Easily the most famous corner on the circuit, the Nurburgring Carousel may also be one of the most well known corners in the world.
The steep, tight, rough concrete banking makes up the inside of the corner. But is it faster to go around the banking? And is its rough surface likely to damage your car? Let’s take a look at this infamous corner in more detail.
the Nurburgring Carousel or Karussell?
Carousel has been translated from the German word Karussell. The pronunciation of both of these words is the same, but obviously they are spelt differently. Which one should you chose? Well, seeing as we’re talking about a corner on a German racetrack then really we should use Karussell. But if you write about the Nurburgring Carousel, people will know what you mean.
A lot of the other corners on the circuit place us English speakers in a similar predicament. The FoxHole, for example; do we go with the simple, easy English word? We should really try our best not to muller the German version, Fuchsröhre, instead.
why is it called the Carousel?
When the Nurburgring was built in 1927, the slow left-hand hairpin corner around 2/3rds of the way around the circuit was one of its defining features. This corner took the drivers around more than 180° , something which had never been seen on a racetrack before – and is still rarely seen even to this day. This feeling of constantly turning close to the point where you go back on yourself made it feel like you were on a merry-go-round that went on for ever.
A merry-go-round you say? Isn’t that also called a carousel? Why it certainly is. Hence the legendary Karussell was christened. It’s not the only fairground related part of the Nurburgring either. In more recent years a rollercoaster was built, which was a complete failure.
And during the 24hour race, you can even camp trackside at the legendary corner.
Check out our article on all Nurburgring corner names to find out about the origin of the other 85 corners’ naming.
the legend of Rudolf and the banking
The Nurburgring Carousel is one of the most infamous corners in the world, even more so that Brunchen – YouTube Corner. The Carousel has a large, steep concrete banking section that most drivers use as it is supposed to be a quicker line around the corner (more on that later). Plus, driving the banking means you are a hero who has conquered the Karussell. You are not a wimp who has driven around the outside, like some of the nearby graffiti says you would be.
However, the corner was not always like this. The first race took place in 1927 and up to and including 1931, the Nurburgring Carousel was a flat corner.
And here begins the legend of Rudolf. Whilst most racers drove around the flat Carousel at a maximum speed of around 45km/h, ‘most’ racers did not include Rudolf ‘Rudy’ Caracciola. Driving for the factory Mercedes team in a supercharged 6.2 litre SSKL, this was not his first visit to the Nurburgring. Nor was it the first visit for his mechanic and co-driver, Wilhelm Sebastian, pictured together below racing at the Ring in 1931.
The legend has it that after the Saturday practice sessions had concluded, and on the eve of the 1931 German Grand Prix, Wilhelm and another mechanic Fridolin Zimmer temporarily borrowed Rudy’s Mercedes for a ‘sightseeing’ lap. In a bid to work out where some time could be saved, they headed out to the Karusell. Wilhelm had spotted a small drainage ditch on the inside of the corner, barely the width of a car. He proposed that putting some, or all, of the car’s wheels in the ditch would be a faster route around the corner.
With Fridolin checking the ground clearance, slowly they edged the Merc around the ditch. After looking like it cleared, Wilhelm jumped in for a full-speed test run. He made it round the corner without issue and managed a higher minimum speed of around 65km/h. Success.
That night, he relayed this information to Rudolf. Come race day, lap-after-lap he put his Mercedes in the drainage ditch and ended up winning the race by 78 seconds over Louis Chiron in a Bugatti.
From the next year onwards, the ditch turned in to a driveable surface and everyone started using this new line. As Rudy is doing in an Alfa Tipo in 1932 in the image above.
Whilst Wilhelm was the first to ever set a wheel in the ditch, Rudolf was the first to do it in competition. Hence sometimes the Nurburgring Carousel is referred to as the Caracciola-Karussell. Even on Google Maps.
is it quicker to drive round the banking?
The banking on the Nurburgring Carousel is very steep, around 17°. So to understand whether or not it’s quicker to drive on it, think of it as mini wall-of-death. When cars or bikes drive on these, they go much faster around the wall than they would be able to if they were driving on a flat corner of the same radius.
So the Karussell banking may not be as steep as a wall of death, but the same principle applies. The angle of the banking exerts a reaction force on the car in the opposite direction. To the car and the driver this feels like they are being pushed down and outwards in to the track (which is why cars always look slammed to the ground in Karussell photos – like the Driftworks E46 M3 V10 in the image below). This increases the load on the tyres, resulting in more grip. More grip means higher cornering speeds.
This principle works the same as downforce generated through aerodynamics. However driving around the outside line of the Carousel is so slow that its almost impossible to generate any downforce this way, relying solely on mechanical grip.
The banking increases the mechanical grip available, meaning that it is quicker to drive on the inside of the Karussell rather than the outside. Unless you want to try and drift the Karussell, then the outside line is the only way.
Kevin Estre, Porsche factory team driver and Nurburgring 24h winner, says you can take the banking 30 to 40km/h faster than the outside line in a GT3 car. His minimum speed here is around 95km/h, at which point he can experience about 2G of force.
does the Nurburgring Carousel damage your car?
If you’ve been around the ‘Ring, you know how dangerous the circuit is. You also know how rough the banking of the Karussell is. If you haven’t, be warned. The concrete slabs on the inside of the corner are NOT smooth, especially where they are joined together. Taking the banking line around this corner means you and your car are in for one heck of a ride. Your car will jump, skip and scrape its way round so violently that it will be hard to keep consistent on the throttle pedal.
Your car’s suspension will be compressed and the bumps will try and rip the steering wheel from your hands – if your car suffers from bad bump steer then be warned. If your car is low in the first place then take extra caution; any ground clearance you thought you may have had with your splitter, undertray, sump or exhaust may well all but disappear. The first time you tackle it, it’s worth taking it super easy just so you know how bad it is.
Often, when you are up to speed, it is probably not mechanical grip that will limit how fast you’ll take the banking, but mechanical sympathy. Sometimes the jumping, scraping and bottoming out will just be too much to bear and you can’t impose any more torture on your car.
One other thing to consider is how and when you leave the banking. The violent ride is so horrible that every part of your body wants to get off the concrete as soon as possible. If you jump out of the banking early at high RPM in second gear for example and your driven wheels go light, lose traction or go airborne completely, having them slam back down on the tarmac at full throttle puts huge strain on the drivetrain. Doing this a couple of times is probably ok, but over-and-over will prematurely stress driveshafts, diffs and gearboxes.
So risky on component life is this early exit route that Kevin Estre said he would only normally do it during qualifying to save time. During the 24 hour race itself he would stay on the banking longer and leave more smoothly to reduce the risk of component failure.
Is it quicker to drive on the banking of the Karussell? Unquestionably, yes it is. But unless you are going for a lap record, is it worth going 100% around there? Timo Bernhard, 5 time Nuburgring 24hour winner put it succinctly: “you can’t win a lot of time, but you can lose everything”.
That’s because the Nurburgring Carousel absolutely has the potential to damage your car. Once you’ve driven round the concrete banking, you’ll see why. And if you love your car you will probably do what you can to minimise the abuse it suffers at the hands of the bumpy, jumpy, rough concrete banking.