I took a ton-up taxi on the road to hell
Andrew Eames drives his old banger in the tracks of the motor- racing aces on a former F1 course in Germany
Sunday 27 September 1998
But a ride with Sabine is not quite what it seems. One minute I was prepared to be putty in her hands, and eight-and-a-half minutes later I was a snivelling blob glued to her front seat by my own sweat. We'd both kept all our clothes on, no blows had been exchanged, and Sabine was chatting away blithely as if this sort of thing happened 25 times a day. Until her rubbers wore out.
Sabine Reck is the taxi driver from hell - Green Hell - the race track more correctly known as the Nordschleife (or old Nurburgring), in the forest-clad hills of Germany's Eifel region. Until the new Nurburgring was built up the hill in the 1970s, Formula One Grand Prix used to be held here. Today, Sabine still covers the 14-mile circuit at speeds of up to 160mph, with only a touch on the brakes for the 73 right-angle bends. I have never taken a corner so fast. After every 25 "taxi rides" her BMW needs a new set of tyres.
Her passengers are sometimes sick, and beg her to slow down. I pointed out with some smugness that I hadn't done either, but Sabine just smiled. Thanks, Sabine, you know how to make a chap feel better.
Doing 73 bends with Sabine is, believe it or not, part of a package holiday by Moswin Tours of Leicester. No prizes for guessing that it is geared to those who like to burn a bit of rubber themselves. To start with, there's the getting there, four hours on motorways and then an hour on sweeping country roads from the Channel ports.
Tacked between the Belgian Ardennes and the Rhine valley, the Eifel is volcanic, lush, forested, inhabited by wild moufflon (sheep) originally released by Hermann Goering, and its Ahr valley is one of very few red wine-making areas of Germany.
It has a history of being overlooked. In the days when fine scenery meant poor peasants, it used to be known as "Prussia's Siberia". The idea of a mountainous racetrack started as a job creation scheme, but the combination of steep chicanes in serene green proved a potent attraction.
The ring mesmerised decades of world-class drivers, until cars became simply too quick for it. Jackie Stewart christened it "Green Hell", and an accident in which Nikki Lauda was badly burned in 1976 finally led to its closure as a Formula One circuit. A neighbouring hilltop was cleared and a new grand prix circuit - the Nurburgring - was built, a mere 2.8 miles long, with all the right dimensions and safety measures for Formula One. The Luxembourg Grand Prix takes place there today.
But the Nordschleife was never dismantled. Lower grade races still take place here and people flock from all over Europe, and not just for the chance to blow cobwebs out of their carburettors. The track puts a new spin on the Sunday afternoon drive: on non-race weekends, it opens to the public.
Not everyone wants to take their prize wheels through hell. Actually, the BMW torrent nearly put me off. Then inspiration came from an unexpected quarter: a coach party from Blighty. If Ramblers of Hastings could do it, then so could I. My battered old Peugeot diesel has always been good at downhill, and for the first few kilometres I was pleased with how we coped. The windscreen filled with blurry images: a ribbon of tarmac sliding around in a pool of green. The car smelt of burning rubber, and the rev counter decided to have a rest.
Then the track started to climb. Uphill has never been our strongest point. Meteors with wheels began to appear in my rear-view mirror, and I was aware of the 12th-Century Nurburg castle peering snootily over the treetops at the crawling Englander.
At this point, I became aware of the advantages of the woodland setting. Assuming that no one in the castle had binoculars, only woodpeckers and pigeons could judge my performance - except for the finish, and I had a solution for that. Chugging along the final straight, I reached for a cassette. We rounded the last corner touching 30mph, but the car was booming with the opening bars of "Bat Out of Hell".
In the driving seat
Moswin Tours' (tel: 0116 271 9922) Green Hell weekends include return ferry crossings, three nights b&b accommodation in the Dorint Hotel, five journeys around the Nordschleife with your own car and one with the Ringtaxi, two 10-minute karting sessions and entrance into the museum, for pounds 289. For independent travellers, a single round of the Nordschleife costs 17DM (pounds 6), 12 rounds cost 165DM.
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