Nearly every track has at least one legendary corner or section. These components can often define an entire course, and cement its reputation. What is Laguna Seca without the Corkscrew? Spa without Eau Rouge? Mount Panorama without the downhill esses? Most tracks are lucky to have one such element. Seemingly like all things about the Nürburgring, its collection of legendary sections is hyperbolic. There are dozens. It is laden with named corners. Of course, with 154 corners on hand, that is to be expected. While many sections string together, what makes the ‘Ring so challenging is how different each section is. Because of this, even professional racing drivers can find radically different things to love about the 20.8 kilometer track.
This is well illustrated by Connor di Phillippi, whose favorite section is Ex-Mühle. Even for those of us who have lapped the circuit only in simulators and videogames, Ex-Mühle is singularly frustrating. This slow, narrow complex encapsulates many of the ‘Ring’s less flattering aspects into a few hundred brutal yards. The track is narrow, but the grass to either side is even narrower. Get the entry wrong, or come up on an unexpectedly much-slower car mid-corner and you might not just lose time, you could turn your car into a pile of twisted metal and splintered carbon.
Two things seem to join the pros on this circuit. Being successful on the ‘Ring is incredibly dependent on being an adaptable driver, and the challenges add to the reward. On this antiquated circuit, even passing is a challenge. One driver notes that an effective pass can require a lap-time differential of more than ten seconds, but that tells just part of the story.
Take for instance, the Auto Union Type D Grand Prix car. Not long after the ‘Ring came into existence, this was among the top-crop of Grand Prix racers. It made 485 horsepower and could do almost 200mph, but it was under five feet wide. A modern 911 RSR is over 80 inches wide. Not only do you need to be much faster than the car you are passing, you need to take extreme care in minding the gap. The track was designed when top-tier racing cars could be multiple feet narrower than modern racing cars.
Porsche recently set the ultimate lap record at the Nürburgring, after holding the record for more than three decades. Seen in isolation, it can be hard to see why that is so important. This massive track isn’t just historic, it combines some of the most difficult aspects of the greatest circuits the world over with many of the challenges of swift road driving thanks to its narrowness and variable weather. It’s a maniacal place, and the world is better for it.