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Official Review by Tarek Zohdi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Quietly lying in the Eifel region of the western part of Germany is the world’s longest permanent racing track. Despite the serenity, the Nürburgring is probably one of the few remaining racetracks that makes even experienced racers shiver. The respect and awe for the Ring is not much to do with the actual Formula 1 track, but with this huge green appendix north from it: the "Nordschleife". Beneath the 850 year-old Nürburg Castle lies the north loop, a 20.8 km long track that runs through the Eifel Mountains. It is known as "The Green Hell", providing serious challenges for both the car and the driver due to quick weather changes at certain parts of the track, narrow curves, and high elevation differences.
The Nürburgring was opened in 1927 and probably saw every racing star hit its asphalt. Legends were born here; even a group of "Ringmeisters" arose – among them icons like Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss, and Jackie Stewart. Then-reigning F1 champion Niki Lauda had his infamous fire accident here in 1976; numerous others weren’t so lucky to survive.
Nowadays, the Formula 1 race only takes place on the 5.1 km long south loop after the Nordschleife became too demanding for the latest Formula 1 cars, and drivers even threatened to boycott the track several times in the 1970s. The fastest lap on the Grand Prix track (called "GP-Strecke") belongs to former German Formula 1 star Michael Schumacher, who managed to win in the Eifel five times. Due to the fact that the German Grand Prix alternates between Nürburgring and the Hockenheimring, the Formula 1 circus now stops only every other year on the green hills of the Eifel region. But the Nürburging is also home to another noisy event. Every year in June, the world’s most popular Rock and Pop bands gather for one of the biggest music festival worldwide: "Rock am Ring".
(Note: all exchange rates are as of the time of this posting, August 2013.)
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Numerous vendors are spread around the Nürburgring premises. You'll find your almost-obligatory German sausages and beer, and in good racing and camping tradition, the barbeque is always on. Food and beverages, however, are obviously costly, even slightly more than at other sports grounds in the country. Bear in mind that you can't pay with cash or your plastic, and you have to get the so-called "ringºcard", and charge it up. Be forewarned that after the final event, you'll find long lines at only a few booths where you can get your excess cash back from the card.
When it comes to judging the atmosphere, motorsports regulars know that you have to separate between the actual event and the time around it. It is difficult for a lot of people to socialize during a race because of the earplugs and the unbelievably loud noise those F1 cars produce. Fans are nevertheless sensitive to changes in the race and applaud their favorite driver whenever he passes a rival on track or simply drives by the stand.
Off the track and on the camping grounds, you'll get invited to drinks or a barbeque by your tent neighbors, and can either join a party or simply lay back. Americans would call the partying "tailgating". Along with the smell and talk of cars and motors, testosterone easily fills the air. What really stands out in a soccer loving country like Germany, though, is the peacefulness among racing fans.
Well, it really depends on what your conceptions of a neighborhood really are. Are you looking for a venue in midst of a skyscraper city with hideous yachts in the nearby marina and noble clubs behind the pit lane? Well, no. The Nürburgring lies secluded and isolated between the Eifel Mountains. You feel like you can almost grasp the serenity. The only place to go is to local pubs and restaurants in the tiny villages where you might as well find a guest room for the weekend. So, why give it three stars? Because the scenery is simply stunning. Black and white cows graze on green fields with old villages on volcanic mountains in the background. That's why. And between Monaco and Singapore, you'll be desperate for a breath of fresh air.
Anyone who has ever been to a racing event knows that motorsports fans are truly passionate and dedicated loyal fans. There are no age or language barriers. Different nationalities supporting different drivers from different teams camp together, sit next to each other, and talk over what matters the most: rubber and oil.
Three autobahns (A1, A48, and A61) will get you within a few kilometers of the Ring. The access to the secluded venue in the Eifel Mountains naturally happens via country roads through little villages. Thus, you should expect crowded roads prior to the Sunday race, but especially after the Grand Prix has finished. Nevertheless, traffic seems to be well organized. After the event, police open both lanes of the roads in only one direction away from the venue, letting you reach the autobahn in a decent time.
There are numerous parking spaces with costs around the racetrack and near the campsites, many of them on fields. So, if you're there on a rainy day, you might need the help of the waiting farmer to pull you out for a little something. A complimentary shuttle bus takes you to the venue and back again.
Compared to other events, motorsports is a rather costly competition to experience. With prices from €150 ($199) and up until the fourth digit appears, regarding on which terrace you want to sit or stand, Formula 1 is not an event which you would book spontaneously. You would have to make up your mind about booking for a whole weekend and take advantage of the numerous activities and events apart from the Formula 1 excitements. In that case, you should take advantage of the nearby campsites, or you would need to account for both accommodation and costly food expenses. Another opportunity might be just to come for the race on Sunday. In that case, you save all the other expenses but, unfortunately, a single day ticket costs basically as much as a ticket for the whole weekend. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the race is rarely sold out.
Listing all the opportunities you have at the Nürburgring and around the Formula 1 weekend would probably take as long as the race itself. You can watch support races, the three other racing series travelling with the F1 circus (GP2/GP3/Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup), book a speedy "taxi" or a bus ride around the track, collect autographs, join a pit walk, or you can even drive with your own car around the famous Nordschleife. Hotels, shops, casinos, discos, driver's safety trainings, and racing karts around the track (not necessarily in this order) are only a few of the various activities around the Nürburgring.
As you can see, the Ring is not only a racetrack. Thanks to dubious politics and embezzled tax money, the Eifel now even enjoys a small amusement park with a roller coaster and a business center in, well, the middle of nowhere. Try and figure now how well visited the park outside racing events is.
The Nürburgring is one of the oldest and most prestigious racetracks in the world, and it is certainly on the bucket list of every true motorsports fan. And yes, they will be spoiled with all the nostalgia and extras beside the actual race.
However, for somebody who just wants to witness a Formula 1 race to get an idea, I would recommend visiting a race on a street circuit. The smell, the noise, the intensity - what motorsports is basically all about - is obviously much higher between urban canyons than on a specialized racetrack. Nevertheless, the Nürburgring is deemed to be one of the world's most beautiful and most legendary circuits. And rightly so.
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