Jaguar Nürburgring Experience: The Day I Conquered the “Green Hell”
- Written by Kimatni D. Rawlins
It was a chance of a lifetime. One of which comes around only once or twice in an automotive road test editor’s entire career. And more often than not it never transpires at all. This was my second go at it. Yet, an unforeseen obstacle denied my initial opportunity a few years back. So there I was left despondent with a golden rule that never came to fruition. Though, I am thankful to have had the experience materialize current day as I now have more track experience and mental discipline under my belt. Welcome to the world famous Nürburgring.
The overseas campaign commenced with a simple inquisition from the Jaguar communications team to experience their new XKR-S super coupe in its proper environment. We began the festivities in Munich, land of Bavaria and elite German vehicles. However, our 2012 Jaguar XFR sports sedan and its supercharged 510 horsepower V8 had no problem running with the locals on the Autobahn for six hours in route to Nürburgring in the Eifel Mountains. It is absolutely amazing that the German officials allow drivers to transport themselves at 100 mph plus consistently until a destination is reached. We could have driven all day with that type of highway freedom.
Upon arrival to Nürburgring, built in 1927 by the German government, anxiety kicked it from the sounds of screaming car and bike engines during their practice runs. The place was an absolute work of art; think of it as a motorsports amusement park. After a 45-minute jog around the facilities with Jaguar’s Ken McConomy to familiarize myself with the elements, we cleaned up and headed to dinner at the popular Pistenklause Restaurant where many of the world’s most celebrated racers have rejoiced their victories around the “ring.” Jaguar’s track expert Sascha Bert was on hand for prep talks as well as special guest Jay Leno who was a neophyte at Nürburgring like me. So we had a lot to discuss that evening.
“Careful dude, they don’t call it the “Green Hell” for no reason,” is the morning email received from British pal Jay Ward after excitedly explaining how I would give Nürburgring a “proper go.” Of course, this test track is unlike any other I or anyone else has experienced. For one, it’s planted in the middle of a forest -- hence the “Green Hell” reference. You don’t want to go flying out into the wilderness from any of the 12.9-mile circuit’s stretches or bends. Yes, I did say 12.9 miles. Imagine that. It might be sunny on one section of the track and rainy 7 miles down the road. So caution is always a factor. The Nürburgring sets the industry standard for durability, performance and endurance. It’s reputed to be the toughest and most demanding test track in the world. Every automaker from BMW to Aston Martin has a test facility at the track. Jaguar has been testing at the Nürburgring since 2003.
Before our afternoon run, the weather went from rainy to sunny to hailstorms. The Nürburgring is quite freakish like that so extra precautions were given to me and six other American compatriots invited to the Jaguar Nürburgring Experience. The track, which also doubles as a one way public road at times, was shut down completely for Jaguar. Our motorsports impetus rose even higher. Sascha and his team repeatedly explained that you need to know the track before you can drive really fast. With so much ground to cover it could take more than 100 laps before memorization kicks in. The track features a cadre of banks, chicanes, hills and bumps. A steady grip on the steering wheel and good control needs to be exercised. There is limited space for passing so heavy concentration is a must!
Vehicles of choice were Jaguar’s all new 2012 XKR-S, the new XFR and the luxurious XJ Supersport. All featured the high revving 5.0-liter supercharged V8. We had driven the XKR-S for a few hours that morning for familiarization. It gets a 40-horsepower and 41 lb-ft torque boost from the 510 horses and 502 lb-ft of torque in the XKR. Top speed is set at 186 mph and zero to sixty mph can be achieved in 4.2 seconds. Jaguar also lowered the suspension 10 mm, revised the Trac DSC software, added 20” Vulcan wheels and enhanced it with a performance active exhaust with a superlative note and downshift rev matching. The $132,000 super coupe will be offered in four colors including the featured French Racing Blue. I particularly am a fan of the Italian Racing Red. Other differentiations from the XKR include the massive trunk mounted wing, a carbon fiber front splitter and rear diffuser and a palatial interior interspersed with carbon leather seats and interior trim with contrast stitching.
With so much power at our disposal my automotive verve increased tenfold. I learned the first four laps in the XJ while keeping my calm and composure. Again, a 13-mile lap is a long way and requires full attention. We all followed the leader like Boy Scouts in our respective vehicles. We came in for a drink break before switching cars and heading back out. I was now in the XKR-S for the remainder of the session. Our instructor let us run a little faster after seeing and appreciating our comfort levels.
It was time to let them fly like Cars’ Lightning McQueen!