Ok... so you've got your mind set on finally driving this famous track that you've wasted so much time playing in Gran Turismo/Forza/GTR etc. You know where it is (kinda), you know its open to the public, and you have plane/boat/flying donkey tickets that will land you somewhere close-ish. Now what?
Wait... Is it even a good time to go? Will it be too hot/cold/crowded/rainy/windy etc
From what little experience I have, every season seems to have its advantages and drawback. Summer is very popular as the weather is definitely adventagous, but it also means MASSIVE crowds, which just means massive traffic jams should the track close (and it WILL close for some reason during the day). Late season is when I went (late October to be exact), and the weather at that time is VERY volatile. One minute it will be bright and sunny, the next it will be overcast, then it will start to rain, then the sun might come out again etc. It was also very cold, and cold + wet = slippery. Keep that in mind when hitting those corners...
Getting to the Ring
See part 1 of this for an example of how NOT to get to the Ring. Quite simply, while German public transport is probably one of the best in the world, the Nurburgring is just so far out of the way that even ze Germans kinda said screw it and cut back on the transport options. If you must get there by public transport, make sure you've planned both directions, as buses have a nasty habit of running only every few hours, and in my case not running at all on the day I was leaving. bahn.com will be your best friend here. I haven't seen a trip planner quite like what they have on bahn.com. It works, its pretty optimal, and it will tell you whether or not your public transport ideas will work. Your goal from pretty much anywhere in Germany is to get to either Bonn or Remagen, then grab a regional train to Aubruck, at which point you will hop onto a bus (which thankfully runs 7 days a week) to Adenau. Its actually not a bad journey as you get to see a lot of German countryside and vineyards, and if you've got the time it would probably be a lot of fun to just tour some of the towns along the way. Adenau will be homebase, unless you're crazy (and cheap) like me and decide to stay "a little further out" in Wiesemscheid. They have some decent hotels there, its actually closer to the Ring than Adenau, and if you have a rental car this is definitely an option, but for those unlucky enough NOT to have a rental, well... trust me, just stay in Adenau.
Getting a ride for the Ring
I'm assuming you don't know anyone in mainland Europe who has a car and is coming with you or letting you borrow it, cuz then why are you still reading this? There are really 2 options for cars, taking your rental car to the track or getting a ring prepped car for the track. Option A is the "how much do you enjoy risk" option and option B is the "how much are you willing to spend" option. People definitely take rental cars onto the track, but most of them are smart enough to not rent them from either the UK or Germany. Also, rentals tend to have crap tires, tired brakes, and who-knows-what-else kind of problems, so if you decide you are gonna bomb the course one last time that rental just might crap out on you in a big way. Oh, and if the companies find out you've been to the ring, who knows what kind of penalties you'll incur... In short (or not so short) I will only be describing option B, as its the one I went with and had a great time using.
Picking a ride for the Ring
What did you drive around the Ring in GT/Forza/GTR? Probably something like a M3 or a GT3 or even maybe a STi right? Well, forget about those for now, cuz as an Honorary Ring Newb (like me) you'll be looking at something all together more mundane. The beginner car of choice for most of the Ring specialized rental companies seems to be the Suzuki Swift Sport. Its got 130 roaring horses (they actually roar quite well once the rear insulation is stripped away) and every place preps their car with at least a bit of weight reduction (like insulation removal) and a roll cage. Its very beginner-friendly car for quite a few reasons actually. First, its light. At around 1000KG those 130HP can actually do quite a bit of good. Second, its FWD. This will save your ass when you way overcook an entry or exit and need to save yourself from that armco looming in front of you. Third, its forgiving. This is a combination of lightweight, low power, and FWD working together here. Its also forgiving because its got a 5 speed manual, and that means you'll probably really only need 2 gears for the entire track (3rd and 4th). 2nd is useful for a couple of the REALLY slow corners (and powering out of uphill corners) and 5th is only needed on the long back straight and the section before the gantry. In short, the Swift will be your friend and won't actively help in your attempts to kill yourself around the track.
"BUT BUT BUT" you may ask "BUT what if I... um... can't drive manual?"
Well first, shame on your for coming all the way out to the Nurburgring and not be able to drive properly. Second, you're not out of luck, as most of the rental companies carry GTIs and Scirocco with DSG gearboxes. They're quite a bit more expensive (almost double the price of the Swift really) but they're also more powerful (at ~220HP) and in the case of the Scroccio, much MUCH better looking.
But I'm rich and stupid! I want something FASTER!
Well then... there's plenty of options for potential ring damage here. The M3 is a popular choice (both e46 and e92 are available) as are various Porsches (GT3 being the runaway favorite). However, I don't want to be anywhere near you if you decide to drive one of those on a first time out, no matter how careful you say you're gonna be.
