Hopefully you read our preview of Hyundai’s effort at next weekend’s Nürburgring 24-Hour race and are excited to get real-time updates from on the ground in the Nürburgring 24 Hour live thread.
Well, as with most trips we take, we try and squeeze as many editorial projects as we can into each plane flight and expense account meal, because we like to get as much bang for our buck as we can.
So that means some additional exciting editorial exercises have been added to next week’s trip, starting with the fact that I get to pack my helmet for this one.
Race the ‘Ring? Yes, easier than you thought.
I’ll kick off the week by participating in Motorsport-Akademie’s Nürburgring permit program, which combines online learning, classroom sessions, track walks and driving and will result in a permit to compete in competition events at the fabled 13-mile motorsports mecca.
“But, wait, don’t you already have a competition license?” you say, into your computer or mobile device, drawing troubled stares from whoever is sitting next to you. Well, yes, I hold several, but, as Motorsport-Akademie’s Christopher Bartz explains “The Nürburgring doesn’t care what license you have, or if you’re an F1 champion. Before you compete there you must complete their specific training. There are so many special rules, and additional safety measures that the track demands an additional permit.”
Much of the additional requirements stem from the unique configuration of the track that puts a premium on driver knowledge to ensure safety. And Bartz puts it “The track is very narrow [24 feet wide in most areas, which is narrower than the gates an many national-level autocrosses], and there are cars competing with very different speed potential. Most of the incidents actually occur between cars in different classes during passing.”
As an interesting side note, you may recall my story from the February 2016 issue detailing my running in the 2015 edition of the RCN Nürburgring Time Trial series.
In that story, I mentioned one of the more foreign elements of the competition was being at a race track and only seeing a single Miata. As it turns out, that lone NC-chassis MX-5 was driven by Motorsport-Akademie’s Christopher Bartz. So you know he’s cool.
Back to the licensing process, the course focuses on safety and the peculiarities of running on the ‘ring. I completed the online portion yesterday in a few hours, which included reading through seven sections of rules of the road, along with multiple short quizzes and a final exam. A 100% correct score was required to get my certificate of completion.
Some awkward translation issues slowed me down—it took me a while to figure out that “overcoming a towing bandage” referred to procedures used when passing a car on a tow rope—and it also took me a few tries before I realized that more than one answer in each multiple-choice question was sometimes necessary to select to successfully answer, but I managed to get through unscathed.
The subject matter will look and feel familiar to anyone with track experience, but there are a few key differences that you’ll need to pay attention to. For example, a yellow flag still means caution and that passing is restricted, but the area of effect of that yellow is that it lasts until the next control flag, not until you are clear of the incident as is the case on most tracks here in the U.S. So after a single waving yellow at one marshal station, you may see a double yellow at the next station, indicating a yellow with a 120kph speed limit, or a green flag, indicating that you are free to proceed with racing once you pass the point of the flag itself.
The test and permit are issued by the DMSB or Deutschemotorsportbund, which you can think of as Germany’s equivalent of the SCCA or NASA. It’s a national organization that licenses racers and sanctions events across the motorsports spectrum. I guess the biggest difference is that the “independent” motorsport club scene is not as prevalent in Germany as it is in the US. Although many clubs are locally organized, most if not all will run under DMSB sanction.
Now that I have my certificate from completing the online course and my completed application for my Nurburgring Class C permit—which cost €31 (about $34) I can do the training, which starts Tuesday afternoon at the ‘Ring with a classroom session. That’s followed by a track walk—well, actually a van-around with stops to check out particular corners since the whole course is 13 miles—and a final debrief to finish out the evening.
Wednesday, I get to suit up and hit the track. Well, helmet up at least, as technically the cars used in this phase of training must be street legal and insured. Race cars are allowed with special permission, but most students use milder, track-prepped street machinery. Getting signed off for my final permit requires 16 laps, so we do eight lead/follow laps behind an instructor, then two hours of open lapping limited only to fuel, tires and personal stamina.
Assuming I satisfy the requirements of the on-site instructors, I’ll be awarded a Nürburgring Class C permit, which allows me to contest the RCN series—essentially a time trial where every lap counts—or, perhaps most excitingly, the Nurburgring Historic Series events for youngtimers, which is basically made up of Radwood cars with roll cages.
Photography Credit: J.G. Pasterjak
I have no plans to contest those events this year, although I also have no plans to not contest those events this year, should someone want me to drive their MR2 in the Historic race Saturday morning.
However, my ticket to compete in that event will have been punched, but there’s no expiration date on the permit. I can turn that Class C card into a B class card which allows me to run the VLN enduro series at the Nürburgring by successfully completing an RCN event, and after three VLNs in less powerful cars I’ll be eligible to drive GT3 cars.
Yeah, I mean, none of that is going to happen, but it’s fun and satisfying being on the ladder just the same.
So, how much do it all cost? Well, surprisingly less than you might think. I mentioned the €31 application and test fee already. Motorsport-Akademie charges €870 (roughly $949) for their course, and you’ll need to bring your own car. Cars do not need to be fully safety-prepared aside from a tow hook and a power/weight ratio of 10hp/kg or better, so appropriate street cars are welcome. Likewise, personal safety gear is what we’d normally associate with a track day: helmets, pants and natural fibers are highly recommended.
If you’d like to rent a car, that’s a possibility as well, although you’ll need to rent from a specialized track rental company. No matter what Tom Brady tries to tell you, taking your Hertz rental on the Nürburgring is going to result in a large bill and a letter from some angry German lawyers. We’ll be borrowing a ‘Ring-prepped ride from Rent4Ring, a company that will set you up with a well-prepared car capable of completing the permit course for as little as €899 (about $981).
Photography Credit: Courtesy rent4ring.de
Our point of contact at Rent4Ring, Dale Lomas, is a former British automotive journalist—well, I think he’s still British, but no longer an auto journo, giving all the rest of us hope—who was also the founder of the Nürburgring fan site Bridge to Gantry.
Several years ago, he went all-in on his ‘Ring obsession by moving there and putting Rent4Ring on the map as one of the premier rental agencies at the track. I’m actually very excited to learn about some of the prep techniques they employ to keep their fleet running reliably while being pushed hard on one of the toughest road courses in the world by rental drivers.
After the course, I’ll be hanging out with Hyundai and their TCR team for the rest of the Nürburgring 24-hour weekend, giving you a behind-the-scenes looks at their racing operation. There might even be some other friends making guest appearances in the live thread–and in future editorial as well.
You can follow along and participate in the Nürburgring 24 Hour live thread–just remember that Germany is six hours ahead of east coast U.S. time, so if your question goes unanswered, I could be getting one of the very few hours of sleep I get during this event whenever I attend.