MINI United Road Trip (Day 2/The ‘Ring)

Driving the Nurburgring Nordschleife has been my dream for years. It’s a goal for many auto enthusiasts akin to climbing Everest. The longest and most challenging track in the world, the Nordschleife (North Loop) is unlike anything else in the world. And today, I drove it.

In a word, it was incredible. More than I could have hoped for. The atmosphere, the people and finally the track met and exceeded all my expectations. I split my time between riding in a race-prepped E30 BMW 3 Series, a race-prepped 250bhp R53 Cooper S and driving a brand new R56 Cooper S.

I first went out with Axel (Of MINI2.info – the largest German MINI forum on the web) and his E30. His introduction to the ‘Ring (he’s driven it countless times over the years) was an essential part of my experience. When driving the ‘Ring you have to be incredibly conscious of not only what is in front of you but also traffic coming fast from behind. The Porsche GT3 RS’s, the race-prepped Viper Coupes, the M5 Ring Taxi’s, at times they make you feel like you’re standing still. However Axel’s guidance gave me an enormous amount of confidence going into my own laps that I would have never had otherwise. It allowed me to both push and hold back where needed all while dealing with the constant onslaught of the über cars coming from behind.

After several laps in the E30 I finally got behind the wheel of the R56. I won’t go into detail here as I’ve already reviewed the car on the track quite a bit. However I will say that I stand by my recommendation of the Sport Suspension and LSD if you ever plan to track your car. And on the Nurburgring, these needs are magnified. However one thing that stands out while driving the a MINI at Nordschleife; you’re not struck by the need for more power. What really becomes obvious is the need for a more buttoned down suspension and better tires. Driving in two cars with semi-slicks made my high-performance Dunlop’s feel inadequate at best and worthless at worst. And both car’s lowered and more aggressive suspension made the stock MCS suspension feel (at times) ponderous. Generally the car felt great but at the very least the optional sport suspension would have made noticeable improvement. However the engine and (despite the lack of grip) the chassis held their own and proved to be (as tomorrow’s audio will prove) a true giant killer.

The Nordschleife was everything I could have imagined. Amazing cars with dedicated people who come from all over the world to experience the ultimate track. Take a look at the pictures below for a peak into what it’s like to simply be there amongst it all and be sure to check back tomorrow for a full lap on audio.

[ Gabe’s MINI United Photos ] Flickr