Racing at the Ring
Why Nurburgring is the ultimate experienceBy Jeanette Tuason, JP Tuason
Philippine Daily Inquirer
I have been to the Nurburgring thrice. The first time was in 2009 with our friend and former touring car champion Stuart Macdonald and our tire sponsor’s technical group, driving from Luxembourg to Nurburgring. The Ring, as it also known, is like Mecca or a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for all racers and enthusiasts. There are two racetracks at the Ring and the more famous of the two is called the North Loop built in 1925 with a total of 20.8 kilometers. The GP circuit was built in 1981 and had its first Formula 1 Race on May 12, 1984, making it just over the 22 km in length in total. The racetrack has a total of, hold your breath, 73 corners.
In our first trip, I remember the test drivers to be very accommodating. The first thing they did when we got into the car was to turn off all the driver aids in the BMW test cars. They laughed when I asked, “Was that a good idea?” and got this reply: “It makes the driving more exciting but dangerous.”
For those who have never been to the Ring, the North Loop is simply a roller-coaster ride without any rails. You do a lot of fast sweeping turns with elevation changes that are like going up and down a rollercoaster for over 10 minutes. You can get up to speeds of over 240 kph and go from flat out stretches to tight hairpins. One of the most famous turns is called the Carousel. It is a sharp-banked turn taken full on the gas which, if driven wrong, can flip the car over. Of course I had to ask, “So why is the Carousel so dangerous?” The test driver looked at me, then drove the car flat out into the Carousel and put the car on two wheels (almost flipping the car over). He went on to say, “Make sure you don’t leave the banking in the corner.” I nodded to acknowledge him as I felt the blood return to my pale face.
It was a great hot lap with those guys and I was pumped and ready to do my own laps around the track.
It was a shame that when our turn to drive came, the ring had to be closed as darkness fell. We decided to stay overnight at the famous Am Tiergarten Hotel that also houses the best steakhouse in the area, Pistenklause. A professional female racecar driver, Sabine Schimdt, who owns the Ring’s record of nine minutes (the usual track lap time in a car is about 12 minutes) in a van, owns the joint. The next day was again fruitless as the track was still closed. We then drove to Belgium with two grumpy racecar drivers.
Since we were flying from Frankfurt to Manila on the same trip, we headed back there the day before. Once again we decided to take a two-hour drive to Nurburg with a rented Mercedes C180 station wagon.
As soon as we drove into area, the GPS alerted: “Warning Restricted Area.” It came as a surprise since there is nothing in Nurburg but the racetrack, a Castle, some pubs and hotels. I can also say that Nurburg can be a bore for ladies since there is not much to do. People at the pubs are predominantly male and I’m not sure if it would be a good place for a group of girls to fish—there is just too much competition (cars and track).
Fortunately, we got our much-desired run that day.
My third trip to Nurburgring was made possible recently by a German Racing School/Team which invited me to the Porsche Sports Cup.
Driving the Nurburgring F1 circuit was such a treat and racing it with a real racecar was like a dream come true. We wanted to see if this race event is something we can bring our students (at Tuason Racing School) the following year.
We drove the North Loop like three times in a BMW 320d convertible and on the side, visited all the souvenir shops and visited all manufacturers’ test centers. This, for me, was Disneyland!
On the first day of my return to Nurburg, I got super-excited as I boarded the Porsche GT3 racecar, a 435 HP rear-wheel drive supercar I was to use for the race. Unfortunately, my first test day was marred by terrible weather since it was very cold and wetness and fog already rolled into some parts of the track. I had about half a lap late in the afternoon when I realized that if I continued driving I was probably going to end up wrecking a 160,000-euro racecar. Visibility was almost zero and the windshield was fogging up. Day one was over before it even got started.
The weather got better the next day. I was able to join the first practice session taking the team principal with me in the car to learn the track more quickly. I had only one chance left for practice before Qualifying so his inputs as we drove around were like gold. We went faster every lap and by the time we finished our session, he wasn’t feeling so good because of all the g-force in the car. First practice finished.
Qualifying came next and I lined up in the pre-grid with around 26 cars to get on to the track. I got out in the first group of six cars and quickly overtook a few but realized quickly that I did not have the pace to pass the quicker guys so I hung back and used the quicker guys as a marker for braking and learning the track some more. At the end of the session, I was able to gain confidence in the car and track finishing the session fourth fastest.
It was racecar overload with almost 500 Porsches on the track, a couple of Lambos, Maclarens, BMW M cars. We also had some friends who drove in to watch and joined us for the VIPs barbecue in a NBC tent-like setup for the weekend. German fare was served, grilled sausages, steaks, and potatoes.
Our last day was nice and dry but only 3 degrees. At least it was dry. Starting at fourth, we got out on track and immediately you are allowed to overtake. The race heat is a combination of time and consistency allowing all types of Porsche racecars to participate from GT3, GT3 RS and GT2 cars. Although you go wheel to wheel with other drivers, points are also earned from consistent laps put in though the race heat. At the end of the race, I finished 9th out of 26, it was a new way of racing for me, I was so used to just get faster and faster. I was happy though with the fact that I had put in the fastest time in my class and reached 240 kph on the straights.
The team, happy with the time I clocked in, invited me back to race a couple of levels up at Spa F1 Track in Belgium. They also said that they would use my lap data as basis to train students in the Nurburgring. The race I joined was a feeder program to eventually move drivers into the Super Sports Cup and Carrera Cup Germany (more competitive, more expensive).
For now, I will enjoy these experiences I’m set to do for 2012 and look forward to when TRS starts bringing Filipino drivers to enjoy racing in Europe.
It was really inspiring to see “racing for fun” at this level. Although there are a couple of serious guys on the way to the Carrera Cup or DTM, most of the racers there are just there to enjoy speed and the camaraderie. The kind of following they have for this event is almost the whole racing community in the country. It was such a good experience for a racer and race organizer to see, hear and feel. It is possible to bring together racers to just enjoy the speed and sport.
We only hope that we are able to make Pinoys realize that racing is a lifestyle and not just a game.
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