If you are not familiar with Nürburgring Nordschleife, please read this overview of the track prior to the interview below.
The Nürburgring is made up of two racetracks: the Nordschleife which was opened in 1927 as the “First Hilly Racing and Test Track” and the Grand Prix Circuit inaugurated in 1984. The two circuits, which can be driven around in combination, are together about 26 kilometres, making the Nürburgring the longest permanent racetrack in the world. A total of 40 left-hand bends, 50 right-hand bends and a 300m height difference with extreme slopes and gradients ensure a significant adrenaline kick for both drivers and spectators.
For additional pictures of the race track, click here.
Since its construction (1925 – 1927), the Nordschleife has enjoyed a reputation as a terrifying and merciless route through the Eifel forests. An English journalist who visited the Nordschleife during the opening race on 18 June 1927 even concluded “that it seemed as if a reeling, drunken giant had been sent out to determine the route”. The Formula 1 pilot Sir John Young Jackie Stewart – after all a three-time world champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973 – was so impressed by the circuit that he gave it the name which it will probably never lose: Green Hell (Grüne Hölle).
The best-known event today is the ADAC Zurich 24-hour race, which is held on both the Nordschleife and the Grand Prix circuit and which for three days transforms the entire circuit into a huge spectacle. Up to 800 amateurs and professionals in up to 200 cars take part in this race.
It’s taken many years, but it pleases me greatly to announce that there is a new motorcycle lap record on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. At 7m10s BTG, Andy Carlile is now the fastest man ever to lap the 20832m Northloop on two wheels. Back of a fag-packet mathematics would place that as a 7m 28s full lap time or even a 7m 24s ‘industry’ time (which is a full lap minus the T13 straight).
Who, why, what?
Something like this doesn’t happen overnight. There are questions to be answered, so here goes…
Who are you?
“My name is Andy Carlile, though I’m often referred to as AndyPath, him, or did you see that bike come flying past, jesus h. christ! I’m a 33-year-old ex-moped mayhem double champion of Cumbrian descent. That’s in England, by the way. I’ve lived at the Nürburgring since 2007 and probably completed a few thousand laps of the old ‘ring.”
Why did you do this?
“Honestly, I was attracted to near-unlimited track access for the price of one year ticket. From there things just spiralled. I started my first year at the ‘ring making beds and changing tyres. Initially helping Performance Bikes magazine with their roadtests here, by the end I was riding in place of the injured Baron as the laptime-setter. Having realised I could go fast here, my competitive and analytical (some might say overly-analytical – DL) nature urged me to maybe try and be the fastest…”
What’s your bike and why is it so fast?
“It’s only fast because I don’t slow down. It’s not a highly modified cheque-book special, it’s not an ex-factory race bike. It’s just a carefully developed 2005 Yamaha YZF-R1. Bought crash damaged for £4000 back in 2007, because the faithful, mercilessly thrashed ZX-6R was just too slow.”
What are the biggest modifications?
“Well, the engine is standard, right down to the air filter. All efforts have been put into chassis, comfort and weight loss. This started with the Nitron shock, which only showed-up the forks as too soft. So Nitron re-valved and re-sprung them. Ergonomically, the seat is now higher, the bars are straighter and the pegs have been adjusted to suit as well. It’s comfortable, not cramped, and set for ease-of-control over multiple laps. The next single biggest modification are the wheels. BST carbon wheels have helped everywhere. Acceleration is increased, stopping is quicker, turning requires less effort and suspension has an easier time. Even tyre life is marginally better. There are some downsides. The performance increased enough that gearing, setup, and track knowledge had to be re-thought as it was possible to accelerate that much quicker. Corners would arrive in different gears, and questions would be raised over just which sprocket should I really use? And then you question your knowledge of what is actually possible again. Those are not really downsides, but they were very time-consuming. I also needed to weaken the brakes to maintain controllability due to the low-weight of the wheels you’re now stopping. Dunlop also sent me some proper sticky rubber to have a bash with. There’s so much to tell you there, that I’ll write a whole review late. But 7m10s, and they’re road-legal.”
Have you got carried away in any part of this project?
“Definitely in the weight-saving. The wheels started this, because their effect was so dramatic. I haven’t gone too far, nothing’s failed, and I’m conscious of this. But I have spent three hours lightening a headlight loom by 14 grams. Some people would suggest that’s going too far. Other victories include drilling plastic brackets, no detectable weight saving there as the scales only went in increments of one gram. It’s tough to save weight. For example some titanium Akrapovic cans saved 1.7kgs, but then I had to fit a Power Commander to control the ECU and that weighed 400 grams. In isolation, shaving 12 grams off the clutch cable guide is kind of pointless. But all-up I’ve saved 11kgs through obsessive shaving, filing and drilling. That makes a real difference to everything the bike does.”
Isn’t this dangerous?
“Yes it is, and the margins for error get smaller the faster you go. But you can always try and stack the odds in your favour. Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to start. That and the amount of time learning every possible detail of the Nordschleife. I’ve walked it, I’ve cycled it, I’ve driven it. I’ve even been on my hands and knees examining details. There’s probably a good 20 laps on foot now. I also instruct here in race cars and tourist rental cars, which gives me an insight and understanding into the other users of the track.”
Will it go any faster?
“What you’re all thinking, and what I’m trying to ignore is the number ‘6’. Yes the bike will go a little bit faster, but we’re plumbing the deepest depths of diminishing returns. The mettle of real competition would be the biggest driver of improvement. Imagine if the World Road Racing championship changed from fantasy to reality, and the top-flight Isle of Man and Irish Road racers came to play. With slicks and wheel-to-wheel competition even my laptime should fall. The very real flip-side to this is that I’m close to the limit of my setup knowledge. It’s approaching the ragged edge right now, and I don’t know what to do to make it more stable.”
So how long does it take to learn the Nordschleife?
No, really, how many laps?
“If you get to lap four, you’ll begin to appreciate the sheer scale of the challenge ahead of you. If you’ve not grasped how difficult this track is, at least do me the favour of learning the few slow corners. That way there are less hospital visits. If you want an accurate figure for laps, a few dozen spread over a week is an adequate introduction. Proficiency is more like one full year of riding, and isn’t defined as a set number of laps. I wouldn’t say I know everything about the Nordschleife, but it’s still fun to learn.”
Fastest motorcycle lap of the Nürburgring. 7m10s BTG Yamaha YZF R1