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Lapping the Nurburgring at 100mph in the fog

Published: 20 May 2009

A little background to CAR Magazine's new cover story. We’d got the new GT3, sorted the Nissan GT-R, booked an exclusive session at the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit. Yet there was one major component missing from our test: a driver. This posed a fairly major problem, as simply having a good driver wasn’t enough. We needed somebody who knew intimately every curve, every camber and every compression on this tricky 12-mile circuit, an independent hand who could push both cars to the maximum and extract a representative time, whatever the weather, in the narrow window we had available.

Forget the Stig. Step forward Andy Gülden

Ultimately it was the Nürburgring people who came up with the solution: 30-year-old Andy Gülden. Gülden started in karts as a six-year-old, competing in German, European and world championships alongside the likes of Nick Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher. He progressed as far as F3 before losing his sponsor, and then moved to race Vipers in Nürburgring 24-hour endurathons with Zakspeed.

Today he’s a freelance racer/consultant/instructor with over 2000 laps to his name, a man who takes great pleasure in scaring paying punters with a fast lap in his Aston Vantage race car.

Lapping the Ring in the fog

With our Nissan and Porsche waiting in the pits, Gülden takes me out for a sighting lap in a VW Passat. An early morning veil of heavy fog envelops the track, but Gülden’s quickly up to speed. Now, I drove to the circuit, unable to see, at about 20mph, and the conditions are no different right now. But we’re regularly seeing 100mph plus, and it becomes immediately, disconcertingly obvious that Gülden is driving more from memory, than sight. More depressingly, he’s barely trying, we’re in a family saloon, yet he’s scaring me absolutely bloody senseless.

Before the lap I’d decided to use the experience to memorise the track (I’ve only driven two laps so far), but it’s just a blur of red and white kerbing, thick green foliage and streaking metal barriers. ‘You need to do about 100 laps to get a knowledge of where the track is going,’ explains Gülden calmly. ‘But that’s not enough. You need to know the bumps, what type of asphalt is where and how much grip it offers. That takes far longer. Then there are the unknowns. There’s a real problem here with Rudolph when the track’s quiet.’

Like, erm, right now you mean? Have you ever hit a deer?

‘Oh yes.’

Animals at the Nurburgring

I don’t mean to over-dramatise, but from the speed I’m sitting at, death-by-animal feels like a very real possibility. Yet Gülden is simply going through the motions. As I cling on, he gestures at a bank of impenetrable fog (‘that’s where I live, Reifferscheid’), nibbles at an annoying fingernail and talks me through corners I’ll never remember at speeds I’ll never achieve. All this in a Passat! I should have been impressed. Instead I felt deflated. This guy is so much better than me.

Of course, the real event was Gülden timing the GT-R back-to-back against the new GT3, an independent hot shoe to prove once and for all who really is fastest. Which car won? You’ll find out in the July 2009 of CAR Magazine.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator