Report by: Philip
Since 1964 the BMW Club Mulheim an der Ruhr has organised a 3 day training course on the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit.
I only found out about this course through David Halsall, our BMW GB dealer representative for Cotswold BMW where I work on Saturdays, who put me in touch with Barry Salmon, one of the bike instructors. Full details of what the course offers can be found at the club website.
Having seen what was on offer I decided to sign up for the course and this is my report.
Arriving late Sunday - 1st August 2010 - I just managed to make the course dinner at the Dorint hotel where I met my fellow participants in Group 11 - the motorbike group. The other 10 groups were all car groups. There were 204 participants in all with 23 of them being bikers, consisting of 9 Germans, including a lady, an Austrian and 13 Brits. There were 16 BMWs, 2 Triumphs, a Yamaha, a Honda, a Kawasaki, a Ducati and a Monotracer. For those of you wondering what a Monotracer is click on the link.
The BMWs consisted of 3 S1000 RRs, 3 R1200 GSs, 2 R1200 RTs, a K1300 R, a K1200 R, a K1300 GT, a K1200 GT, a R1200 R, a R1200 S, a HP2 Sport, and a K1200 GT (the older in line four GT).
The problem with the Monotracer was that the track is quite narrow so when we had to turn around at the start and end of each section the Monotracer quite often had to resort to engaging reverse gear. All this meant some extra delay and although Gerold, its driver, was a nice chap, I think I wasn't the only one who breathed a sigh of relief when its clutch packed in after the second section.
From a wider perspective even if you bought into the idea that you would get the "riding dynamics of a superbike combined with the safety, comfort, weather protection, practicality and prestige of a sportscar and the mileage of a small eco-car" (their website blurb) the consensus was that this thing has been created to solve a problem which didn't exist at a price which virtually no one would be prepared to pay.
Anyway enough of the Monotracer and back to the course.
There were 3 instructors - Chris Rossiter and Barry Salmon from the UK, both riding BMW R1200Ss, and Andre Freund from Germany, riding a Ducati 996. They probably had an aggregate 50 or 60 years of experience of riding the Nordschleife.
After dinner we had a briefing, focussing on circuit discipline, particularly when on track with the cars, and were told to be on track for 7.30am.
Virtually all the bikers were either staying at the Hotel zur Burg or the Hotel am Tiergarten in Nurburg. Both hotels are very pleasant and reasonably priced and have the advantage of only being a kilometre away from the entrance to the circuit.
In the morning every participant met on the circuit - on the main straight by the visitor entrance - in their groups.
The formal group shot (L) and some of the bikes in the group, including my S1000 RR numbered 193 (R)
The bikes were then let out to do a single "total lap" and our start point for the day was where we were lined up.
The rule for this lap was simple: no overtaking and follow the line set by the instructors as closely as you could. The aim over the next two days was to learn the so called "safety line" - the fastest way around the circuit whilst minimising risk. The way this is done is by "section training" and below you can see a map of the circuit that includes kilometre markers and section names.
Here's Barry leading his group through Karusell (L) and Andre leading a group through Pflanzgarten (R)
With 11 groups, the circuit is split into 11 sections. Our first section was from the circuit entrance along the straight through the left right kink at Tiergarten then the right left right at T13 (named after Tribune 13 - the stand at what used to be the entrance to the Nordschleife). We split into 3 groups, each behind an instructor, and followed the instructor's line to the end of the section. The last person through would raise his arm so the first instructor, who would by then be facing the opposite direction with his group behind him, would know the track was clear to return to the start point. The first person through would wait to take up the rear. This system ensured that everyone did at least one run immediately behind the instructor so they could see exactly where he was placing the bike.
We would spend 1 hour 20 minutes on each section so we might ride it 10 or so times. Sometimes we would stop part way through a section and the instructors would point out why we were turning in at a particular point, where the turn in point was or where the apex was. There are a lot of markings on the surface to indicate turn in, apex and exit points but only some of these were relevant to bikes and so learning which to ignore and which to pay attention to was important. As an example the turn in point for both Aremberg and Hohe Acht is marked by a join in the surface between one lot of surfacing and the next, whereas Kallenhard's turn in point is the white paint mark on the surface.
A view of the start of the Wipperman section
You can see the track bending to the right and then the left. The turn in point to the right hand element is just beyond where the photo was taken and is fairly obvious. You might think that the turn in point to the left hander is not far after you've clipped the kerb on the right but if you look closely you can see the protective wire netting for the marshal's post on the extreme right of the track and the turn in point for the left hander is right by the netting. The reason is that the apex for the left hander is hidden round the corner and if you don't hit that apex then you won't hit the apex for the next two rights.
Another example would be the Hatzenbach complex down the hill from T13. This is a left right left right left series of bends with a short gap before a right and left which takes you onto Flugplatz. Below you can see a photo of Chris Rossiter with the Hatzenbach complex marked on the track by T13 explaining the line.
