‘Ring Report: Chaps, Cars, and Crashes

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I know I’ve said it before, but there is no place on Earth like the Nurburgring. None. Nada. For this week’s trip we had the insane good fortune of going on a previously-arranged track day, and it also just so happened that my traveling companion is friendly with the organizers, so we were able to slide in under the auspices of professional journalism, but truth be told it’s very easy to become a 12 year-old boy again when you turn off the main road into the ‘ring complex.

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The problem was that the gorgeous new Porsche 911 GTS Carrera 4 that had served us well as a solid, steady, and speedy steed for the journey over from the UK was not insured for track use. Not wanting to find ourselves in the position of having to write a personal check to cover the total loss of a $150,000 car, we decided that the better part of valor would be to seek alternate means of transportation around the track.

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Enter Fredy Leinhard, Ralph Beck, and Dale Lomas, the team behind Rent4Ring. We had planned to pay these guys a visit at the outset of our journey anyway, being one of a small handful of firms specializing in ‘ring rentals, and with the reputation for top notch cars and instructors. They have also recently taken delivery of a few Artegas – but more on that later. The long and short of it is that as mentioned in a post the other day, I was banned from a multinational rental car company in 2008 for taking one of their cars on the track. These guys provide the solution to that dilemma – properly prepared and insured cars at varying levels of performance for use on the track.

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The Rent4Ring team was also involved in the track day, and brought a handful of Suzuki Swifts along with the Artegas for laps around the track. To get the cars ‘ring ready, they strip them out completely, install racing harnesses, roll cages, and track suspensions, and then they rent them out – to regular guys like us who still need to rent cars from the majors when traveling.. They start the track day with a briefing about the rules of the track – which are to be followed no matter what. The best way to have a bad day at the ring is to violate the rules. You don’t want a black flag. That means you’ve been driving like a git. You’re given 3 important things: 2 wristbands – 1 indicating that you have received the briefing and one to indicate that you can drive. The third thing is the telephone number for emergency services. You need them all before heading-out.

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Being jet-lagged and not wanting to become an obstacle for one of the numerous race cars that had made the day, I opted to ride this trip. It’s a thrill ride whether you ride or drive, but next time I’d like to plan a little bit of time running tourist laps prior to a track day even like this in order to dust-off my ‘ring wings. My first trip out was with Fredy in one of the Artegas. If you haven’t heard of these cars, you’re not alone. The short version is that it is a small, light 2-seater, designed by Fisker, running a VW Passat running gear mounted amidships. What is a moderately potent 3.6 liter V6 in a Passat becomes an absolute scream in a +/- 500kg aluminum-framed sports car. The beauty is, being German all of the ancillary equipment like traction control, AC, navigation, etc. is perfectly integrated, making the car seem very UN–kit-like. Rare in this space. I’d argue that they are better sorted than regular production Lotuses.

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Fredy told me to let him know if his driving exceeded my comfort zone, but not wanting to embarrass myself I grabbed the Jesus handle and held on for dear life. The car was brilliant – amazingly well-balanced and seemingly glued to the pavement. Fredy’s driving and casual banter put me at ease somewhat, but not wanting to distract him I adopted a “speak when spoken to” approach to things. We topped-out down the straightaway at a shade under 150mph. Truth be told, I could have done it all day long. I’ll be going back to Rent4Ring no doubt, given their friendly demeanor and possibly more importantly, their fantastic fleet. To get an idea, prices range from 99 Euros up to 899+, although the prices for Artega drives have not yet been published. Track insurance for your own car on the track could easily exceed those figures, and that still wouldn’t give you the race prep and access to the team’s expertise. Money well-spent by any measure considering the experience!

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As I was off in the Artega, my compatriot some how managed to procure a press fleet RenaultSport Clio 200 Cup that was, in fact, insured for the ‘ring. They should sell this car in the States. It gives you a whole new appreciation for the “hot hatch” sector that is so pervasive in Europe. It is basically a standard Clio outfitted with Recaros, kit suspension, and 200hp straight from the factory. They look every bit the part of the track day monster, and they make a fantastic noise. It’s a shame the cars that we don’t get due to our geography and/or the draconian importation rules around cars. A real shame.

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While I cannot recommend the ‘ring experience highly enough to anyone who will listen, it is critical to remember that it is incredibly easy to make a mistake at speed, as one unfortunate fellow in a nearly new Nissan Skyline GT-R discovered. The car was not track-prepared at all, and as such the roof, as you can see in the above, caved-in like nobody’s business. He walked away from the accident, slightly shaken but intact. Someone, somewhere was looking out for him – no question. The car, on the other hand, has clearly moved on.

Nonetheless, from my home in the greater Washington D.C. area, the ‘ring is an 8 hour flight and a one hour drive away, and there’s no telling how long the German government will continue supporting it as a destination, especially in light of the tens of millions of dollars they have poured into the complex, yet show no sign of recovering in the near future. Don’t wait too long. It’s totally worth the trip!

~Reed

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