Nurburgring’s public days numbered?

UPDATE AutoWeek has updated this article and now it sounds as though there is some hope the circuit will remain open to the paying public.

01/24/12 Are the pays-your-money, takes-your-life-in-your-hands days of the Nurburgring's touristenfahren (tourist drives) numbered? According to United Kingdom-based motoring site Pistonheads, there's real worry in the Eifel Mountains that that could be the case.

The culprit? At a very base level, it's the number that enthusiasts love to debate–how quickly a car can lap the Green Hell, and the manufacturer bragging rights that come from having a car's suspension tuned on the famed circuit.

The Disneyfication of the 'Ring has also played a role. The circuit itself is publicly owned by the state of Rheinland-Pfalz and is under the administration of a private entity called Nürburgring Automotive. Note that these public-private racetrack partnerships can work. For example, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca–a track nearly as storied as the 'Ring–sits in a Monterey County park, is administrated by the nonprofit Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula and is supported by dollars from Mazda.

Setting aside this author's innate hatred of corporate naming rights applied to anything with an historic legacy, the Laguna Seca partnership works because it hasn't tried to make the track anything more than it is. It also helps that Monterey itself is a tourist destination. High-rolling race fans are adequately served by hotels and restaurants that cater to the area's well-heeled residents, as well as those who travel to the area for a few rounds of golf on the peninsula's pricey links.

While the Eifel region is lovely and the German people are famed for their fondness of a good hillside walkabout, the Nurburg area isn't exactly the diversified tourist location that Monterey is. So when Nürburgring Automotive built the ringwerk–a shiny complex of amusements and restaurants, replete with attendant resort hotels–the pressure was on to make the invested dollars back. As a result, the day-in-day-out aficionados of the track–the ones willing to spend €26 a pop for laps of a circuit that Sir Jackie Stewart famously claimed he never drove a lap of that he didn't have to–are paying the price. As are local businesses that support the facility's enthusiast-driver contingent.

Pistonheads quotes Ring-Taxi driver and Green Hell ambassador Sabine Schmitz as saying, “Everything we build up in 80 years, they destroy in one year."

The latest blow to the tourist drivers came when the facility posted its current schedule for track access by the general public. While the traditionally crowded weekend days are plentiful and the track is generally open from 8 .a.m. to 7:30 p.m., the only full-day tourist sessions that fall on weekdays are part of holiday weekends: May Day, the Friday-to-Monday Easter weekend and Pentecost Monday. The rest of the midweek sessions are limited to 5-7:30 .p.m. slots.

Why? Because the manufacturer pool is renting the track out for further testing. This might bode well for say, future examples of the Cadillac ATS, as well as the bare coffers of Nürburgring Automotive, who are guaranteed the OEM dollars. It's a safer bet in NA's eyes than dependence on the vagaries of midweek tourism.

Unfortunately, the area's local businesses built around the touristenfahrer, the ones that help give the 'Ring its distinctly funky aura, are practically guaranteed to take a hit.

Apparently, if ringwerk ain't gonna make money, ain't nobody gonna make money. AutoWeek

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