Chris Rossiter explaining the line through the Hatzenbach complex
The first right has a double apex. If you don't hit the first apex then you won't hit the second apex at the right angle for the next left and so on. This means that when you hit Flugplatz you might be travelling at 10 to 15 mph less and that means you will be travelling 10 to 15 mph less all the way along Flugplatz and Schwedenkreuz to Aremberg.
As an example take a look at the photo below. The the rider at the top of the picture is entering Flugplatz from Hatzenbach 2 and you can tell that he has got the line wrong - he should be further over to his left as he's missed the apex on exit which means that his entry point was wrong.
Waiting on Flugplatz at the end of the Hatzenbach section
Something else to consider, as the photo below highlights, is that there is very little room between the track and the barriers. This is true for most of the circuit. You could be fractionally off line and get on the grass. The next step would be hitting the barriers. We all appreciated why the instructors kept insisting on being precise at all times and that meant being within inches rather than feet of key points along the 21,165 metres of the Nordschleife. Unfortunately one of the group did drop his bike on the Monday morning but luckily this was at Metzgesfelt 2 which was a slower corner with a bit more run off than usual. His bike was damaged but mostly it was cosmetic and he was back on track on Tuesday.
The S1000 on Pflantzgarten 2 at the 15 kilometre mark
Here is a photo of Karusell with all the bikes parked up on the inside of the corner and Chris explaining where the turn in point is – it’s the white paint mark to his left straddling the tarmac and the concrete.
Chris explaining where the turn in point is at Karusell
To hit this turn in point you simply ride your bike from the bottom of the hill to the top of the hill aiming directly at a white market fixed to the catch fencing. As you crest the brow the white paint marker is dead ahead of you.
From time to time the instructors would take up vantage points along a section and we would all ride it at 10 second intervals and come back for a critique from them - we might have turned in too early or too late or might have been carrying insufficient speed into the corner.
In the following photo we are just below Aremberg at the top of the drop down to Fuchsrohre and the climb up to Adenauer Forst.
At the top of the drop down to Fuchsrohre
And similarly waiting to start the run from the exit of Bergwerk up the Klostertal to Angst Kurve and the corner leading up to Karusell.
At the exit of Bergwerk
You might think that insufficient speed should not have been a problem. However, there are very steep descents and ascents in the circuit. The high point is a 618 meters ASL and the low point is at 320 metres ASL - a rise and fall of nearly a 1,000 feet. On some of the uphill sections the gradient will do all your braking for you and you need to keep the throttle open to hold the line - the approach along Klostertal to Angst curve and the approach to Hohe Acht from Karusell are both examples.
We did 3 sections on Monday morning, 3 on Monday afternoon, 3 on Tuesday morning and 2 on Tuesday afternoon. In between these times we would do "total lapping" usually starting behind the instructors for 1 or 2 laps before being free to circulate at our own pace.
During the "total lapping" periods the circuit would have both cars and bikes on it, although they would segregate the bikes from the faster cars - the circuit every morning looked like a Porsche GT2/GT3 and BMW M3 showroom with some Nissan GTRs, Chevrolet Corvettes etc thrown in. There were also a group consisting entirely of Wiesmanns. This is a stunning looking hand built German sports car with BMW engines as you can see from the photos below.
Silver Wiesmann roadster with a 4.8 litre BMW V8
Green Wiesmann coupe with a 5.0 litre V10 from the M5
The silver roadster has a 4.8 litre BMW V8 and the green coupe has the 5.0 litre V10 from the M5 under the bonnet. The smaller Wiesmanns behind the silver roadster in the second photo are all powered by the 3.2 litre M3 engine. They were seriously quick although the consensus on the pit lane wall was that the Nissan GTRs were the quickest thing out there, just shading the GT3s and M3s.
When cars were on the circuit you had to be very vigilant as the fact is that they could brake harder into corners and carry more corner speed. What we had was greater acceleration on some sections - for example the climb out of Bergwerk. Overall though you just had to accept that the majority of the cars were quicker. The rule was that overtaking is only allowed on the left - the 'Ring is a public road and therefore the normal rules of overtaking applied. The cars were also told that they should wait until we indicated right and pulled over before they overtook. Unfortunately there was a collision between one of our group and a Wiesmann on the exit from Brunchen 2. There were no witnesses and so it was a "he said she said". Luckily the biker stayed upright but his left hand footrest was ripped off and he had a badly bruised left ankle.
The only answer was to make regular mirror checks - as in every few seconds - as the fast cars would come up on you so quickly it almost defied belief.
So the section training and total lapping continued until 7.30pm on Monday and Tuesday. Our ability to ride the safety line would be assessed on Wednesday morning at 16 points along the circuit by the instructors. We all met for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Mullenbach on Tuesday evening and celebrated Barry's upcoming 60th Birthday in some style. The good news was that the bike assessment laps wouldn't start until some time after 11.00am so we could have a lie in on the Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday after a leisurely breakfast I decided that the best approach would be to go for a gentle ride rather than just turn up at the advised 11.00am start so as to get the bike and tyres warm, and to use that ride to get into the swing of riding tidily and precisely. So I had a gentle 15 mile trundle around the area before returning to the circuit. Just before I got there I spotted the sign on one of the GP circuit buildings and decided that it presented a decent photo opportunity. See what you think:
Then it was off for the assessed lap. For this lap we set off at about 1 minute intervals and again the rule was no overtaking so if you managed to catch the next rider up you would simply have to slow down and give them space. In fact the instructors appeared to have a starting line up with the fastest riders at the front so there was little danger of catching anyone up. I got a bit of a confidence boost when I saw that I would set off 6th - the instructors must have thought I could get a wriggle on if I needed to.
