Return to the Green Hell

The 24 Hours of the Nürburgring is a race not to be missed—even if you don’t like racing.

August 31, 2017
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Petrolheads know this place by name even if they haven’t visited in person: the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the biggest racetrack in the world, located in Germany’s Eifel mountains. In 1927, the circuit opened its doors for the first time, a grand event that created the foundation for a new era of motor racing. Rudolf Caracciola who won the first motor-car race at the Nürburgring, and was honored by having one of the most famous corners named after him: the Caracciola-Karussell.

Some nine decades later, the annual ADAC Zürich 24-hour race is part of the extraordinary Nürburgring story, a story written anew every year. Around the end of May, the Nürburgring becomes a destination for car enthusiasts from across the world, as well as race-car drivers, journalists, and me—a motorsports photographer who fell in love years ago with the nearly 14 miles of paved road hidden in the forest. Having visited many racetracks worldwide, I think the Nürburgring has something magical.

I’m far from alone in that view. Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart was so impressed by the demanding circuit he respectfully baptized it with the name “Green Hell.” The elevation changes as well as the unpredictable weather make this course seem like a many-armed monster, begging to be defeated. This is exactly why I return year after year; I can’t resist photographing the amazing cars roaring through the mountains and trees.

Finding the right place to watch or photograph at the Nordschleife isn’t an easy task. If you’re lucky, you’ll get handed a map with about 73 strange-sounding German names that displays the corners of this incredibly long racetrack. But before you even notice the track itself, you’ll hear the engines of the GT3 machines begin to roar. Filled with excitement and curiosity, I was instantly ready to hike up one of many hills to follow the cars around the circuit.

Many people ask me if the experience of the Nürburgring ever gets old. The answer is no. Like a child anxiously awaiting Christmas, I was eager to start my own 24-hour journey around the Nordschleife. This journey would also include meeting new and old friends who share the same excitement.

For the 2017 race, small privateer team Rinaldi Racing accepted the challenge to race against the big names, with a lot of Italian passion and German driving skills. As the only Ferrari in the race, Rinaldi’s 488 GT3 received a lot of attention, not just because of its singular role but also due to the beauty of its Italian design.

Anyone who initially underestimated the significance of a single Ferrari was quickly disabused of that notion. In the first session, the 488, whimsically wrapped in old copies of the German newspaper Wochenspiegel, showed the other participants how to drive the fastest lap.

Also from Issue 161

  • 812 Superfast first drive
  • Raffaele de Simone interview
  • 250 Europa
  • Goodwood Festival of Speed
  • 225 Sport
  • F1: Strength and weakness
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: Mosport
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