The Nordschleife and the Sudschleife
First a very brief history lesson. Way back in 1925 construction began on a new racing circuit running around the village of Nurburg in the Eifel mountains of Germany. 2 years later in 1927 construction was complete and the ‘Nurburg-Ring’ circuit opened for business.
It hosted its first public race, and in the weekday evenings and on weekends it was open for the public and tourists to drive on as a one way toll road. This was the origin of Touristenfahrten (Tourist driving) that is still so popular to this day. If you are planning on some tourist driving laps, check out the most important Nurburgring rules before you do.
The newly constructed Nurburgring consisted of two main parts. The North loop (Nordschleife) which was around 13 miles long and the South loop (Sudschleife) which was around 5 miles long. These two circuits could be used as separate race tracks, or could be configured to be joined together to form one 18 mile long circuit. The Sudschleife was said to be the more fearsome of the two circuits as trees and vegetation directly lined the edge of the track in multiple places.
The Nordschleife held the German Grand Prix from the late 1920s until the 70s. Only once, in 1960, did the Sudschleife host the F1.
In 1971 the Nordschleife section was updated to make it more suitable for F1 races – bumps were removed and armco barriers were installed. But, thankfully, the famous Carousel with its concrete banking still remained. Despite the improvements and hosting the F1 races from 1971 – 1976, the Nordschleife was deemed to be too dangerous. The final nail in the coffin for F1 on the Nordschleife was Niki Lauda’s infamous fiery crash in 1976.
At the start of the 1980s a decision was made to construct an entirely new, much safer Grand Prix circuit to host the Formula 1. This spelled the end for the Sudschleife as a section of it had to be demolished to make room for the construction of the new GP circuit, which opened in 1984. The image below shows how a big chunk of the Sudschleife (green and blue lines) had to make way for the GP Track (purple line).
Sections of the Sudschleife still remain to this day. The interactive Google map below shows these sections, in case you want to take a trip down memory lane on your next visit to the area. One part is a public road (blue), another is an abandoned road with broken tarmac (red) that can still be accessed.
The Nordschleife and the GP track
Coming back to the present day, we now have two circuits. The 13 mile long Nordschleife that is very challenging to learn, twisting through the Eifel mountains that pretty closely resembles its original layout from almost 100 years ago, and the new Grand Prix track that is just under 3 miles long.
The Nordschleife is the circuit we all know, love and fear through tourist driving. Anyone can purchase a ticket and do a lap of the Green Hell, the world’s most challenging race track, when it is open for Touristenfahrten.
The Grand Prix track is the circuit that has hosted many high profile motorsport events, including F1 and DTM. It hosted its first F1 race in 1984, and was on the F1 calendar fairly consistently from the mid-90s until 2013. It made a one-off appearance in 2020 due to F1’s revised Coronavirus calendar, but is not going to be used for F1 in 2022, and its future as an F1 venue is still unclear.
The Grand Prix track is also occasionally open for tourist driving, where paying drivers can get access to a 15 minute session on the F1 circuit. If you are there when this is available, do it. It’s a completely different experience to the Nordschleife; the GP track is wide, has massive run-off and is a much safer environment to explore you car’s limits in. The entrance is in a completely different place the the Nordschleife, however.
There is also the Mullenbachschleife – a very short section of the GP track used for drifting and other events.
The two circuits can be configured to be linked together, joining at the T13 section of the track, to form one 16 mile long circuit. This is the Nurburgring 24h circuit layout and is used predominantly for the 24 hours of the Nurburgring, held once a year.
Nurburgring or Nordschleife - which is it?
So what is the difference between the Nurburgring and the Nordschleife? Simply put, the Nordschleife relates specifically to the Northern Loop of the circuit – the 13 mile long section of narrow race track with minimal run off that is predominantly used for tourist laps. You can hire a track car, or even get some crazy fast passenger laps in one of the Nurburgring taxis around the Nordschleife
The term Nurburgring is used to describe the whole complex, and can be used interchangeably with the different circuit configurations; Since 1981 the Formula 1 events used to be called the Nurburgring Grand Prix and were held on the GP track only. The Nurburgring 24 hours is held on the Nurburgring 24 hour circuit, combining both the GP track and the Nordschleife. And when manufacturers announce they have just set a new Nurburgring lap record, they will have set it on the Nordschleife only.
So technically, to avoid confusion we’d always describe it as either the Nurburgring Nordschleife when we’re discussing the 13 mile North Loop, or the Nurburgring Grand Prix track when we’re talking about the circuit where the F1 boys go at it.
Casually, however, it is just easier to refer to it as the Nurburgring as most of the time we’re talking about the Nordschleife, and Nurburgring Nordschleife is a bit of a mouthful.
Photo: Porsche Newsroom
So next time you’re down the pub and your mate tells you he did a sub-8 minute BTG lap time on his first trip to the Nurburgring, you don’t need to get in to the Nurburgring vs Nordschleife debate. You can be sure he’s talking about the North Loop.
You can be less sure, however, of how honest he’s being as unless your mate is Porsche record holder Lars Kern, sub-8 minute laps are usually reserved for Nurburgring veterans.