swerves round dazed day-trippers at the Nürburgring
There has been a lot of publicity lately about Porsche breaking the lap record at the Nürburgring. Timo Bernard drove a five minutes 19 seconds lap in the Porsche 919 Hybrid on the Nordschleife to beat the existing record of 6min 11sec. That had been set 35 years ago by the late great Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956 while qualifying for the 1000km race. I was there that day in my own 956 and, along with several other 956s, was about 20sec a lap slower. We couldn’t believe it when we saw his time because many of us knew the Nürburgring well. In fact, that was my 41st and last race at the ’Ring.
My first visit there was in 1964 driving in the Six Hour race in the Mini Cooper team. I was overawed by the sheer size of the place. In those days there were no guardrails and the track was lined with bushes and hedges. British Mini driver John Aley showed me around the track and pointed out various landmarks, including gaps where various drivers had disappeared into the undergrowth.
The elevation changes are considerable and there are numerous flat-out, blind corners. I spent two days thrashing round in my Mini Cooper road car and by the time qualifying arrived I had a pretty good idea of the lines and what was over the next brow. As the power and speed of the various cars I raced there increased, so the flat-out brows and corners decreased.
In the 20 years that I drove there, the track hardly changed except for the guardrails and some run-off areas where there was space. That is still the case today.
In my early days there, the track was opened to the public when the race finished and it was not unusual to see a family set off in their Volkswagen to explore the circuit. Many a time I would see a chap with his helmet and seatbelt on, with the wife hanging on in the passenger seat and granny in the back with the kids. After the race we would get changed, have a drink and go for a leisurely drive around the track, which would be strewn with damaged cars, some upside down, with people wandering around the track, dazed.
People often ask me if the obvious dangers of the track influence the way you drive there, but once in the car it’s just another track and you’re concentrating on the next corner, not thinking about what might happen if you get it wrong.
The ’Ring is my favourite circuit and I have been fortunate to have had my share of success there. My favourite has to be winning the Six Hour race with Rolf Stommelen in the Schnitzer BMW CSL in 1972. We beat the works Ford Capris fair and square and it put me on the map in Germany, and that led directly to my career driving Porsches.
As an interesting aside, even today, if I’m having difficulty sleeping, I imagine I am driving a lap of the Nürgburging. I have never got past halfway before I slip into a deep and satisfying sleep.
Some of John’s performances at the Nürburgring were the stuff dreams are made of – quite literally
John Fitzpatrick began his racing career in the British Saloon Car Championship, winning it in 1966. He was European GT Champion in 1972 and 1974, and became a team owner in 1981.