Downhill, snatch fourth, turn in, the front right is bouncing, but I am in, okay, power. A kink left. In third now, power again, she’s sideways, back with me now, brakes again, left, right, left again down to second, powering out trying to keep traction in check, brakes again for Hocheichen, aaah, turn, turn, turn, over the kurb, dancing on the pedals as I flick her left and finally I can open the taps…
The first time I rolled a car onto “The Green Hell” in a racing sim was back in 1998, with the venerable Grand Prix Legends. The track, in its 1967 representation, headed out into a sparse hedgerow lined forest where it initially seemed that every other corner was consciously placed to catch out the unwary newcomer.
This was not the case, of course, but crash after miserable crash resulted in me giving it up and heading back to the more comfortable circuits that Kaemmer’s landmark sim offered; it was difficult enough to get around those after all.
Since then, many racing sims have come and gone that have offered representations of the Eifel mountain track built around the medieval village of Nurburg. From GTR to Gran Turismo, if one thing has stood out it is that this incredible track always finds the tiny flaws in the physics modelling of sim after sim. Be it the downhill sweepers towards Wehrseifen highlighting skittish rear end load sensitivity, the “ice skate” inducing suspension compression at Ex-Mühle, or a mysterious amount of air at Sprunghugel, you never quite found that you were getting the true picture of the experience of throwing a car around “The ‘Ring”.
That is, until now. The chaps at Kunos Simulazioni have finally released their magnum opus, a laser scanned version of the Nurburgring Nordschleife, into Assetto Corsa as part of their dubiously named “Dream Pack 1” DLC, and it is magnificent.
Into fifth before Flugplatz and whoop, I am back on the ground, only the fronts lifted a little and thankfully my lunch stayed in. No time to rest, a dab of brakes into fourth and right, hold the line, make the apex for the second right and now hard on the throttle as the track sweeps flat out left and left and left through Schwedenkreuz. Up into sixth and I’m pushing 280 kilometres per hour so I don’t have much time to think about what a Swedish Cross has to do with life. The road falls away to the left, fast, in fifth but the car is skipping over bumps as I hold tight to the inside to keep a stable braking line into Aremberg.
Simone Trevisiol, track maker extraordinaire, has been working with Stefano Casillo since the very early days of the Italian’s exploration into racing sims. His first track, a scratch made Lime Rock for Namie (The free first released “netKar” sim that Casillo built before netKar Pro), got him noticed and subsequently onto the payroll for netKar Pro where his talents were clear to see in some of the stunning proprietary tracks. Since Assetto Corsa (AC) started production, Simone has worked on laser scanned track after laser scanned track. It is fair to say that if you’ve enjoyed any of the beautifully represented circuits in AC, then you have sipped from the cup of Simone’s artistic genius.
With the Nordschleife, Simone has excelled himself once again. Working almost non-stop for two years to create three versions of the iconic track, not a kurb, warning sign or daisy is out of place.
Running the track in any of AC’s exquisitely modelled cars is a delight that has to be sampled to be believed. Unlike previous incarnations of the track, the Nordschleife in AC accentuates not the failings of the vehicle physics modelling, but rather how superb it really is.
Shock absorbers jouncing over bumpy sections, tyres skip-hopping under duress as they scrabble for grip under the stress of aerodynamic loads, and the deft loose motion of a shimmying rear end in sharp downhill braking echo through the delicate force feedback of the wheel. It can easily lure a driver into a trance-like state as corner after corner flicks past, the focus always on the next challenge.
We appreciate speed at an unprecedented rate on the run down Fuchsrohre and the compression feels crushing as the car whips into ascent. Flicking left and using the kurb, I fear for the re-appearance of my lunch once again as I try to keep the car left under heavy braking into Adenauer-Forst, one of the slowest sections of the track but with no chance to rest as the rear steps out on entry and I have to give a generous arm full of opposite lock to keep her on the road. I wonder if Gordon Murray imagined such tomfoolery when he conceived this machine. The McLaren F1 may or may not be the ultimate driving machine, but it’s futile to let my mind wander onto such things as I push too deep on the brakes out of Metzgesfeld and almost understeer off the road into the sharp left that drops downhill to the right. It’s time to lose seventy metres of altitude…
If, like many simracers, you have never taken on The Green Hell, now is the time to take the plunge. Never has the track been so superbly modelled and, with every elevation, camber, corner radius and bump in the right place, there can be no better training for a real world pilgrimage in your personal weapon of choice.
