by Dale Lomas…..
As Germany copes with the Covid-19 pandemic, most schools in Germany are still closed, many employees are furloughed and all non-essential travel is still advised against. It’s not quite “shelter-in-place,” but it’s not far off. And yet today, under some strict rules, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, commonly referred to as “The Ring”, has just opened for “contactless driving.” And this could be an insight to the new normal of 2020.
The Nürburgring Nordschleife is the largest racetrack in Europe, one of our biggest public automotive venues in Germany and the background for some of the most spectacular YouTube videos of ordinary people attempting to drive it in their everyday cars!
So how has The Ring adapted to social distancing? Simply put, you can drive the 12.9-mile circuit during Touristenfahrten, the regularly-scheduled open-lapping sessions that the track is famous for, without ever speaking to another human being. Tickets can be bought online or through the Greenhell Driving app. Show your QR code or scan the transponder ticket, and you can simply drive through the gate and onto the world’s most challenging race track.
There are, however, some changes. The normal parking lots are closed, sealed off behind cold metal barriers. Instead, you’re invited to drive to the other side of Nürburg village, where the entire Nürburgring GP paddock has been divided up into socially-distant parking places fit to house an F-350 or two Hummers. Face masks are compulsory throughout the whole property. And the minimum distance between human beings? Two whole meters. Only two occupants are allowed per vehicle, and those are supposed to be from the same household. Yes, that means the infamous Nürburgring taxis are grounded for the foreseeable future.
So how did it all work on day one? Surprisingly well, I have to admit. Rental car companies were open — I booked a BMW 125i from Rent4Ring. Food was available from local fast-food vendors as either take-away or drive-in. (A schnitzel in a bread roll, thanks for asking.)
As for behaviour; colour me surprised, and proud of my fellow ‘Ringers. Yes, some of the visitors took to parking on the main approach roads in between laps, but distances were maintained. The low-impact parking at the Grand Prix track just one mile away was obviously too far for some of the visitors though. (I hope they can sense my disapproving tone and correct their behaviour accordingly.)
Also, the Polizei saw less than the usual amount of action, writing reports and taking photos of single-vehicle, loss-of-control traffic accidents. When duty called, they wore masks and stood a respectful distance away from the hapless drivers. As did the operators of the infamous low-loading flatbed trucks from the local towing company. The medics? No real work for them today, but they all have masks and equipment anyway. The circuit pays for the stand-by time of the professionals and equipment each day. If there wasn’t paramedic coverage available to book, the track wouldn’t open.
Overall, a small step back towards normalcy, but hey — any movement in that direction is welcome. This sentiment was echoed by Jim Malcovich from Mechanicfaq.com who, though more of a spectator at The Ring for my drive, helped me with this article.
Currently, the Nürburgring 24-hour race is scheduled for the last weekend of September, and the famous NLS (formerly VLN) endurance series is still planning on a short season beginning in June. And maybe thanks to today, neither of these seem unrealistic as Germany slowly lifts its lockdown.
While German tourism is still curtailed, and foreign travel restrictions mean few Americans will be able to lap The Ring anytime soon, when the borders do open, at least one motorsports venue will be ready for visitors.