So Umm... whats the wallet damage gonna be?
Ahh... the inevitable question of how many organs you may have to sell to fund this little endevour. Well, for those of use who aren't gifted with a trust fund, the total cost is actually quite reasonable. Now, think about a track day back home. A normal track day costs around $250-$500 for admission alone. You may get instructor training, you may not. You will be paying for your own gas, and after day's lapping probably your own tires and brakes as well. So in the end, its gonna cost you AT LEAST $300-$600 not counting the cost of those new tires and brakes. So how much will it actually cost to drive the Ring? For a "reasonable" car (aka Swift or VW) you're looking at anywhere between 250 euro and 500 euro all inclusive (that means gas, tickets, the works). For 250 euro (the option I went for) you get 4 laps in 2 hours (well, I took 3 hours, and they weren't too picky about it). For 500 euro you get 6 laps and 4 hours to do it. Honestly, if you're doing this with a buddy or 2, go for the 500 euro option. You'll get a better car and everyone will get more chances to drive. 4 hours is enough for at least 8 laps if you've got two drivers, and thus a couple extra tickets might be needed but you'll definitely get a lot of laps in. If you're doing it alone then I'm not sure if the extra laps (or time) are gonna be worth it. There's only so much you can take in the first day, and after 4 laps I was feeling like I would either improve greatly on the 5th or crash. There's also a 3rd option which is probably worth exploring and thats going through ringprojekt. They do things a little differently as they charge not by time but by lap, and all their cars are quite interesting, as they're all Lotuses. The Elise seems to be a great beginner car (low HP, lightweight, RWD) while the 11 looks like great fun in the sun and the Exige just looks nuts. They're priced quite reasonably for being a "per lap" affair, and on the low end you'll spend around 250 euro for 3 laps in a Elise (something I was seriously considering). Options options options, always a good thing. (BTW... for the curious, a half day rental of a E46 M3 WITHOUT gas or tickets was 750 euro. The guy who ordered it also got an instructor to come along with him, and that was another 250 euro.)
Alright, so I've got my car picked out and my stay sorted. Now what?
This is where I kinda dropped the ball, as I hadn't forseen actually coming to the ring so I totally forgot to install any racing games onto my laptop. Definitely grab a copy of GTR or some other game with the Ring on it and bring it with you. Now, in the game, drive the course SLOWLY (I mean really really slowly) and get an idea of how things are laid out and where (approximately) the major corners are. At the very least, know what corner comes after what. This will help you avoid some of my embarassing moments entering a corner I thought was fast way too hot and having the car's ESP step in to keep me from doing anything I would regret. Staring at a map won't help you as much as virtually driving the course will.
Whoo hoo! Time to drive!
Congrats on making it this far. There's only a few final things to keep in mind...
1) You WILL do stupid things on the track. You're driving it for the first time, and you will overcook both entries and exits. It will look bad, and the guys behind you might laugh, but you'll be fine.
2) You WILL NOT crash. People go on and on about how dangerous the track is. The track is only as dangerous as you want it to be. For the people I saw driving 30-40mph on a family tour... their danger level is practically zero. For the guy bombing the track HARD in that GT3? Danger level much MUCH higher. As a Newb you'll be somehere in between that. At certain points you'll push yourself a bit too far, and the track will bite you. Just back off, slow down, and keep driving safe.
3) You WILL see crashes. Crashes are a regular occurance. You may not witness one in action, but you will definitely see the aftermath. The ones I saw didn't look to bad, but then again, the track was shut down for 30 minutes and helicopter was brought in for one of them. Its a race track and people get hurt. Make sure you're not one of them.
4) You WILL NOT be afraid of the "scary" corners and places. Bergwerk, Flutsplatz, Karossel... all famous, all quite tame for the Newb driver cuz you won't be hitting anything too fast (right, RIGHT?). The corners you should concentrate on are the myrid of esses scattered across the track. Any single corner give you the option of running wide if you screw it up. Screw up an S curve and you'll be feeling rumble strip and maybe even a bit of dirt if you're not careful (ask me how I know...)
5) You WILL have a beer when you're done. Well, probably not just "a" beer, as Germans seem to have this great fascination with small beer glasses at any place except a biergarten.
As you can see, I didn't give too much information about things "around" the Ring, like accomedation, things to do, food, etc. The reason is simple... I didn't experience much of it because of my schedule and my lack of transportation. There's far better sites with more detailed information on these topics from people who actually have done the research themselves.
I will just say that I had a great time driving the Ring, and its definitely one of those "life accomplishments" you'll be proud about for a long time.
And finally, the obligatory lap video :)