And the right driver is key to that serenity. Meet Ron Simons.
Ron Simons hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so I guess he considered our lap around the famed Nurburgring in a Nissan GT-R as nothing more than an early morning stretch exercise. I ate a few minutes before we got underway and quickly felt my screw up at the bottom of my stomach, tasting my croissant and coffee all over again in not a good way. I didn’t dare tell Ron to take it easy. No, I was at the Nurburgring, "The Green Hell," riding shotgun in a GT-R with a pro at the wheel. Weakness was not an option.
So I said to myself: "Self, no matter what, breakfast stays where it is." Barfing while wearing a helmet is equally disgusting and embarrassing on so many levels. By this point Ron was having at it on that glorious one-of-a-kind circuit, enjoying every gratifying second despite driving it thousands of times before. After all, as he told me, he’s been a professional driver for half his life. Ron Simons is the owner and founder of RSR Nurburg and RSR Spa. RSR, of course, stands for Ron Simons Racing. He was an instructor for both Ferrari and Porsche throughout the 1990s and, in 2002, set off on his own to start the 'Ring’s premiere driving school.
Along with track car rentals and driver instruction, you can also experience that slice of carved-out mountain track in a 'Ring Taxi. RSR's taxi happens to be a Nissan GT-R, which makes perfect sense considering RSR Nurburg hosted Godzilla's launch back in 2008. From the moment Ron maneuvered the GT-R on to the track he didn’t hold back. Sharp crests, serious and sudden elevation changes, and the unknown intentions of inexperienced drivers awaited us. Speaking of which, this day was an open track day, meaning literally anyone with an engine and at least two wheels can pay the 29 euro entry fee. There are several crashes per day, some very serious.
There are motorbikes, whose riders can’t hear cars coming fast from behind and must rely on their side mirrors and quick reflexes. There are other drivers, like Ron and his team of excellent instructors, who’ve memorized every square inch of track, and love it even more with every completed lap. And then there are the amateurs (like myself), the ones who have a tendency to bend and break metal. Sometimes a patch of oil is the cause, or carrying too much speed into a corner is all it’ll take to ruin so much. Driving the Nurburgring the way it's meant to be driven takes skill and experience.
When Ron and I rapidly came up on a Mercedes SL convertible, whose driver had his left hand on the wheel and right arm stretched out across the passenger seat headrest, Ron immediately tried to pass him on the left, only he couldn’t. The guy was in the middle of the track and didn’t move to the right to allow faster drivers to pass. Ron precisely maneuvered the GT-R to only a few inches of the SL's left rear bumper. The guy finally got the hint. Asshole even took his time moving to the right. "It’s always the guy in the Mercedes," Ron comments with a fine mix of truth and sarcasm, the tone only someone like him could get away with in a moment like that.
He then impersonated that driver’s unearned cockiness by relaxing his own right arm behind my headrest for a few seconds, gripping the wheel with only one hand while maintaining perfect control. Respect. Then came a pair of motorcyclists. Neither knew what they were doing. Fortunately Ron did and they were soon behind us for good. We proceeded through notorious corners like Bergwerk, made infamous by Nikki Lauda at the 1976 German Grand Prix, the iconic Carousel and its blind entrance, the YouTube spotter and crash site favorite Brunnchen and its two fast right-hand corners, and the crucial Pflanzgarten, consisting of several potentially fatal jumps.
Ron owned every moment. "It’s too bad you can’t experience the GT-R in the wet. That’s when it really comes alive," he yelled out. At that moment, so conveniently, rain drops began to appear on the windshield. Ron flicked on the wipers and took note. He wasn't the slightest bit fazed. Nor was the GT-R. All-wheel drive in a 545 or so horsepower supercar tackling the Nurburgring is something everyone must experience. But take it from me and let a pro take the helm. He or she (Top Gear's Sabine Schmitz is associated with RSR, too) can exploit the GT-R’s full capabilities in a way that'll reveal the Gran Turismo video game's honest truth: bullshit virtual reality.
I also had the chance to drive a lap around the 'Ring myself in one of RSR’s BMW M235i’s. Great car, but I sucked. I’d never driven on a track before and my first time was The Green Hell. Both I and the car (along with the metal guard rails) emerged unscathed. I could care less what my time was and didn't check. I did my lap and had no need to prove myself to anybody. But the lap in the GT-R with Ron was the real thrill ride. It was a privilege I'll never forget. We exited the final straightaway at well over 100 mph and made our way back to the RSR parking lot. Ron hopped out while I collected myself for a moment. Shaking hands, he gave me a slap on the back and asked if I had fun.
Seriously? The look on my face said it all. Ron walked inside, finally getting himself something to eat. As for me, I completely forgot about my initial funky stomach. I headed over to the fridge and grabbed a well-deserved bottle of fine Bavarian beer. It wasn't even 9:30 am. Welcome to the Nurburgring.