Russ Malkin: Taming the Nurburgring
Having produced and directed the Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, as well as By Any Means, where we accomplished the somewhat tricky task of travelling by land and sea from Ireland to Australia, I thought I would be more than qualified to get a brand new Jaguar XKR to Germany’s Nurburgring motorsport racetrack for a try out.
How wrong could I be? My first big mistake was getting our track time wrong. It was only while transiting thirty thousand leagues under the sea on the Eurotunnel, that I got around to giving the itinerary a proper read and discovering, to my horror, that our scheduled track time was that afternoon and not, as I erroneously thought, the next day. Having been to the Nurburgring just two weeks before, on a motorbike, I was acutely aware that it had taken me the best part of the day to get there. Fortunately, the Jaguar (without discussing speed limits) proved more than capable of making up for my oversight, and what do you know? We arrived with an hour to spare.
Having never been a great fan of the British marque, they’ve always appeared plagued by those well-worn clichés about British manufacturing, I found myself very pleasantly surprised. The car made the journey effortless – scarily so. Like any high-end sports car and I’ve driven a fair few in my lifetime, it can be very easy to exceed the speed limit without realising it.
The sound of the Jaguars 5 litre engine, a low, rumbling roar, with just a hint of a jet engine on the point of accelerating up the runway, is almost as impressive as the abundance of power it serves up. My second mistake (yes, two in one day) was thinking that after riding a motorbike around Nurburgring or The Ring as it is known by petrol head enthusiasts, that a car would be a safer and easier proposition – but after the first lap my eyes were on stalks from evading the kamikaze driving of the pimped-up hot hatches and no-end of lunatics in racing Porsches and old, beaten-up Skodas.
Nicknamed “the Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart and he should know, the Ring is approximately 32 kilometres long, depending on whether the Nordschleife (northern loop) or the Sdschleife (southern loop) is being employed. Ducking and diving through beautiful German forest with very few straits, and bends designed to fox and catch out the unwary, it is widely considered the toughest, most dangerous and demanding race track in the world. It was awesome, and while there were some very close calls, I can proudly announce to all and sundry that I, Russ Malkin, may be rubbish at reading itineraries but I never left the track once.
The best fun was driving parallel at speed with the other XKR, driven by one of Jaguars expert drivers and hearing the tyres squealing as we swept our way around this most amazing race track. At 22 per lap, the Ring offers excellent value for money considering the entire event is carefully marshalled and you end up having an experience that must be counted in the top ten of crazy things to do.
No-one appears to read any of the rules and there seem to be only two criteria. One, that your vehicle must be capable of going over 70 miles per hour and two, you must overtake on the left. Other than that, it’s a free for all. I witnessed at least seven accidents whilst I was there and the third rule, the one I forgot to mention, is that you must pay for any damage you cause and the cost of closing the track during the time it takes to clear up the mess. So watch out, it could become a very expensive adventure but I would still highly recommend it!
The Jaguar XKR proved the perfect companion. Not only did it eat up the miles on the way out and looked menacingly cool enough to persuade everyone else to get out of the way but it also had more power and grip than I knew what to do with. With the looks of a really serious supercar, it attracted a lot of attention from the German sports car enthusiasts, so it must be doing something right. The engine note is spot on and, I must admit, when I had to give the car up after a week I really missed it. For me, the only downside was the impractical rear seats. While still wild at heart, I’m a family man; it would be great to have a sports car like the XKR that was also capable of transporting the little darlings around. That aside, thinking about it still puts a bloody big grin on my face.