SEPTEMBER 25, 1995

What you may not know about the Nurburgring

WHEN motor racing people talk of the Nurburgring they do not mean the much-criticized modern circuit, with its constant radius corners and enormous run-off areas, which can be found in the tree-covered Eifel Mountains, 30 miles to the west of the pretty Rhineland town of Koblenz.

Even 11 years after it was built, the 2.8-mile Nurburgring Grand Prix Kurs - as it is known - is still referred to as "the new Nurburgring." The old Ring, a place of legendary acts and unbelievable grandeur, is still largely there, to remind the visitor that this was once the greatest racing circuit in the world.

Built in 1925, the original Nurburgring was, literally, a ring of road around the village of Nurburg - which should not be confused with the city of Nurnberg (Nuremburg) which is 200 miles away to the south-east.

Nurburg's only claim to fame, before the racing track was built, was a ruined 12th century castle. The circuit was planned to help alleviate unemployment and quickly won the support of the Lord Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, who would become the Chancellor of Germany many years later.

The circuit was not one track but two, which could be used together (making a total of 172 corners) or as separate entities. The Nordschleife (North Loop) was 14.2 glorious miles of tarmac and the Sudschleife (South Loop) was a mere 4.8-miles. Where the two tracks met there was the paddock, the pits, a magnificent wooden grandstand and even a place to stay - the Sporthotel.

The work was finished in June, 1927 and Rudi Caracciola won the first event.

This vast circuit was the site of Tazio Nuvolari's greatest victory for Alfa Romeo in 1935; of Juan-Manuel Fangio's greatest drive, fighting back from a delay in his Maserati 250F to win in 1957; and of Jackie Stewart's remarkable win in the fog of 1968, driving with his wrist in plaster.

Such a fast and spectacular track must also have its victims and all around the old Nurburgring there are places where the fast and wild died young. It was perhaps inevitable that safety would finally put paid to the old Ring, which was, by its very nature, impossible to make safe. The final straw came on August 1, 1976, when Niki Lauda crashed and was badly burned, the Austrian being saved by fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger and Harald Ertl rather than by the ill-equipped fire marshals.

F1 moved to Hockenheim, but other racing went on for another six years before work began on a new Nurburgring. This was a vast enterprise and when the work was finished in the Spring of 1984, it was decided to hold a race with one of the best grids in the history of the sport. The cars were identical Mercedes 190Es and the 20 drivers included Niki Lauda, KekeÊRosberg, Alain Prost, Alan Jones, Carlos Reutemann, Jacques Laffite, John Watson, Ayrton Senna, Jody Scheckter, James Hunt, StirlingÊMoss, Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Denny Hulme, John Surtees and Elio de Angelis. Senna beat Lauda by just over a second.

Formula 1 visited the new Nurburgring in October that year for the European Grand Prix, won by Alain Prost in a McLaren and again less than a year later - in August 1985 - when Michele Alboreto won the only German GP to be held at the new track. And then the Nurburgring disappeared from F1, the victim of commercial disputes between promoters and an unpopularity, which was based solely on the track it replaced.