Castrol

There have been many things said about the Nurburgring Nordschleife, with one of the most famous nicknames given to it being “The Green Hell”, given by Sir Jackie Stewart.

Many consider it the ultimate test for both man and machine, with many car companies using lap times achieved at the ‘Ring as benchmarks for the performance of their vehicles. The Ring has become both a marketing tool and a proving ground for car performance.

The jobs of spy photographers have become easier in a way too, as most spyshots of European cars these days can be snapped at the Ring while the cars are being tested there.

The Nurburgring track was completed in 1927 after 2 years of construction, led by architect Gustav Eichler. It was built to showcase German racing talent and engineering – man and machine.

The original circuit consisted of four track configurations with a total of 174 bends. The track is narrower than usual tracks, at 8 to 9 meters wide on average.

At the beginning, the four track configs are the Gesamtstretcke or Whole Course which is 28.265km long, the Nordschelife (Northern Loop) which is 22.8km long, the Sudschleife (Southern Loop) which is 7.747km long and the Zielschleife or “Finish Loop” which is 2.281km long.

The Nordschleife has undergone some architectural changes since it first opened in 1927. You can either drive the Nordschleife on its own which is 20.8km in length, or you can combine it with the modern Nurburgring GP F1 circuit as well as the GP circuit’s modern pit facilities for a total length of 24.4km. The full 24.4km is what’s used for 24 hour endurance races. We’ve already driven the shorter GP circuit the day before we hit the Nordschleife.

I won’t deny that I was both excited and very intimidated at the idea of having a go at the ‘Ring thanks to the Castrol EDGE Experience Nurburgring program.

With much having been said about the track, you wonder if the ‘Ring is really all that crazy as people make it out to be, or just an over exaggeration.

After all, there are many people who have “mastered” the ‘Ring on realistic computer games such as Gran Turismo.

Preparing yourself with computer games and perhaps even YouTube videos of the track might help but there’s really nothing like a real life experience there.

While the GP circuit is rather short at 4.5km long and quite safe as it was built in the 80s and has wide roads and lots of run-off area, the Nordschleife next to it is a completely different animal altogether.

The sheer length of the track means that you can be driving half of the track in rainy conditions and the other half of the track in sunny conditions.

Unfortunately for us that was exactly the weather situation at the Nordschleife that morning. Well, I wouldn’t say it was completely a bad thing, it meant we could experience exactly what made the Nordschleife so scary, but the only downside is we’d have to go a lot slower around the track.

The weather at the Nurburgring is crazy – the past 2 days were sunny and you could even get a sunburn from standing outside too long, but on the morning we were to drive the Nordschleife, it was pouring rain. Later in the afternoon after our driving session it even started snowing – such erratic weather!

There were loads of cars arranged for us for our drive – ranging from the 1-Series to the 7-Series and even SUVs like the X5, X6 and X6 M. The participants were divided randomly but grouped according to their country of origin.

All the SUVs including the torque-crazy X6 M were in a group, and so was the entire fleet of 7-Series. It’s a good thing we didn’t get those huge machines – I personally something smaller and less powerful would be more suitable.

I think Khairul and I ended up getting the most interesting vehicle of all. Our weapon for the day was the BMW 325d M-Sport Coupe, with a 6-speed manual transmission. I think it was the only manual transmission car in the entire fleet, if not one of the very few. You also don’t get 25d cars in Malaysia so this was something new for me to experience.

It was not my first time driving a manual transmission car in left hand drive but it was Khairul’s first time. But he got used to it pretty quick. This baby has 204 horsepower and 430Nm of torque.

We started our laps around the track in groups of about 8 to 10 cars, each with a BMW Driver Training instructor leading us in a BMW M3 Coupe pace car.

And then we found out – everything that has been said about the Nordschleife is true. The roads are narrow, so there’s not much of a safety net. If you slide and you don’t manage to catch your tail back again, you’re in a wall. There are so many elevation changes – uphills, downhills, tilts – all of these, you can’t feel when you’re driving the track in a racing game.

There are random tight turns that catch you by surprise right after a long fast section, and because the Nordschleife goes through a very nice and green countryside with lots of trees, you can’t really see far ahead to predict the track layout. There are a lot of blind corners and you really need to be on the ball and memorize the track if you want to go fast around it.

There are many corners which were seriously very slippery thanks to the rain, and thanks to the water and the off-camber mid-turn elevation changes, even as you try to get your car around the bend as smoothly as possible, the car can get a little tail happy and the DSC light turns on to let you know that BMW’s safety nets just saved your ass.

Trust me, when you drive here for the first time you’re going to wonder if the track you are driving on is the same one as the ones you see on YouTube videos or drove in your racing simulator as you’re going to feel many things that you could never feel watching a TV screen.

As we went around the turns, the BMW Driver Training instructor gave us a ‘tour’ of the ‘Ring, naming each turn as we approach it. My favorite is the Karussell, which is one of the slower corners on the circuit and takes you on a banked U-turn to the left. This is probably one of the best spectator and photography spots on the Ring as there are multiple viewing angles around the turn and it’s easy to snap a shot of the passing cars as it is a slow corner.

Some parts of the track felt just like going up and down a highland locally, just like Genting or Cameron, but with a one way road that’s wider than the narrow 2-lanes that go up Genting but narrower than a modern racetrack. The elevation changes are just that big, especially downhill. Now just add lots of rain into the picture and you’ll have an idea what driving on the Nurburgring is like.

The high torque and responsiveness of the 325d pedal made it challenging to go smoothly around the corners. But it was one of the most fun I’ve had in a fast car around a track! How many people can say they’ve driven on the Nordschleife? Khairul and I can, thanks to Castrol!

If you ever get a chance to visit the Nordschleife in the future (perhaps in the same contest next year if Castrol Malaysia decides to have one again), it is very important that you take it slow around your first one or two laps as it really has one of the most challenging tracks around, if not the most challenging. Leave your ego in your hotel room, seriously you don’t have to impress anyone.

You don’t even have to go fast around it, as the scenery is quite beautiful so you can focus on perfecting your driving lines and throttle play while you take in the lush green scenery. I took my time to look around while I was a passenger. You just gotta love European scenery.

If you’re not a very very very good driver, don’t pick a super powerful car to drive around the track – something like a 325i/330i or a Golf GTI with stability control should be good – loads of power will kill your brakes faster and amplify every little mistake you make. The track is very long so it’s going to be very confusing figuring out where you are in the lap.

And it’s a public road so public rules apply – only pass on the left and let faster cars pass you on the left, as it’s a left hand drive country.

All in all it was an amazing experience, and our winner Khairul is definitely one really really lucky man to be able to experience all of this. It all would not have happened if it were not for the Castrol EDGE Experience Nurburgring Challenge, so THANK YOU CASTROL! :)

VIDEO: Khairul driving a lap around the Nordschleife

Look after the jump for a huge photo gallery of the cars.

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