Sunshine, Cars & The Nurburgring: An European Road Trip Adventure
Recently our very own Justin and Stu embarked on a very special European road trip with the ultimate goal of taking their own cars around the infamous Nurburgring. Would they complete their goal? Read on below to find out all about it...
A sunny August bank holiday, a rare thing in itself but this one was a scorcher with the temperatures in the mid-30s. With the last of the summer sunshine beating down and with endless clear blue skies on the horizon, it was the perfect weekend to embark on a European road trip that was designed to be a pilgrimage to a motorsport mecca, the infamous Nurburgring in Germany.
In the office, our Director Justin and our Marketing Manager Stu are both self-confessed petrolheads and this road trip is something they had both been talking about for a while. Seen as a petrolheads right of passage, driving the Nurburgring is one of those boxes in life that just has to be ticked, so with a long bank holiday looming and perfect weather, there was no better time to tick that box.
Naturally, the boys would choose to take their own cars on the trip and their two-car line up was made up of Justin’s E92 BMW M3 and Stu’s R56 Mini Cooper S. It was perhaps fitting that we would be taking two cars from the BMW Group where their family history is intertwined and their roots planted firmly in Germanys industrial heartland.
As for the trip itself, this would be split over three days and the starting point for the journey would be Brighton. With total mileage of just over 900 miles, the route would take us to Dover where we would embark on the ferry to land at Calais. From there a quick blast along the northern coast of France before navigating across the Belgian border would follow where we would stop for the first night before heading to the Nurburgring the following day.
Day 1: Brighton to Spa, Belgium
The day of departure dawned and it was a day that would start well before sunrise. The early morning condensation on the cars suggesting that Autumn was on its way, but this refreshing start wasn’t to last. With the forecast on the radio suggesting we were in for a hot one, Stu was perhaps thanking his lucky stars for booking his car in for a last-minute air-con regas just the day before.
Leaving as the sun rose we set our sat navs for the first destination of our trip, Dover Ferry port where we would make our crossing into France. Leaving before dawn afforded us mile upon mile of empty M25 and M20 before arriving on the Kent coast. Naturally given it was a sunny bank holiday weekend it was perhaps unsurprising that other people had similar plans as we had to wait around 90 minutes just to get through border control.
Arriving into France it would be a solid drive straight down to Spa, in Belgium where we would stop for the first night, however, within minutes the plan to stick together fell on its face as Stu misheard turn left for right and ended up heading in the wrong direction. In correcting his mistake he went wrong again! Ending up on two toll roads to make his way back to the planned route, it would be an hour or so before the two cars joined together again when Justin’s V8 engined M3 inevitably needed refuelling.
Thankfully the rest of the day proved issue free, even passing through a usually infamously busy Brussells proved traffic-free. Northern France and Belgium aren’t really raved about for their dramatic scenery, however, that said if you’re a fan of perfectly straight roads, then this is the place for you. It’s not until you dive deeper into Belgium that the scenery gets more and more beautiful and as we edged closer to Spa, the sweeping Alpine forests and rolling hills soon came into view.
Our stop for the first night was nestled in the heart of the Ardenne mountains. For those of you familiar with the name, Spa is also home to Spa-Francorchamps and our hotel was just a mere stone's throw away. With rooms overlooking the sweeping forests, it was a beautiful end to the day as the hot late summer sun, set.
Day 2: Spa, Belgium to Nurburgring, Germany
Rising fairly early Sunday morning ready for the Nurburgring, we were perhaps as not as fresh as we could have been after we enjoyed a few beers, a burger and some 80s classics courtesy of the hotel band the night before. After a quick visit to the breakfast buffet and several cups of coffee later we were ready for the off.
Keen to avoid the monotony of the previous day's endless motorways, we set a course for rural Belgium and Germany on route to the Nurburgring, a welcome break to the day before.
Gone were the endless motorways and in their place were tight and twisty undulating roads that wound themselves in and out of tiny and quaint villages that laced themselves all throughout the countryside. These roads allowed us to enjoy our cars a little more. With no other cars in sight, the drive over the German border was an enjoyable one and before we knew it, the Nurburgring was looming large.
Approaching from the northeast, you could easily be forgiven for not even realising that this part of the world was a world-renowned motorsport hub. Nestled in the heart of the dense forest, the first item of note that you are greeted with is a large section of Armco crash barrier and then a tunnel that passes under the main straight of the circuit. Upon exiting the tunnel the iconic Nurburg Castle looms large in its position overlooking the surrounding Eifel mountains.
Located just a matter of minutes further on is the famous Devils Diner where anyone wishing to take on the Nurburgring forms up before embarking on their lap. Much like the ferry and given the warm weather, the place was heaving. No matter which way you looked there were cars everywhere with even the overflow car parks at maximum capacity.
