You may or may not know about the ill-fated, defunct Ring Racer roller coaster that runs alongside the Nurburgring GP track. Maybe you’ve seen it for yourself, slowly rusting away as it threads through the Ring Boulevard shopping centre. But one thing is for sure; unless you were there for 4 days in 2013, you will have never seen it move.
In this article we will look in to the jaded history of this now abandoned roller coaster at the Nurburgring and why it has been left to rot.
does the Nürburgring have a roller coaster?
The Nurburgring does have a roller coaster. It is called the Ring Racer roller coaster. It runs alongside the start / finish straight of the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit, turns back on itself and then enters the Ring Boulevard / Ring Werk complex to complete the loop, near the big Nurburgring sign.
But it does not work. It was only ever open to the public for one weekend in 2013, before being closed down for good. We will go in to the full story of what went wrong later in this article.
Ring Racer roller coaster record breaker
The ‘Nurburgring 2009’ project was instigated to develop a huge attraction centre alongside the GP track. This was to include hotels, a 4D cinema, a motorsport museum, a casino, interactive and educational exhibits and simulators, restaurants, bars, cafes and, of course the roller coaster. It was all designed to make big events at the circuit (such as DTM and Formula 1) attractive to more than just die-hard motorsport fans. Unfortuantely it did nothing to assist those of us who lived for tourist driving on the Nordschleife.
All the attractions in the Nurburgring 2009 project were motorsport and Formula 1 themed. The Ring Racer roller coaster continued this theme. It was designed to simulate a Formula 1 car starting a race.
The 13 million Euro roller coaster would leave the station, weave around in a straight line to demonstrate warming tyres, before heading out directly alongside the main start / finish straight of the Nurburgring GP track. The plan was to have thrill-seekers ride the Ring Racer whilst the race cars were on track next to them.
It would then come to a stop and simulate a F1 car race start, only much faster. It was advertised as being the fastest accelerating roller coaster in the world. The target was to hit 135mph in 2.5 seconds, which would have broken any existing roller coaster records. At least, this was the target. The reality was very different.
Schumacher and Boris Becker get the first ride
The plan was to have the roller coaster up and running for the 2009 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Unfortunately, delays with installations meant that wasn’t possible.
However, later in 2009, the Ring Racer roller coaster was at a point where it could have a soft-launch to the public as a PR and marketing stunt. This was very much a soft launch; the ride was running at well below its designed speed at the point.
To boost the profile of this launch, a couple of recognisable faces were called upon. One Michael Schumacher was sat front row for one of the very first rides.
Boris Becker also took a ride on the Ring Racer, even filming it on his own camcorder. It was reported in the press that Becker was paid around 500,000 Euros for 8 public appearances to assist with advertising in the build up and opening of the Nurburgring 2009 project. Sounds a bit dodgy – and it was. An investigation was ordered, but it was deemed that his dealings with the Ring could remain private.
Ring Racer roller coaster design issues
The Ring Racer roller coaster was designed and manufactured by S&S Sansei Technologies – an American company specialising in air powered amusement park rides.
The target was a record breaking 135mph in 2.5 seconds. It would achieve this using a huge 33 metre long low pressure high volume tank which you can see being lifting in to place in the image below. This would be attached to a set of cables that would accelerate the coaster to maximum speed in only a couple of seconds.
In theory and simulations, the design was sound and the Ring Racer was capable of hitting its target speed. In practice, however, that was not the case. One thing that may have not been taken in to account in the Nurburgring roller coaster design was its location.
The Nurburgring is nestled deep in the Eifel mountains. The GP track sits over 600m above sea level. Atmospheric pressure differentials at this elevation compared to sea level can have a big impact on the effectiveness of a compressed air system. The necessary pressure levels may have been harder to achieve than first designed.
Nurburgring roller coaster accidents
In late 2009, after the soft launch had taken place, the Nurburgring roller coaster was not open the public as work was still ongoing to increase its performance.
On September 3rd, a series of loud explosions were heard coming from the Ring Racer. It transpired there had been a sudden and unexpected pressure release from the pneumatic air system, causing a huge pressure wave to rock the area.
Windows of the one of the nearby Nurburgring media suites were shattered. 7 contractors working on other parts of the Nurburgring were injured with hearing damage due to the pressure wave. And great damage was done to the Ring Racer roller coaster itself.
Some reports say it was a software issue, others says that it was a result of trying to increase the performance of the compressed air system to meet the target speed. Luckily no-one was killed.
The roller coaster was closed for all of 2010 and the start of 2011 for repairs and further modifications. In May 2011, another explosion occurred from the pneumatic launch system, reportedly sending shrapnel across the pitlane and circuit. Thankfully no-one was injured, but it was another setback.
finally it opens - then closes again!
2012 and most of 2013 was spent repairing the damage caused by the second explosion, improving safety measures and doing countless test runs. Finally, in October 2013, the Ring Racer roller coaster was given approval by the German regulatory body TUV and a permit was issued for its public operation.
So after 4 years of delays and two accidents, on October 31st 2013 at 2pm the Ring Racer accepted its first paying public customers.
The ride was open from 2pm to 5.30pm for a grand total of 4 days, closing again on November 3rd. The weather at that time of year was not suitable for its operation.
The max speed it reached was 99.4mph – well shy of its intended target. By that time, the record had long been beaten by Formula Rossa – a similar ride at Ferrari World alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix track.
Unfortunately, those 4 days would be the only time the ring racer would ever be open to the public.
what happened to the Ring Racer roller coaster?
Throughout the build, testing and very short opening period of the Ring Racer, there were serious money troubles going on behind the scenes. The Nurburgring 2009 project had cost much more than expected and had turned out to be an unpopular disaster. The state-owned corporation in charge of it was supposed to be relying on private investment money, but when that ran out they took a 500 million Euro loan from the government.
Even that wasn’t enough, and with around 300 million Euros of debt weighing over them, the Nurburgring owners filed for bankruptcy in 2012, putting the future of the Nordschleife, the GP track and the whole amusement complex in to doubt.
In early 2014 the Nurburgring was bought by Capricorn, a car parts manufacturer for around 100 million Euros. They stated, however, that they did not view the Ring Racer rollercoaster as financially viable entity and had no intentions to keep it running. They even tried to sell it to some other German theme parks, but there were no takers.
Many threats have been made to dismantle it over the years, but today it is still standing, slowly rusting away. Now it serves as a lighting platform to illuminate the Dorint hotel.
It also stands, looming over the GP track, to remind us of a failed project, a lot of debt, some bad business decisions and a couple of very near misses.