Andy Downes from MCN took this photo of me and the bike before the assessed lap
This brought home one of the greatest advantages of this course - you are extremely privileged to start a lap of the Nordschleife knowing that it is just you and the circuit - you are alone on it and can concentrate entirely on your lines. You will never get anything remotely like that experience on a "touristfahren" - a lap when the circuit is open to the public.
Everyone was going to be nervous to some degree before the lap and I was no exception. I concentrated on getting the first few bends through T13 right. I thought if I could do that it would settle me down and so it proved. Clearing those out of the way I could concentrate on the Hatzenbach complex and that went fairly well. The rest of the lap went well. I knew I made some mistakes but overall I was well satisfied and the grins on everyone's faces back in the paddock confirmed how much we had all enjoyed this unique experience.
This is me at Karusell (L) and again at Schwalbenschwanz (R)
We wouldn't know the results until the course dinner in the evening so a few of us went down to Adenau and had an icecream and soft drink at the cafe by the Breidschied bridge and waited for the open session to start at 1.00pm.
This session was the icing on the cake. 4.5 hours of unlimited lapping until the circuit was once again reopened to the public at about 6.00pm.
Of course this meant mixing it with the fast cars but it just meant remembering to make regular mirror checks. Sometimes laps would be disrupted quite a lot because of the need to make way for the cars but on other laps you might have the track to yourself - not surprising even with 200 cars and bikes potentially on circuit as everyone would take breaks and there were 21 kilometres to spread the rest over.
The other advantage of the course over "touristfahren" is that we didn't need to come into the paddock between laps - we could blast it down the main straight without stopping. Exiting the last bend at about 85 mph it wasn't too difficult to get the S1000 up to 165 mph+ even accounting for the fact that the section by the circuit entrance/exit is quite steeply uphill and there was a stiff headwind.
There are a number of viewing areas at trackside and I expect that the news that some extremely quick cars were circulating seemed to bring a fair number of spectators out. We didn't need to be reminded that if spectators congregated at a particular place it meant that there was a good chance of dropping the bike if you didn't get that section entirely right - Brunnchen was a good example, where the trackside ghouls were out in force.
I managed 10 complete laps in the afternoon in 2, 2, 2 and 4 lap sessions. It rained for about 10 minutes which meant taking extra special care until it dried out again but apart from that it was a pleasant afternoon's riding.
After that it was time to get changed, have a few beers and head over to the Dorint for the course dinner, at the end of which we were given our assessment sheets. Each section is scored on a scale of 1 to 10 as follows - German first with English translation although 10 really doesn't need any translation:
1. Weltmeister / World Champion
2. Ausgezeichnet / Extraordinary
3. Sehr Gut / Very good, both line and speed
4. Gut, zugig, sauberer streich / Good line but middling speed
5. Strich getroffen - befriedigend / Line correct but not flowing
6. Etwas ungenau - ausreichend / Line a bit wrong
7. Strich kaum getroffen - mangelhaft / Line wrong, failed
8. Strich gar nicht getroffen - ungenugend / Nothing right!
9. Fast blech - ungenugend / Nearly crashed
10. Blech oder totales chaos / Total mess, crashed!
(Thanks to Ben Lovejoy's Ringers website for the translations)
My own scores were:
3 - Hatzenbach 1
2 - Hatzenbach 2
3 - Flugplatz
4 - Schwedenkreuz
2 - Aremberg
4 - Adenauer Forst
3 - Metzgesfeld
5 - Kallenhardt
3 - Bergwerk
6 - Klostertalkurve
4 - Karusell
3 - Wipperman
4 - Eschbach
4 - Brunnchen4
4 - Pflanzgarten
7 - Schwalbenschwanz 1
That's an average of 3.8 so I was pleased.
Now those of you who check the course website will say that €1,490 is a large amount of money to pay for the course. Add in the cost of getting there plus 4 nights accomodation, beer money and petrol you are looking at around £2,000 in £Sterling.
However, let's also take into account the following:
- the Nordschleife is arguably the world's most beautiful and challenging circuit
- the club have exclusive use of the circuit
- you get expert in depth instruction covering the whole circuit
- you get 7 hours 40 minutes of scheduled total lapping over the 3 days
- you get to ride a lap with nothing else on the circuit (effectively)
- you would spend €800-€900 alone to get the equivalent number of laps on public days
and the cost though high is still at least IMO good value for money. I'll be going back next year.
My sincere thanks to Barry, Chris and Andre, our instructors, for the quality of their instruction and to my fellow participants for the pleasure of their company.