The track can lure you in, and learning it is no easy task. With all too many blind crests and sharp corners at the end of fast sections, the frustration of another chassis in the hedge and going back to square one can mount up. I am sure many of us have rage quit on the Nordschleife in our time, but as you find yourself learning that first sector more and more, confidence grows and the “oh just one more try” feeling kicks in.
I made it through Wehrseifen without spinning on the brakes, every time that happens it feels like a personal triumph! I calm myself after excitable second gear throttle moments over the bridge and up the hill at Ex-Mühle, almost getting into a nasty tank-slapper on the bumpy climb. Now I am opening her up again, fourth, fifth, clutch leg in overdrive as I bounce through the left kink and then back on the brakes for Bergwerk, a corner I both fear and hate equally. It tightens and drops downhill, but the exit opens out making you think you can throttle it hard, but the grip isn’t there and you find yourself loosening the lock and letting the car move to the left of the track. Time to really pile on some klicks through Kesselchen as we once again climb gently through this majestic valley.
“Is this the pinnacle of Simone’s track making career?” I ask him, is it now time to calmly commit ritual Seppuku using the hallowed mouse cable? “No, there’s never a pinnacle” he states calmly “we always try to improve with each new track.” The perfectionist’s quest never ends.
Braking again over the blind crest into Steilstrecke, over half way now. The off camber right hander feels incredibly slow after the obscenely fast previous section, but powering on there is slower still to come as we hit the famed Karussell. Inside front wheel cocked in the air, she tips into the “bowl” of the turn and I am ever-patient on the throttle waiting for the moment I bump out back onto flat, honest, tarmac before getting on the throttle and heading even further into the skies.
There has been talk around the community that in the time Kunos have put into creating the Nordschleife they could well have created up to three more conventional tracks, and as well as this, complaints that the Nordschleife is not a great track for racing, is hard to learn, and affords very little wheel to wheel opportunity. There is a certain truism to some of these words, but what this ignores is that this track is simply one of, if not the, greatest race tracks ever created. For anyone excited by motor racing, motor cars or motor cycles, this place has to plant a tingle in the spine. It’s testament to the passion and commitment to enthusiasts everywhere that Kunos opted to push their efforts into this fine work, for it is a work of art. And, dare I say it, in a few years’ time a simulator may be the only way that we can drive this venerable track. As such, this piece of laser scanned perfection may stand as a lasting monument to a track that has seen victory for greats such as Nuvolari, Caracciola, Rosemeyer, Ascari, Fangio, Moss, Surtees, Clark, Brabham and Stewart.
The tyres are starting to melt in this section, mainly in third gear I scale back the attack level to keep her on the road. Hohe-Acht almost catches me out, but we’re trouble free in the switch backs through Wippermann and Eschbach. Whilst understeer threatens to destroy me on the exit of Brünnchen I seem to keep the beast on the road through force of will.
Powering over the blind crest of Pflantzgarten, I start to relax as the end of the lap feels like it is almost upon me. Second gear into the mini-karussel and up and over the hill into Galgenkopf, where many a rogue met the gallows, I am more fortunate as I power out in fourth gear onto two kilometres of straight track pushing me up to three hundred kph.
Kunos should be proud to have created this circuit, and the superb simulator they have built around it. For a pawltry price, this DLC offers not only a track that could give you hundreds of hours of driving pleasure alone, but also ten new cars to delve into. It’s more than value for money: it’s a steal.
“I’m always most proud of the last track I produced, but then it is always time for the next one. Even now, Barcelona is on my mind!”
Kunos Simulazioni and Simone Trevisiol, we salute you.