Car life: Walking around the Green Hell

A few weeks back I visited a famous place. A place with many names. A place with a rich history. And it’s a race track. A track of which the names of the corners are known all around the world. A track in trouble, with a very uncertain future. A track I’ve never visited before.

As you might have guessed by know I went to the Ring, with a bunch of Wangan Warriors. We rented few big hotel rooms in the town of Adenau, actually only a hundred metres away from a corner of the Ring called Breidscheid. In fact, we could see the corner from the balcony of one of our rooms and it gave me a first glimpse of this famous stretch of race track.

But before I arrived there I had to travel almost 300 kilometres, the first 250 kilometres on the highway but the last 50 kilometres or so through a beautiful mountainous terrain. I’ve visited a lot of countries with my trusty old Yaris and I love to drive on back roads. But even after 1000+ kilometres in the United Kingdom through the hills, racing through Scandinavian mountain passes or finding my way through the Belgian Ardennes I wasn’t prepared for this.

Stretches of roads with long winding corners are interspersed with tiny towns and steep climbs with tight bends. Although I couldn’t fully enjoy this road, we were behind lorries and tractors on the way to Adenau and I wrecked a front wheel and tyre on the way back in an attempt to avoid an accident, but believe me. If you’re ever going to visit the Ring, please take your time in the evening or in the early hours to drive around on these roads for a few hours.

But, I came for the Ring so I’m going to talk about the Ring. After checking in we grabbed our chairs, a few drinks and of course my camera and we walked to Breidscheid. We sat there for a few hours, just soaking in the occasional sunlight, cursing the cold wind and admiring the awesome landscape. And watching the cars screaming through the corner, or course.

And boy, you see a variety of cars racing past you. Beautiful old Porsches, completely stock Renault’s, purpose-built BMW’s with huge Save the Ring decals on the roof, I’ve seen it all that weekend. More than once we were wondering what the make and model of a particular car was, and sometimes we saw a very rare car going through Breidscheid with screeching tyres.

And best of all? They all drive together on the track. Apart from a Porsche-only session or race one morning with very serious track weapons we saw an incredible amount of different makes and models on the track. BMW’s chasing Peugeots or an Artega GT going after a vintage Renault Alpina, you can see it all from the comforts of your own chair while baking in the sun and enjoying a good German beer.

But watching cars from a chair can only entertain me for so long, so I decided to go for a hike with my fellow Wangan Warrior blogger Rens as my guide. We just wanted to enjoy the environment and take some pictures, so we packed light. Two camera’s, three lenses, two bottles of water and that’s it. And it didn’t take long for me to be very happy about the decision to leave most of my gear at the hotel.

And why? Because walking around the Ring is hard. I’m used to the flat landscapes here in Holland, but there’s no such thing around the Ring. You keep climbing over unpaved paths and it’s sometimes very steep. I actually had to climb with hands and feet at one point. I was recording the walk on my phone, and I was stunned to see we barely made two kilometres per hour!

But you get rewarded for the effort. Every once in a while you get an awesome view of a part of the track. Sometimes you walk over a grassy hill to see a stretch of track in front of you, your view totally clear of trees or fences.

Other times you can see just a small patch of asphalt through the tree branches. It took me a while, but after a few kilometres I started to hunt for spots like this. Because, believe me, walking through a quiet forest and suddenly seeing a car racing over a small piece of track you can barely make out between the trees is an awesome experience.

But you see more than just cars on the tracks. We witnessed a touring car filled with Belgian pensioners waving at us just before an English guy on his motorcycle raced through the corner. I actually saw a lot more motorcycles on the Ring than I expected. The catch fences and guard rails are very close to the track, so a crash with a bike will almost certainly have very unpleasant effects on its rider if you ask me.

I think the scenery and allure of the Ring make it worth the risks for most drivers. It’s considered to be an almost sacred place among racing enthusiasts and now I’ve been there I can understand why. For me, as a photographer, it’s so much different from every other track I’ve visited that I felt I had to learn photographing racing again.

And it offered unique opportunities for photos. Where else can you stand in a famous corner for more than fifteen minutes in complete silence? The only other times I actually walked on the track were at drifting events, which you can hardly compare with the Karussell corner. In real life, the drainage banking is actually a lot steeper and bumpier than you expect when you watching the Ring movies on Youtube. I think more than one drive shaft simply gave up when someone decided to rumble over the banking instead of the outside of the corner.

And remember what I said about height differences? When you walk back to the Karussel from Brünnchen you come past a spot where you can see the straight going uphill to the Karussell on your right hand through the trees and the a piece of track away from the corner at your left. It gives you a perfect sense of how steep some parts of the track are. I think the lower powered cars really struggle to get some speed here.

But not only cars, as I actually made my first ever photo of a bicycle on a race track. I love to take pictures of unusual vehicles of the track and so far my collection consists of tractors, coaches, lorries, tricycles, quads, mopeds and a kart but I never made a good photo of someone trying to complete a lap on a bicycle. One more thing to cross on my photography bucket list.

Having accomplished that it was time to head back to the hotel for a well-earned German beer and a schnitzel, but not without stopping regularly to take some pictures of the vehicles on the track. We are car enthusiasts with camera’s after all. And then I discovered one big disadvantage of the Ring. A problem? Yes, and a big one. When I’m photographing the action on the track there are always a few cars that get special attention. They look cool, the driver really attacks the corners or just because there’s a friend behind the wheel ,there’s a variety of reasons for that. Sometimes I wait for a car in a particular corner to shoot it a few laps in a row. But that’s not possible on the Ring, unless you’re very patient. The Ring is over 20 kilometres long and it takes a lot of cars 10 minutes or more to lap it. On an average track the same car would do about 4 or 5 laps in the same time.

But it was just a minor inconvenience when we slowly made our way back to my car at Brünnchen. I was tired, I was hungry and thirsty but I knew I had a lot of awesome shots and a clear idea of what I wanted to write about my first visit to the Ring. But one pressing question remains. When I visited the Easter Thunderball at Santa Pod back in 2011 I bought one of those famous Neverbeen decals. It’s the only sticker that has been on my car for the whole two years since I fitted it at Santa Pod because I intended to remove it only after I went to the Ring. But the question now is, have I really been to the Ring or should I wait until I’ve driven a lap on it? What do you think?

-Alex Kamsteeg