Brought to heel...
MAGGIE BARRY relishes the challenge of the famous German racing circuit in Nurburg – and even manages it in high heels
THE Nurburgring – even the sound of it sends shivers up your spine.
But here I am in Nurburg, Germany, the legendary track just a stone's throw from my bedroom window and I am ready and willing, if slightly unskilled, to take my turn on the tarmac.
I take a stroll down to have a look and it is worryingly narrower than I thought it would be.
I am driving a BMW M3 on the Ring – slightly tweaked – but then, in Nurburg, every vehicle is slightly tweaked.
And there are an awesome number of them lying carelessly around the streets – Porsches of all kinds, Audi R8s, whose drivers delight in firing them up and taking a good 10 minutes to discuss and inspect the tyres, Mercs, Jags, souped-up SEATs, Suzukis, Renaults and Peugeots.
In Nurburg, the village inside the ring, they live and breathe cars and you can't get away from the talk of performance, fuel and statistics, nor the noise of engines revving and exhausts popping.
This is a village with its own internal combustion soundtrack.
It is also safe to say that the air fairly hums with testosterone and that is interesting because the big name here is a woman driver, Sabine Schmitz, whose home track this is and whose mum, Ursula, runs the Hotel am Tiergarten with its famous Pistenklause Restaurant, the hub of Nurburg.
It buzzes, it jumps and there are about 50 men in it to every woman – and most of them are waitresses.
Indeed, Nils, from Denmark, who comes every year with his Audi TT Quattroporte, is stunned when I say I am doing the Nordschleife circuit the next day. He gawps in disbelief: "You, too."
Yes, me too, which is how I find myself sitting with about 30 others in a special pre-drive briefing session at RSR, one of the biggest rental agencies at the Ring.
I am here with Best Of The Best, a company who display their cars at airports across the country and then you buy a ticket, complete a simple skills test and, like Ian Smith in Aberdeen recently, you could win an Aston Martin.
"We give a car away every two weeks," says boss Will Hindmarch, who adds he loves that part of his job but despairs of the people who continually remark: "Does anyone ever win one of those?"
"Yes, they do. Quite frequently," he says in frustration.
"We must have given away about 200 cars by now."
And indeed, one of his regulars, taxi driver Steve Moore who competes online every week, is with us to try out the Ring for the first time, too – courtesy of Will's Facebook page.
We all sit listening as professional driver Anthony Ashley tells us how 80 per cent of the corners on the 13-mile circuit are blind.
He tells us how it rises and falls 300 metres quite steeply, which means your car can take off in places.
And, because it is an old circuit, built before safety was a priority issue, there is little margin for error.
He warns: "The racing is endurance racing. You need to bring your mindset back a notch so that you can finish."
But he adds: "You have come to the best racing track in the world. Once you have driven this, everything else feels ordinary. This is 3-D, the rest are 2-D."
And off we go, which can be the scary part because you enter the Ring at the fastest and widest part of the track with GT-Rs, Radicals and McLarens all bearing down on you, reminding you to keep to the right and let them past.
It is a baptism of fire and you drive simply because to do nothing else is quite literally suicide.
The first time round went by in a blur as I followed directions from Mike, my instructor, keeping an eye always in my mirror for the faster and more experienced Ring drivers coming up behind me.
I braked into corners, accelerated out of them, jumped into the Karussell corner, whizzed down the Foxhole and then, as we came around the last corner into the wide straight that flies past the stand, Mike ordered: "Put your foot down." So I did.
"Two hundred," he said, proudly.
Brilliant, I thought, until a shadow of a car hurtled past. I don't even know what it was. "Mm, 300, I think," said Mike. And that put me in my place.
There were two crashes among the 190 cars in the four hours we were there.
A mathematical American sitting next to me worked out that, given those statistics, we would all eventually kill ourselves – or the strongest would become better drivers and survive. The Darwinian theory of the Nurburgring.
But what do you do after you have driven around the Nurburgring?
Well, I did it again and then again and, just when it was getting to be infectious, Mike took me out and showed me how it really should be driven. I was suitably humbled.
But it was fun, exhilarating and breathtaking. I loved every minute of it.
I saw only three other women, including Sabine, driving on the Ring that day and all of them looked good.
As for me, I was never going to win any trophies but what an experience.
The record for the Ring is six minutes and 47 seconds for a street-legal car and I reckon it took me at least twice as long.
But I will tell you this – and here I may shock the purists – I may not have been the fastest but I bet I was the only one who did it in high heels.
Will: It was my dream for everyone else's dream to come true
THE Best Of The Best was founded by Will Hindmarch in 2000 – simply because he loved cars.
He had always dreamed as a boy of owning a supercar and, as he grew older, he decided it would be his goal in life to make this same dream come true for as many people as possible.
The first inkling of this that the public would have was the presence in airports across the country of fabulous cars that anyone could win. And they did.
Will recalls the time he sold his first ever ticket – and nearly hugged the man who bought it.
"I'm still amazed we managed to sell any tickets on day one," he laughs. "Our first car, a black Porsche 911, had arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 ready to go on the stand but it was covered in sand after a torrential storm on the way in. It was early in the morning by the time it was on the stand but I had to clean it, ready for the first day of trading.
"But the bucket wouldn't fit under any of the taps in the toilets, so I ended buying a load of bottled water to clean the car. I remember a man coming up and having a good nose at it.
"He asked how many people had bought tickets and how many cars we'd given away. You should have seen his face when I said we hadn't sold any tickets and he was the first person to buy one. I could have hugged him when he eventually bought some.
"We've come an awful long way since those early days and it's amazing to think we've now chalked up 200 winners.
"And we're also noticing some interesting trends – most notably the numbers of women now playing the game. In the first few years, it was predominantly men, as much as 95 per cent, but now 30 per cent are women."
To date, Will has given away £14million worth of cars across the world.
Every two weeks, someone, somewhere, wins a supercar and today you do not even have to go to the airport – you can do it online. Telling someone they have won an Aston Martin, a Range Rover or even a Caterham "is just the best job in the world", he said.
David Coulthard has now joined the company as a brand ambassador and the next free online competition is the California Run road trip.
For more information on how to play that and the regular supercar competition, visit www.botb.com