access to spectator viewing points at Breidscheid, the lowest point of the Nordschleife, is accessed from Adenau, the village where I had set up base for a week at the eclectic Blau Ecke Hotel. But I’m not so enthused by what I see on track. 

Sound barriers erected on the left have created a blind corner at what is a slow, downhill, off-camber left-hander, immediately after which is an access/exit point to the track.

This is one of the few sections where a speed limit applies – 50km/h in this instance – but, as Craig, informs, “No one observes it.”

Brunnchen attracts plenty of spectators because it’s regularly the scene of crashes, usually because drivers get a little lairy in showing off before their mates up on the hill with beer cans in hand.

There’s even an emergency phone number displayed on the inside of the track for spectators to ring when things go pear-shaped.

While we’re standing there, as if on cue, the localised yellow caution lights flick on to warn of an incident on track. 

Within minutes, the ‘hee haw’ of a klaxon signals the approach of paramedics, first a car with blue flashing light on top and ‘Doctor On-board’ signage, and then a ‘meat wagon’ (ambulance).

“Probably a bike rider has gone down,” Craig surmises, with the experience of the Nurburg local that he is.

It’s a sobering reminder of the risks out there, where a potentially explosive mix of cars, bikes, vans and buses share (and sometimes dispute) road space – at what can be approaching warp speeds.

It’s enough to make you question whether or not you really want to be among them. Momentarily.

But I’m determined to get on that horse – make that Renaultsport’s ultimate hot hatch, the Megane R26.R – so it’s back to RSR and get ready to press metal. 

Ready to roll in the Megane R26 R 1
Ready to roll in the Megane R26.R.


The plan is for Craig to ride shotgun alongside me on the first lap. We strap into the race harnesses, and with (optional, but recommended) open-face helmets on, trickle down the few hundred metres from RSR to a hopelessly inadequate car park that serves as the main entry and exit to the track. 

Thankfully, the weather’s remained dry and there are literally scores of cars and bikes with their drivers and riders focused on only one thing – getting out there.

It’s every man for himself, with vehicles coming from seemingly everywhere trying to filter through three boom gates. 

No one is using their peripheral vision, let alone making eye contact. If they won’t do that in a car park, I think to myself, what’s it going to be like on the track where you need to watch your mirrors at all times? 

Craig keeps up a veritable barrage of instruction, but at times I’m probably doing the opposite to what he’s telling me because there’s a GT3 RS homing in under brakes or pair of superbikes trying to pass, one each side.

Much as I try to sop up this avalanche of info, I finish the lap with the realisation that it’s going to be more about surviving an asphalt jungle rather than laying down anything meaningful.

Craig hops out and my wife slides into the race seat alongside me. She’s going to be my extra pair of eyes.

We scan our Ring Card (uploaded with the number of laps you’ve paid to do –€25 per lap Monday to Thursday, €30 Friday to Sunday) that operates the boom gate and head out on to the track where I put the hammer down. Hard. 

Hatzenbach comes up in no time at all, and I look for those tiny white patches that Craig pointed out. As it happens, they denote what is a late turn-in, but the R26.R joins the dots fuss-free and we swoop down to Hocheichen in one satisfying, fluid movement.

The fast Flugplatz right-hander is taken blind over the top of a hill, followed by a double-apex corner straight after and it’s here I find Craig’s advice that I’ll only need to hit the brakes once, and thereafter stay off the middle pedal for the next 4km — to be spot on. 

At Wehrseifen, the start of a challenging downhill run to Breidscheid, I do as he suggested and hang the Megane out wide until I see the letters ‘QU’ before apexing at ‘Sandra Audi’ and exiting with my left Toyo 888 delicately placed over ‘Recaro’.

I’d better explain: these adhoc ‘markers’ are among the graffiti that garnishes the road surface. 

Passing through Bergwerk, I fleetingly pay homage to where the great Niki Lauda had his near-fatal smash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, the last time Formula 1 raced on the Nordschleife.

I say ‘fleetingly’, because I’m otherwise preoccupied with an M3 monstering an Audi RS4 (which is just about to monster me) looming in my mirrors. I indicate right and move over – standard procedure. 

Next up is the fabled Carraciola-Karussell, at the 13-14km mark. My heart steps up a beat with the realisation that, for a fleeting moment in time, I’ve got this famous patch of rough, banked, concrete hairpin to myself.

I brake from about 150km/h to 80, dropping into the banking at the second concrete plate and stay committed to the lock I’ve applied. Awesome.    

And so, on it goes in a blur . . . attacking the kerbs on the run up and down to Brunnchen… Pflanzgarten… Schwalbenschwanz (say that after half a dozen schooners)

You don’t get to do a flying lap as such, as it’s mandatory to slow down and go through the boom gates in the Nurburg car park at the end of each time around. This makes lap timing irrelevant – just as the authorities would like.

It matters not. Each time around is to venture into the unknown. Just who you will meet, and where on the track, makes it a blind date of motorsport.

Traffic, at times, is fierce; then you can go 5-6km and swear you’ve got the track to yourself. On three of my laps, there’s at least one section under yellow caution because of an incident. None, it would seem, too serious. 

I overtake plenty of cars and bikes, and am blown by myself on several occasions. And therein lies the lesson – at the Nordschleife, there will always be someone quicker, or slower.

It’s how you adapt, often in a heartbeat or blink of an eye, to a situation that really makes this such a satisfying, if nut-sack extreme, thing to do.

And adapt is what the little R26.R does so well. It’s up for anything asked of it, adjusting to dramatic changes of direction and ultra-late braking, sometimes on the limit, with absolute compliance and assurance.

What an amazingly responsive road-come-trackday weapon. Little wonder it held the lap record at the Ring for a front-wheel-drive car since June 2008 until mid-2011, laying down an 8 min 16.9 secs time and obliterating the existing record by 18 seconds.

Even though these are the longest-distance laps I’ve ever driven in a car, the time goes by way too fast. It’s time to return the Megane to RSR.

The dashboard reading tells me the ambient temperature is still only 12 degrees, despite this, I’m sweating. And on adrenaline overload. 

If you’ve got a bucket list, then I suggest you note down ‘Nordschleife touristenfahrten’ somewhere near the top. Then add the words ‘Must do’. In caps.  Italicised. Bolded. And underscored.

Renaultsport Megane R26.R

Basic price: N/A

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo DOHC inline 4-cyl

Power: 169kW @ 5500 rpm

Torque: 310Nm @ 3000 rpm

Transmission: 6-spd manual

Weight: 1220kg

Drive: Front-wheel

0-100km/h: 5.9 secs 


CHECKOUT: Pie and a Ferrari — must be heaven

CHECKOUT: Triple play — the Thunderbolt Way


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *