Let me just start with this, first–go do a tourist day at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. I really mean that. If you enjoy driving in almost any capacity it’s a must, and you won’t regret it. Here’s a little story, some helpful hints, and why it was extra bitchin' in some four-door American iron.
I got to the circuit a couple hours before the Nordschleife was due to open on a damp Saturday morning, unsure of exactly what the procedure would be for getting on track. It was, after all, a “tourist day” which would supposedly be easy and loose, but I still assumed it would have all the average track day hassle with waivers, lines, safety briefings, registration and all the rest of it. I’d heard that these weekends get busy to the point of borderline insanity, but even an hour before the track was due to open there was hardly anyone around.
“What’s the deal, here?” I thought. Not sure what else to do, I sat in the 2018 CTS-V that Cadillac kindly loaned me for our two-week trip, Wi-Fi on, reviewing onboard videos and glancing around every so often but picking up little activity. The track’s Twitter feed said 11A sharp for start time which was rapidly approaching. The corner marshals were starting to gather, the Devil’s Diner–an Americana-themed restaurant and gathering place right off the track–had begun to fire up, but little else. Did I miss something?
Then, suddenly, the place came alive. Cars of all shapes and sizes started filing into the various parking lots all around the Nordschleife circuit entrance; M3s of every generation, GT3s, Ferraris, Skylines, GTIs, and everything in between. The registration staff showed up to the ticketing building and, like a dog whistle had blown that I just couldn’t hear, people came from every direction to get in line. I hopped out and queued up, working out what to do along the way.
Here are some notes, tips, and context for doing this on your own.
Getting Your Green Hell Toll Pass Rocks
Maybe the most beautiful thing about Nordschleife tourist days is the simplicity. You get in line to register, saddle up at a computer, read through the terms and conditions that clearly outline your responsibilities, fill out some info, and wait for a member of the registration staff to become available. Once there they pull you up via your email and ask how much you’d like to put on your Green Hell Toll Pass.
One lap costs you 30 Euros on a weekend. Was I there just to do one lap? No. Does it get a little pricey if you go out there and just start ripping them off? Sort of. But consider what’s really going on here–you are getting to do a track day at one of the most epic racetracks in the world, and you can pay as you go without any further commitment. That’s totally awesome all by itself. You load up your toll pass with as many 30E credits as you want (there are some bulk packages that you save some on), and literally, that’s it. Getting registered to drive at most indoor karting places is more of a pain in the ass, and now you’re sorted to go rip at the Nordschleife in ten minutes or less.
Manifest Your Inner German-ness
The track is effectively treated as a toll road that’s self-regulated by autobahn driving rules. If you are licensed to drive on the autobahn, you are licensed to drive on the Nordschleife, and expected to know and the vigilantly follow the rules. At first this seems highly under-thought, but once you get on track you realize it’s perfectly-thought. I’d submit that there’s no other place in the world where you could get away with such a simple set of rules and avoid absolute chaos. But you’re in Germany, and it works in Germany.
If a car behind you is closing, you indicate right and move over. If you’re the approaching car, you must pass on the left. If the racing line is such that you’d naturally pass on the left and there’s plenty of room, nobody stresses much about waiting for the blinker. If only us Americans could get the left-lane rules through our thick skulls we might be able to have nice things like super-accessible pay-as-you-go track days. That's not the case.
Have the Gear and Vehicle YOU Want/Need
No safety gear is required–remember it’s a “toll road” not a “race track”–but most people have helmets nonetheless (I brought one each for my wife and I because it seemed absurd not to). I recommend a comfortable pair of driving shoes, which for me was my trusty checkered slip-on Vans (for real–great pedal feel and awesome for heel-toe in a street car with pedals that are far apart if necessary). There are a bunch of cars there with roll-cages, but in kind of a weird flipping of the track-day script, your car actually must be a street-legal vehicle with plates to run on one of these days.
I could make a good argument for almost any car being fun to drive around the place, but there is a hierarchy that you should be aware of. At the bottom of the food chain you have visitors that are cruising around in their rental cars just to say they’ve done a lap. Don’t be one of these people–the circuit is not for beginners, someone will invariably blow past you at 250+kph somewhere and you’ll end up doing the rest of the lap scared shitless looking in your rearview, the many ‘ring photogs will send shots of you in your car to your rental company and reap a decent reward for catching you regardless of how hard you’re driving the thing. There are also numerous rental places on-site that will be happy to loan you a car for lapping; spend some time researching your needs. At the top you have various combinations of fast cars–some dude managed to plate what appeared to be a 458 Challenge car–and fast drivers, where the local studs ripping in the GT3 RS and Merc GT ring taxis are at the tip of the spear. To be 100 percent clear, those guys and gals are not f*cking around, at all. Don’t be in their way for long. I got the feeling they really enjoy humbling everyone else out there, which, I mean, yeah. Wouldn’t you?
