Columnist for RaceDepartment
Let’s share our stories, about how we first learned driving on this iconic track.
Deciding to tackle this challenge, and learn driving the Nordschleife, is not an easy task. More than 20 kilometres of winding roads, depending on the layout you choose to drive on, made of small and big bumps, easy and tricky jumps, changes of elevations, camber and, whenever simulated, road conditions. It is one of those cases where you just decide to make a step forward, to prove you can do it too. Whether it is because you read about this legendary venue, saw epic races unfold on it, or just want to prove your skills for yourself or against other simracers, you understand that it is time to go bigger.
For years, I refused to drive on this track. ‘Understandably’, I tended to say to myself as if to offer a convenient excuse to hide behind, since my first proper sim was Grand Prix Legends. The Nordschleife there was just terrifying. Every corner could be the very last of your race, or practice stint, as it was incredibly easy to misjudge an apex entry, and losing grip was an all of a sudden experience where you could find yourself facing the wrong side of the road without warning. It was not a pleasant experience.
Sure, that did not discourage many other people that mastered it back then, and sure, I just had to practice more, or simply be bolder. I took the easy way out instead. Effortlessly, I said to myself that driving there was crazy (which is kind of true, after all), pointless, and that since I could be competitive in all of the other 10 locations there were in the game, I did not need to get mad over one simple place. I did not want to admit to myself the obvious, that that was not just “a simple place”. The king was naked, as the saying goes, but I refused to see it, and my simracing adventure went on.
Fast forward in time, by quite a lot of time honestly, and there I was, much older, not that much wiser all considering, completing the career mode of Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends. Not a sim by any means, still a very enjoyable game, it was fun to race a quite solid collection of Ferrari cars around some decently detailed tracks. As I was saying, physics were not that great (you could not spin the rear tyres, no matter what, just to name one of its big flaws) and it had outstanding bugs and an unconvincing AI, but somehow it managed to deliver what a casual racing game should be: relaxation from stress. Moreover, for someone like me who actually likes grinding (yes I do), the career was just perfect.
One (great) feature it had was that you could split the Nordschleife in different sectors (three, if my memory serves me right) and learn it gradually. The circuit itself was properly modelled, and there was a quite good-looking Ferrari 312/67 48 valve in the game’s roster. Tempting. I had come up to a point where I wanted, even though in such a safe environment, to see if I could maybe have better fortune than I had years before. I was still blinded by my own lies, believing after all that the track was not worth its reputation.
I then experienced a catharsis, a big one.
Driving systematically, sector through sector, I learned it by throwing the 312 around it, and the more I drove, the more fun I had. When I started recognizing every corner, clock decent lap times, and I was not crashing anymore, I understood that I simply wanted more. Long story short? Now I cannot stand a racing game or sim that has not the Nordschleife included (thankfully, that list is very slim nowadays). I also went back to GPL, even though the track there is still quite a different beast compared to the others, and it took me some time and effort to find any grade of confidence around that version too. Still, I would not consider myself to have it fully mastered yet in the old Papy sim, even after all these years.
As intricate as my “love story” with this circuit goes, I am sure that because of the nature of the place, I am not alone. Our lives are one big eventful narration made of many smaller interesting stories, and I am certain that it would be quite surprising to read about the way you too came to terms with the ‘Green Hell’. If you have any experience also at the real track, tell us about how that came to be. I believe that what makes learning the Nordschleife memorable is not the process itself, but the reasons why it happened.
As for me, I am off to another simracing adventure at this time of my life. This one’s called “Targa Florio”…
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 Referring to "The Emperor's New Clothes", a short story by Hans Christian Andersen.