The Nürburgring, Germany's oldest racetrack, recently got a dramatic makeover. The legendary Formula One race course, nicknamed the Green Hell, is to be turned into a year-round leisure center.
Nürburgring's race course: now under construction
Located 90 kilometers southwest of Cologne in the heart of the Eifel National Park, the Nürburgring has seen a lot in its 80 years: daredevil drivers, jubilant winners and too many dead.
The track's history includes more than 100 races and tragic crashes -- like the fiery wreck at the 1976 Grand Prix, from which driver Niki Lauda barely escaped.
Now, however, the race course is quiet; scaffolding covers the track's start and finish lines and the main grandstands.
In a major facelift meant to bring more life to the area, the track is being repurposed as a year-round leisure and business center with a promenade, an arena for small events, a convention center and a new grandstand. Four-star and a three-star hotels are entering the fray, along with a series of bungalows that will add up to 1,000 beds to the area.
The Nürburgring Corporation plans to invest 215 million euros by spring of next year, according to CEO Walter Kafitz.
When the Formula One returns
"Rock am Ring" brings in more than two million visitors annually
New Grand Prix racetracks in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Singapore are more lucrative for Formula One Boss Bernie Eccleston.
That means that the Nürburgring has felt it must dispel the myth that it is past its prime -- one reason justifying the course be flipped on its head.
"When we talk about Nürburgring 2009, we're also talking about the subsequent growth and development of the area," said Kafitz.
After the renovation, the racetrack expects around 2 million per year, including the number of people coming to the World Superbike Championships and Europe's largest rock festival, the "Rock am Ring."
"New growth has to come from outside," said Kafitz. "Of course, we want to increase the interest in motorsports. But we also don't want to be dependent on motorsports. We have to open up our offerings to bring people to the area from January to December."
While over half of the investments came from private investors, the "Nürburgring 2009" project is not without its critics. Some complain that the company is 90 percent owned by the state of Rhineland Palatinate, and they have doubts about whether their tax dollars are being put to good use.
But Kafitz says the ring is a business engine driving the region.
According to information provided by the company, the track has invested about 100 million euros over the last 15 years in the modernization of the track and pits without considerable public support. They say they have created 40 new jobs and promise to bring an additional 500 jobs to the region in the next two years.
Where managers can satisfy their need for speed
Operators hope an 18-hole golf course will draw more tourists
Once construction is complete, more than half a million additional visitors are expected in the Eifel each year. At present, turnover at the Ring is approximately 50 million annually -- a number expected to double.
Nürburgring operators also expect to increase profit through the new 18-hole golf course or high-octane cars rentals to satisfy visitors' need for speed.
For companies like Xerox and the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati, which sponsor motorsports at the track, the Nürburgring is a lucrative address.
"We have a hotel directly on the course. You can see the racetrack directly from your hotel room -- that's an amazing experience," said Marketing Manager Albert Brenner.
And despite all the add-ons, such as golf, motorsports will remain front and center at the Ring, says Kafitz.
"It's our core," he said. "It will always smell like gasoline here."