THE Nurburgring. To motorsport fans, it is the centre of the universe. In their thousands they come, to pit their wits and machines against the 13-mile circuit’s dizzying cocktail of dips, crests and twists. Racing drivers in stripped-down Porsches, joiners on their way home from work in diesel Astra vans. You name it, they’ll race it.
As you would expect from a circuit that winds its way between the trees on the slopes of Germany’s Eifel Mountains, there is no margin for error. For every personal best, there’s a car bouncing off the crash barriers, its headlights shattered and its driver’s ego in tatters. The busiest man in this part of the world is the recovery truck driver. Seems a strange place for Jaguar to send me to discover the other, saner, side to the XKR-S’s personality, but here I am, about to go racing in the coupe’s convertible cousin. I’d be fibbing if I told you I wasn’t scared.
Still, it’s dry and I’m in good company. My instructor is Tim Bergmeister, racing driver and veteran of hundreds of laps of the Nordschleife. He’s in the XKR-S in front, offering instructions via a walkie-talkie. As long as I follow in Tim’s tyre tracks, I’ll be OK. I confess that my only experience of the Nurburgring is playing a few pixellated laps on the Playstation. To my delight, Tim tells me that’s good. It means I’ve already got a feel for the layout of the circuit, although it won’t prepare me for the g-forces I’ll feel as the Jag follows the Nordschleife’s sinuous form. The flag drops and off we go, gently at first as we size up the first of the Nordschleife’s corners. Some say there are 72 bends, others put the figure above 100. It depends on your definition of a corner.
The radio crackles into life: “Short braking, stay to the left, right turn, hold it, hold it, hold it… power”. The Hocheichen curves – the bit I always stuff up on the Playstation – pass without incident, and we’re off towards Arenberg and the sequence of downhill blind sweeps that follow.
I’m sure the scenery is nice in this part of Germany, but I daren’t take my eyes off Tim’s car for a nanosecond. Every time I let a gap of more than 50 yards form, he’s on to me, urging me to keep up. A flat-out uphill section brings us to the Carousel, a banked concrete hairpin that, even in a car as comfy as a Jag, threatens to undo all your dentist’s good work. The horizon tilts then rights itself as the XKR-S dives in and out.
Between glances at the speedo (what’s 220 kilometres an hour in British?), I realise that the Jag – the same Jag that terrified me so on a moist Scottish motorway – hasn’t stepped out of line once, even though I’ve been a bit leaden-footed with the pedals in my efforts to keep up with Tim.
Keep up I did, though, and lived to tell the tale. Sure, Tim wasn’t going that fast – my on-board video suggests a ten-minute lap – but, when you’re taking your first tentative steps on the Nurburgring in a car that wanted to kill you last time you were in it, anything under a day will do.