Don’t e a Wichser, Learn the Track Ahead of Time
Finally, take it from a professional who probably (definitely) has more experience getting up to speed quickly at a new track: don’t show up not knowing the way around. There are too many good resources for learning the layout of the Nordschleife to not spend the time utilizing them, and it’s simply not a place you’ll become familiar with by just driving it over a couple days if you come in cold. You don’t get that many laps, there are a ton of corners with few traditional references, and there are a lot of other cars out there to concern yourself with. If you want to really enjoy the experience, thoroughly learn the track before you get there so you can take full advantage of the laps you put in.
The track was still damp in a bunch of places when I first went out that Saturday, so I treated my first couple laps as reconnaissance both to get my bearings and feel out the V. What I immediately grasped in a whole new way than playing it in a game was that yes, this place is really fast–you don’t need to be in a McLaren to find yourself in excess of 250 kph (155 mph) around the place, and the kinks, bends and bumps on the “flatout” sections of track can require your full attention and then some–and man, no wonder they wad cars up around here on the regular, there’s nowhere friendly to send it off the track. Partway around my second lap I was thinking, “Maybe a drying Nordschleife isn’t the best place to test the maximum grip of these Pilot Super Spor- *BRRRAAHHHH-!KHPP!-BRAAAAHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh...* andddd there goes the GT3 RS ring taxi blowing by at full wick down the esses blasting some spray on my windshield.”
You enter and exit the course on the backstraight, and since you’ve got to stop to go through the toll gate before starting a new lap whether you stay on course or not, most people peel off. I found it worthwhile to give the big Caddy a little rest between laps to let the tires and brakes cool which seemed to be a pretty normal procedure. Next time around I’d bring an air-pressure gauge, thankfully I was able to borrow one when I thought I needed to bleed the pressures down a tad. It’s probably a good practice to take a breather, grab a water, and cruise around the epic parking lot scene just to let the adrenaline recede a little as well.
By the end of the day there had been plenty of sunlight and I felt pretty comfortable with the car and the track. Just getting familiar with how the whole situation there worked while solo basically took the whole day. First lap out Sunday morning it felt like a racetrack for the first time and I was beginning to realize that the big Cad could be quite a predator out there, so I went to hunt down some Porsches and M3s.
I figured the V for a weapon, but a car its size with stock ride height and exhaust is only going to get so much respect sitting still among an array of tuned, caged sportscars in Europe. Fortunately for me, closing rate is a universally understood language and the V spoke it fluently. Power from the 650hp supercharged LT4 came smoothly and relentlessly through the gears, the car feeling like it would never stop accelerating. I glanced at the heads-up display on a clean lap heading toward the big yump on the downhill straight after Flugplatz and the speedo was rolling over effortlessly at 270k before I pedaled it. Holy sh*t, this thing is movin’!
I ran the car’s chassis and suspension setup in full track-mode with the traction and stability controls completely turned off–I wanted the car to rotate a little extra over the curbs–but it remained ultra-stable where I needed it while maintaining a far more neutral cornering balance than I ever would have expected. I could stay totally committed over all the high-speed bumps and hammer the banked sections with a level of confidence reserved only for cars with serious tuning and chops. It’s worth noting that I personally own a CTS-V wagon of the previous generation, and while this car looks similar on the stat sheet it became abundantly clear that it’s an entirely more refined and better equipped car than mine. We could debate long and hard about whether tuning street cars at the Nürburgring makes them more or less fun as everyday street cars, but I tell you what, it DEFINITELY makes them more fun at the Nürburgring.
After getting well acquainted, the spacious cabin began to seem awfully empty so the obvious thing to do was add three more people and then go chase people down on track, right? My wife jumped in the front, my pals Rob and Darren piled in the back, and we set out on the prowl. For the first half the lap I was a little leery of how the tires and brakes would hold up with three extra people in the car, but then I realized we weren’t really losing the GT3 RS in front of us so 8/10ths turned into about 9.8/10ths. Screw it. Go time. The Nordschleife is so badass.