The Nurburgring is absolutely amazing. Anyone who has been there will agree that it’s unlike any other motor racing circuit in the world.
You can only imagine how I felt when I received an email from Hyundai USA asking me if I’d be available to join them on a trip to the legendary Nurburgring. With my jaw on the floor as I yelped out, “Whaaaaaaaaat!!!” I immediately hit ‘Reply’ and typed HELL F***ING YES in bold, all caps letters while slamming my palm on my desk in excitement. Then I took a few deep breaths, composed myself, hit the backspace, then typed out a more professional looking response. “Yes, I’d absolutely love to join you on the trip!”
For most racing enthusiasts, the Nurburgring is a bucket list destination. The very first time I visited the legendary Ring was in 2008, and I’ve been dying to return ever since. It was on my first trip to the Nurburgring eleven years ago when I and others from the early Electronic Arts Need for Speed team began creating content to launch the new brand extension website we were working on, entitled Speedhunters.
From the very first visit, I knew right away why everyone waxes poetically about the Green Hell. Nurburgring is not only an amazing racetrack, it has an amazing car culture surrounding it.
Disclaimer – I originally hoped to publish this story much sooner – see, I originally intended to publish the story with a separate outlet that showed interest initially, but when things came down to it, it took forever to get the story scheduled. This is the problem with some of the larger, corporate media outlets. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bashing. I love reading all sorts of automotive media outlets, and therefore, I still love contributing to many different outlets, from established print magazines to other websites. I started my automotive journalism and photography career shooting freelance stories for a handful of print magazines and websites… but unfortunately, if I’m publishing on a site that I don’t ultimately have full control of, stories can sometimes get pushed back for reasons beyond my control.
Anyway, enough of that – back to the story!
On the day before the Nurburgring 24H race began, Hyundai invited several of its journalist and influencer guests to an event called the ‘N Homecoming’ at Mendig Airport, which isn’t too far from the Nurburgring. At this event, they closed down parts of the airport just so we could gather in one of the hangars and drive the cars on Mendig’s flat-surfaced runways.
Lined up in rows were dozens and dozens of models of the 4-cylinder turbocharged Hyundai i30N, in two different body styles.
The most recognizable shape in the lineup was probably the i30N hatchback. Hyundai previously brought an i30N race car from the N24 to SEMA, and in previous years, I watched the i30N TCR battle its way to the top of the Pirelli World Challenge’s touring car class as well.
I absolutely love the look of the i30N in 5-door hatchback format. It’s a handsome looking, utilitarian vehicle that feels at home at high speeds, but it’s also responsive and nimble enough to dice through traffic in a busy urban metropolis.
One of the things I liked best about the hatchback version of the i30N is the roof wing with integrated brake light, which gives the car a World Rally Championship competition car look. Hyundai actually competes in the WRC series, so it’s definitely a touch of authenticity.
Also lined up on the Mendig Airport starting grid was the i30 Fastback N, which looked completely different from the rear.
Even though it’s called a Fastback, the i30 Fastback N looks more like a sedan to me. While both cars have four passenger doors, the Fastback N looks more stately, and more like a long distance touring car.
With the slant of the rear window and the upward sweep of the ducktail wing on the rear hatch, the i30 Fastback N reminds me of an Aston Martin Rapide or Porsche Panamera from certain angles.
Inside one of the Mendig Airport hangars, Hyundai set up a driving academy, where we could get in the driver seat of the i30N to practice our cornering technique in a higher speed road course and a separate technical low speed autocross course. The main instructors also brought groups of drivers to another skidpad area set up on one of the runways, where we could test out the i30N’s steering capability and braking in a slalom area.
Needless to say, everyone who drove the cars were impressed, including myself. I had a feeling the i30N would handle well because I saw them dominating the Touring Car race events they competed in, but it was amazing to get behind the wheel and experience it for myself!
After completing all our driving activities, the drivers were happy to be awarded Certificates of Completion for the 24 Hours of Hyundai N Experience Driving Academy.
Shortly thereafter, we were transported to the N Hotel via a nice drive through the German countryside. While the areas surrounding the Nurburgring were lushly forested, the areas surrounding the forest consisted of rolling fields with tightly manicured fields – after all, even the grasses in the fields had to be precise. We were in Germany!
When we finally arrived at the N Hotel, we were excited to find out it was actually trackside at the southernmost hairpin of the Nurburgring – what a mind blowing location!!! The N Hotel itself and the hospitality area were both set up just inches (should I say centimeters?) away from the track, so we could get super close to the action without needing to even leave the area!
