Such an incredible experience barely have words to describe it - last weekend I had the honour of driving the unbelievable Nordschleife circuit in Germany.
Yes, unlike previous visits to the most legendary of tracks, this year the RaceDepartment crew decided it was about time to actually get behind the wheel of something powerful and take in the pleasures, pain, excitement and stress of the most important, impressive, daunting, scary and epic circuit in the world - the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Thanks to our friends at RSRNurburg, we had a great afternoon on the track driving a couple of RSR's deceptively quick Volkswagen Golf R cars - 306BHP of pure adrenaline around the most difficult race circuit in the whole world - to say we had a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation would be something of an understatement!
After we wrapped up our commitments for the latest round of the SRO E-Sport GT Series trackside at the Nürburgring Grand Prix Circuit, the team and I headed off for a short hop to the RSR office just alongside the main car entrance to the tourist layout of the Nordschleife. RSR was the same place we had the pleasure of visiting back in 2017, a day where we were blown away by the driving skills of RSR's very own Ron Simons, but this time it was a very different experience as we were set to head out onto the circuit with our own skills (or lack thereof) behind the wheel.
First job of the day was to sign away our lives on a number of disclaimer documents. This is Germany, and what we are about to do is borderline stupid, so a document absolving anyone other than ourselves of responsibility is pretty standard practice for this sort of activity - which didn't help any with our nerves, considering the insurance excess rises to an eyewatering £26,000... yes, £26k.. that's pretty much £26k more than any single one of us has access to.. so that certainly did a good job of focusing the mind to the task at hand...
Paperwork complete we had some time to sit down and relax in the drivers lounge before our induction by the awesome guys at RSR, and during that downtime (and several trips to the loo) the mood sort of calmed down enough for us to get some confidence back again - aided no end by the simulator in the corner running Assetto Corsa and, of course, the laserscanned version of Nords that came as part of one of the many post release DLC packs for the Kunos Simulazioni developed racing sim.
That confidence very quickly eroded however once the introduction and safety briefing began... 15 minutes of having the dangers and risks of high speed driving at this difficult track resulted in many a pale face amongst our group, gone were the cheeky comments and team banter, replaced by a reverential hush amongst the team as we each took a moment or two of private contemplation about the risks that lay ahead. Throw a group of competitive motorsport fans into a room ahead of going onto a track and you get plenty of self assured strutting around.. add in a cautionary tale of many past mishaps and expensive accidents and the result is a curious mix of private fear, desperate attempts to show no outward weakness and one or two disappearing acts towards the RSR toilets.. already we knew this was set to be a weekend no single person from the team would be forgetting in a hurry..
Pre-track action activity completed, it was time to head downstairs and go check out our cars, make one final phone call to various loved ones, smoke a last cigarette and prepare to get going for some fast lap action. The guys are RSR were epic throughout, Jonathan, Kostas and Juan Carlos were amazing throughout, giving us a great service all afternoon and really doing what was necessary to allow us the maximum opportunity to get everything from the day we possibly could. The rest, as they say, was down to our own performance behind the wheel.
Because we had two cars and seven drivers, we had to take it in turns getting out on track - and let me tell you, the wait felt like forever. For my part, due to having to take a call from one of my mates mid session, I didn't manage to strap myself into the car until the very last run of the day. I had the white Golf with Kostas beside me and Mr. (fellow sim racer) @Chris Haye in the back seat with camera in hand, and I was chomping at the bit to get out on track.
Strangely the car smelt a little like burning brakes when I got inside (thanks @Ricoow) which was a mild concern, made all the more noticeable by first Kostas walking around the car and looking at each wheel, then seeing him head into the garage and pull over one of the RSR mechanics to do the same activity. Oh dear. After a few minutes we eventually set off with a plan to drive around the service roads for a little while and just check the brakes are in good order before hitting the track on our hot lap. Just like being back in the good old UK, traffic jams appeared from nowhere ahead, so in the spirit of adventure we decided to abandon our checking of brakes and just go set a fast lap. I distinctly remember the words before we passed through the track gates.. "ah f*** it, it's only brakes.. what's the worst that can happen?". Indeed!
A little word of note here, I'd never driven a left hand drive car before and that is the most curious and bizarre experience I've had behind the wheel in quite a while. Frankly I found driving to the circuit itself far more concerning and difficult than actually lapping the track.. The wheel is on the wrong side, I don't care what anyone says!
Anyway, back to the lap. It's amazing when one is under pressure how the simple things are so easily forgotten. I pulled up at the entrance ready to flash the access card and couldn't remember how to open the window.. much panic later, following an explanation from Kostas that the window opening button is indeed in the same place as pretty much every car ever built, it was time to get onto the track, put the foot down and hope to whatever higher power you so decide that I don't bin it, or have someone bin it for me.
IT WAS INCREDIBLE.
Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing whatsoever prepares you for the sheer thrill and excitement that comes from pushing a 300+ bhp car around a legendary venue like the 'Green Hell'. Every bump, every camber, every rise and fall of the circuit are so alive and prominent in your hands and feet - its literally like having every single sense heightened to places you never thought possible - for 10 whole minutes of adrenaline fuelled nirvana. I've done nothing that comes close to the pleasure that gave me, and unless we go back, I'm likely to never reach that high again. It was that good.
The car was a beast. On face value it looks like a standard family VW Golf, but when on track the car comes alive in your hands. The steering is so precise and on point, the throttle picks up as soon as you breathe your foot against it (automatic gearbox aside) and the track tyres stick to the road like someone else's discarded chewing gum on the bottom of your favourite shoes. Amazing.
So, how does it compare to the world of sim racing? Honestly, in my humble opinion the two are nothing alike in any tangible way. The feeling at the wheel, the forces on your body, the noise of the car and track, the adrenaline of being moments away from disaster, these are all things that are simply far away from the normal experience of a sim racing player. I agree that race-craft, car control, driving under pressure, lines, strategy and the like are all skills one can acquire and hone in a racing simulation, but even with the best quality equipment available the virtual version of our favourite sport is still some way away from the experience of driving out on a circuit yourself.
It is so very difficult to fully appreciate the two disciplines with only a single lap in the real world on the circuit, I'm sure once you become more comfortable driving the car on the real Nords you are then able to spare more mental capacity to call upon your sim racing experience. But from my limited time on track, and this is coming from someone who absolutely loves our virtual hobby, for now at least, absolutely nothing comes close to the thrill of hitting the real tarmac and giving it your all - its addictive, its exhilarating, it is raw and unadulterated pleasure in the most simplest of forms. In sort, it's the best thing I've ever done.
Folks, if you haven't done it before and the opportunity is available to you, do not hesitate - provided you don't acquaint yourself with the Armco, you'll have a fantastic time.
For those of you who are interested, here is my full lap from the stunning Nordschleife aboard the stunning little VW Golf R - enjoy (I sure did!).
If you are interested in trying out the track for yourself, you can find details of how to contact RSR at their website: https://www.rsrnurburg.com/
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