This mass of people gave the place a real buzz as other drivers and spectators alike admired the assembled vehicles. Stu has been fortunate enough to have visited the Nurburgring several times but he had never driven it. He also said that he’d never seen it as busy. Upon arrival, the circuit was closed so we stood and watched for a moment as more and more cars continued to flood into the circuit waiting areas.
Given that insurance for your own car is virtually impossible to obtain, and even then third party cover is incredibly expensive, it’s not surprising then that most vehicles effectively go out uninsured. With that in mind, some of the cars heading out were truly staggering. Whether it was a new Jaguar Project 8, a Porsche GT2 RS, Mercedes AMG GT or an eye-wateringly expensive Singer Porsche, there was seemingly no barrier to what cars drivers were willing to risk.
Suddenly the track went green and drivers rushed to get to their cars to take their place in the rapidly forming queue. Not wishing to hang about we did the same and strapped ourselves in for our Nurburgring debut.
To get on to the circuit you go through a car park style barrier where you tap your Nurburgring card. This opens the barrier. Ahead of you lies 13 miles of some of the most challenging and inherently dangerous tarmac in the world and 154 tight, twisty and undulating corners. Combine this tricky and demanding track layout with a dramatic mix of cars and you have the recipe for potential chaos.
Heading out on to the track it wasn’t long before we were being passed left right and centre by significantly faster Porsches and Lamborghini’s. Given the rate that faster cars approached from behind we most likely spent more time looking in our mirrors than we did looking ahead. This amount of time gazing backwards in the mirrors made really pushing it almost impossible as in this situation it was very easy to misjudge your braking zone and on the Nurburgring, if you make a mistake you will crash.
What felt like 30 seconds passed, the reality was more like 15 minutes, and we were back in the car park again having queued to come off the circuit. Reflecting on our experience as the cars cooled down we both agreed that whilst it was absolute chaos it was massive fun, so much so that Stu decided to go for a second lap.
Stu’s second lap came much later in the day and at a time when there were significantly fewer cars out on the track. This allowed Stu to focus much more on the driving and given a bit more freedom allowed him to do an 11-minute lap.
After our laps were complete we had time to watch the track action trackside before going for the, what seems to be, obligatory Nurburgring track sign photo opportunity. With this photo, the Nurburgring box was firmly ticked and it was time to set course back to our hotel.
The sun setting on the way home made for some stunning scenes as the low autumnal light cast it’s long shadows across the road. The roads and area as a whole around the Nurburgring are simply stunning from the moment you arrive through to the moment you leave. An hour or so’s drive back to the hotel and it was time for some post Nurburgring beers at the bar to debrief on what was a brilliant day.
Day 3: Spa, Belgium to Brighton
The final day of our short but sweet road trip and we had near enough 400 miles to cover.
Given our proximity to Circuit Spa-Francorchamps, it would have been a wasted opportunity to not go and visit another iconic circuit. Unfortunately, the Belgian Grand Prix was the following weekend and given past security incidents security was tight and therefore the circuit was closed to the general public. All was not lost however as we were able to catch a glimpse of the famous La Source hairpin and the tricky uphill Eau Rouge corners before grabbing a photo opportunity of the cars under the main circuit entrance sign.
Post Spa-Francorchamps we headed to the Belgian city of Liege where we stopped to have a quick look around. A crowded and bustling city, we didn’t have much time to take in the sights before heading to the ferry, after we’d stopped for all-important pizza of course.
By now time was getting on and given that it was a Monday evening rush-hour in Belgium, getting around Brussells was a total nightmare as the traffic came to a grinding halt. Once clear of Brussells traffic shackles we made good time through the rest of Belgium and France, reaching Calais port just in time to make our desired sailing. This wasn’t before Stu repeated his earlier mistake at the exact same junction and got his left’s and right’s wrong for the second time!
A smooth sail into the sunset was the closing chapter of the journey as we discussed our Nurburgring exploits and Stu’s lack of ability to know the difference between his left and right. The late-night arrival back into Dover brought our three-day road trip to a close.
Whilst there was a lot of mileage to cram into a short period of time, it’s certainly a trip and a route that we would recommend. Driving abroad is made easy thanks to the fantastically well-maintained motorways and for the most part, lack of traffic, which means you can cross entire countries within a matter of hours.
The Nurburgring is also a must for anyone with even a remote interest in cars and motorsport history. A place that’s etched itself into motorsports rich tapestry, it really does have a genuine buzz about it and it’s easy to see why so many people become addicted to the place. As for the scenery, it really is a stunning part of the world.
If you’re looking for a relatively quick and affordable road trip, we’d without a doubt recommend it. We’ll certainly be doing a follow-up, so watch this space...