The Hyundai VIP hospitality area just outside the N Hotel was just surreal. Not only was the placement of the structure literally inches away from the actual race track guardrails, it was an amazing place for people watching, networking with other guests and rubbing shoulders with several of Hyundai’s race teams in several disciplines of racing. Not only did we have full access to hang out with sponsored road racing drivers, but I spotted many folks from Hyundai’s World Rally Championship team walking around in the hospitality area also.
That’s when I started thinking about how incredibly cool it would be to shoot a WRC event with Hyundai. That would just be bonkers!
Of course, since we were in the heart of Deutschland motorsport culture, the hospitality area was filled with friendly attendants, serving up traditional German food, like bratwurst, currywurst, pretzels, beer, wine, and fried potatoes with a smile.
It was super fun to sit in the outside lounge and watch racing, because the vibes were just so cool! Right next to the track, DJ Desy had some turntables and her computer set up, so she could spin some soulful electronic music while we all chilled out in the white sofas, grooving to the mellow beats while enjoying the sounds of cars accelerating out of the hairpin.
This is how watching racing should be!
Periodically throughout the event, there would be opportunities for Q&A sessions with some of the Hyundai drivers and team members that made appearances at the hospitality area.
Thanks to Hyundai, I was one of the very few lucky drivers able to participate in a special event they organized called the N Corso, where selected Hyundai guests got to actually drive the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a Hyundai i30N just before the start of the actual ADAC 24 Hours of Nurburgring race!!!
Here’s a screen capture from my DJI Osmo Action camera mounted on the window of the Hyundai i30N while I was driving. Do you recognize where the car is?! YES, that is the legendary Karussell on the Nurburgring Nordschleife!
The entrance to the sweeping Karussell corner is blind, and the road has a steep bank on the inside. On most race tracks with banks, the road surface climbs up, and you can hug the higher portion of the turn at high speed (like NASCAR tracks), but the Karussell is different, because drivers have to drop car into the concrete banking and then floor the gas pedal to keep the car in the 210 degree corner until the road levels out and the concrete surface becomes black tarmac again, like the rest of the racetrack. Driving the Karussell can be pretty hard on a driver’s wrists and hands because of the prolonged bumpy cornering of the concrete sections you drive over while the car is in the Karrusell.
Racing enthusiasts all over the world commonly list driving the Nurburgring as a bucket list item that they must do before they die – but to be able to drive the legendary Nordschleife just before the start of the N24 race while all the spectators are gathered around the entire racetrack?! That experience was just mind blowingly incredible. I will never forget this memory until the day I die.
Much of my attention, however, was focused outside on the racetrack. This photo was actually taken from the VIP hospitality suite! Hyundai VIPs had even better photo access to the Nurburgring hairpin than the working trackside media, because of the elevated positioning of the VIP area and the fact that it was so close to the track. For normal credentialed photographers to even get to this area, they would have to hike for miles… and they still wouldn’t have this type of access because of the gravel runoffs at the end of the hairpin.
It was awesome to see the i30 Fastback N from Engstler Motorsport on track. It was mindblowing to think that this was the exact same model of car that I got to drive at Mendig Airport and on the actual Nordschleife just before the 24H race started! (Obviously, I was driving a street car, not a caged car in race trim like the one from Engstler Motorsport.)
While all the Hyundai N cars were proudly wearing the factory Hyundai Motorsport colors, the Veloster N TCR really made a huge impression on race fans because you could hear the car’s turbo noises even before you saw it diving into the corners!
Seeing the way the Veloster N TCR performed at the N24 really made me want to drive a Veloster N street car on the racetrack back in the United States. Even though it’s still a bit rare to see these cars driving around on the street, whenever I do see one, I get giddy and excited to hear the awesome turbo gurgle – it all just brings me back to my amazing experiences at the Nurburgring 24H, and also the special event where I got to drive the Elantra GT N-Line and Veloster N at Hyundai’s private test track in the Southern California desert.
The Veloster N TCR is crazy. It has wide, body fenders like the race cars in the German DTM races or Japan’s Super GT series, but it has a short wheel base and small, sporty hatchback profile like the cars from the World Rally Championship.
Being invited to this event as a guest of Hyundai was an experience that I will never forget. This was a bucket list trip, and I’m eternally grateful that I got to experience this event and meet so many great people while we were out in Germany.
In the immortal words of Wayne Newton, Danke schoen Hyundai!
On the day I flew in to Frankfurt, while some of the other American guests decided to drink at the hotel bar, I decided to take the train into Frankfurt with my camera to take some street snaps. Right before flying out of Frankfurt, I met up with my friends Kaleb and Bobby Tousignant of Veloster Nation and went out again to explore for a few hours before we had to fly home. So glad we had a chance to explore and take photos in Frankfurt, even if just for a few hours! Enjoy the street snaps!