The Nürburgring is a 150,000-capacity motorsports complex located in the town of Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It features a Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old "North loop" track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. The north loop is 20.8 km (12.9 mi) long and has more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) of elevation change from its lowest to highest points. Jackie Stewart nicknamed the old track "The Green Hell".
Originally, the track featured four configurations: the 28.265 km (17.563 mi)-long Gesamtstrecke ("Whole Course"), which in turn consisted of the 22.810 km (14.173 mi) Nordschleife ("North Loop"), and the 7.747 km (4.814 mi) Südschleife ("South Loop"). There also was a 2.281 km (1.417 mi) warm-up loop called Zielschleife ("Finish Loop") or Betonschleife ("Concrete Loop"), around the pit area.
Between 1982 and 1983 the start/finish area was demolished to create a new GP-Strecke, and this is used for all major and international racing events. However, the shortened Nordschleife is still in use for racing, testing and public access.
Since its opening in 1927, the track has been used by the public for the so-called Touristenfahrten, i.e. anyone with a road-legal car or motorcycle, as well as tour buses, motor homes, or cars with trailers. It is opened mainly on Sundays, but also many Saturdays and weekday evenings. The track may be closed for weeks during the winter months, depending on weather conditions and maintenance work. Passing on the right is prohibited, and some sections have speed limits.
This Nürburgring is a popular attraction for many driving enthusiasts and riders from all over the world, partly because of its history and the challenge it provides. The lack of oncoming traffic and intersections sets it apart from regular roads, and the absence of a blanket speed limit is a further attraction.
Normal ticket buyers on these tourist days cannot quite complete a full lap of the 20.8 km (12.9 mi) Nordschleife, which bypasses the modern GP-Strecke, as they are required to slow down and pass through a 200-metre (220 yd) "pit lane" section where the toll gates are installed. On busier days, a mobile ticket barrier is installed on the main straight in order to reduce the length of queues at the fixed barriers. This is open to all ticket holders. On rare occasions, it is possible to drive both the Nordschleife and the Grand Prix circuit combined.
Drivers interested in lap times often time themselves from the first bridge after the barriers to the last gantry (aka Bridge-to-Gantry or BTG time) before the exit. However, the track's general conditions state that any form of racing, including speed record attempts, is forbidden. The driver's insurance coverage may consequently be voided, leaving the driver fully liable for damage. Normal, non-racing, non-timed driving accidents might be covered by driver's insurance, but it is increasingly common for UK insurers especially to insert exclusion clauses that mean drivers and riders on the Nürburgring only have third-party coverage or are not covered at all.
Drivers who have crashed into the barriers, suffered mechanical failure or been otherwise required to be towed off track during Touristenfahrten sessions are referred to as having joined the "Bongard Club". This nickname is derived from the name of the company which operates the large yellow recovery flatbed trucks which ferry those unfortunate drivers and their vehicles to the nearest exit. Due to the high volume of traffic, there is an emphasis on quickly clearing and repairing any compromised safety measures so the track can be immediately re-opened for use.
Additionally, those found responsible for damage to the track and safety barriers on track are required to pay for those repairs, along with the time and cost associated with personnel and equipment to address those damages, making any accident or breakdown a potentially expensive incident. Because it is technically operated as a public toll road, failing to report an accident or instance where track surfaces are affected is considered unlawfully leaving the scene of an accident. This is all part of the rules and regulations which aim to ensure a safe experience for all visitors to the track.