Every so often, the Nurburgring Nordschleife and the much newer GP-Strecke are combined. This makes for a 15.5-mile monster of a track, providing a challenging proving ground for anyone taking on the legendary N24 endurance race.
However, the Eifel mountains around Nurburg were once home to an even larger track - the Gesamtstrecke. Weighing in at 17.5 miles, this colossal circuit linked the Nordschleife with the Sudschleife, the former track’s lesser-known little brother.
Most of the time, the two tracks were separate entities. While the Nordschleife (north loop) was pitched at major competitions, the Sudschelife (south loop) tended to accommodate races much lower down the pecking order. Think of it as a comparison between Silverstone National and the GP circuit, but with a greater sense of peril.
Comprised of 25 corners, the 4.8-mile Sudschleife was - a few tight bends aside - fast and flowing. The asphalt carved its way through the forest, offering little to no runoff in places, and a lack of, well, anything between the cars and the wall of trees whipping by. Like the Nordschleife, the Sudschleife was a killer, claiming a dozen lives during competition use alone.
I’m using past tense for a lot of this, as the Sudschleife is no more. The track held its last race in 1971, remaining open for Touristenfahrten laps until it was shut for good in 1975. But if you know where to look, you can retrace most of it.
A large chunk of it was completely destroyed during the construction of the GP loop, referred to by its critics as the ‘Ersatzring’. Driving away from here, though, it’s possible to take a public road off the L94 that roughly follows the course of the Sudschleife.
Winding downhill, even within the speed limit, you get some sense of what it must have been like for racers to drop into the woods. Our car for the day - an Aston Martin Vantage AMR - is trickier to drive than most sports cars, with its hilariously butch manual gearbox and wayward-when-wet rear end, but it’s a far cry from the pared-back deathtraps that rocketed down here all those decades ago.
Still, its 4.0-litre Mercedes-AMG sourced twin-turbo V8 provides a suitable soundtrack which furiously bounces off the trees. And on a cold and damp day like this, I’m happy to be in an enclosed cockpit.
Near a campsite, I spot the first clue to what went on here before 1976 - a decaying marshal’s post on what used to be Aschenschlag bend.
I spy small parts of the original asphalt at the roadside, but it’s at this point that the public road deviates from the path of the Sudschleife, with another large section reclaimed via construction work. The town of Mullenbach occupies what was the farthest part of the track, the tight Mullenbach Kurve ingloriously reduced to a dead end. Providing a link to the past, there’s a road here called ‘Sudschleife’.
Heading back away from Mullenbach, this is where it gets really interesting. I’m able to leave the road in the Vantage and drive on the best-preserved part of the track, used as an access road for camping and parking areas near the GP circuit.
It’s much longer and in far better condition than I’d expected. I crawl along at only a little over walking pace to drink it all in, even if the big leaf-blower we’re sharing the track with is hampering the atmosphere a little.
The thought of coming down here at speed back in the day is terrifying. It’s narrow, and for most of it, the asphalt abruptly ends as a line of unforgiving trees begin.
Climbing uphill, I wonder how many people come down this access road without knowing its significance. It’s easily done - there are no information boards or commemorative plaques explaining what used to go on here.
At the top of the hill, you’ll find yourself back at the other side of the GP circuit, near Warsteiner-Kurve. And thus concludes the most complete lap of the Sudschleife as is possible today.
This place may require a little more imagination than somewhere like France’s Reims-Geux with its incredibly well-preserved paddock complex, but that doesn’t mean the Sudschleife isn’t worth seeking out. If you’ve had your fill of Touristenfahrten laps on your next Nurburgring visit, this is an essential box to tick.