Although as a Dutchman Carel started racing at Zandvoort, the epic Nürburgring in the nearby German Eifel proved to be a much more important factor in his career. And that's not just because of the tragic coincidence that he made both his first and final Grand Prix appearances there. Carel simply loved the place.
The Nürburgring is known as the most challenging race track in the world. It’s situated in the most beautiful part of Germany, the Eifel region, and is named after the village of Nürburg. The more than 20kms long track is build around this and some other villages, even passing straight some of them, like Adenau. Drivers either just love the ‘Ring’ or hate it. The Nürburgring was designed to separate the good from the bad drivers because of its length, its heights and depths and the enormous amount of corners. Most drivers wouldn’t be able to learn this track within a couple of laps. Some say it takes years of practice to be quick around the Ring, others say it’s all about talent. The track will even get more difficult when you drive it more often. Because of the ever-changing climate of the Eifel the track is never the same. That’s why this circuit passing through beautiful forests is called the Green Hell.
Just like at Spa, it could rain at one end and be sunny at the other. Rain will make it slippery, fog will disable visibility and the sun will melt the asphalt. No lap is the same. Shadows will cool places down to change the level of grip in an instant and fallen leaves will suddenly feel like oil when coming round a blind corner. Because of the volcanic Eifel surface the asphalt will be working continuously. A smooth part of the track can be changed into a washboard one year later. And although it is possible to learn the driving line for every kind of weather situation, it’s harder to learn the track's behaviour just outside the line while racing.
There were 174 corners in the early days, some with positive camber, some with negative camber, going up and down. The grip and balance of your car will change all the time and as a driver you must be fully concentrated to drive quick lap times in practice or during qualifying. In a race you should drive as cleanly as possible. The track is not about horsepower, it’s about balance and the perfect line, making it so much different to any other circuit around the globe.
These challenging aspects allow good drivers in slower cars to be quicker than others in the quickest cars. Underdogs can become favourites by being able to manage and adjust their abilities. This means that they can and will surprise each and everyone at the Ring more than anywhere else. This is what happened in 1935 when Tazio Nuvolari won the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in his tiny Alfa Romeo P3, in which he beat the big and fast Mercedes Benz and Auto Unions, a complete David vs. Goliath story packed into one race at the Nürburgring, with the victory decided on the final lap. Tazio Nuvolari's victory was a surprise to everybody and he became an instant hero to anyone who wasn’t already an admirer of his achievements. His win is seen as the most heroic of all time, because he achieved it in a outdated and uncompetitive Alfa Romeo.
Besides challenging the Nürburgring is also very dangerous. Lots of drivers crashed badly and died at this track. In the old days there were trees lining the track, the Armco safety barriers only came in the 70s, in a period of time when safety gradually became a bigger issue. This was also the time when the track was changed in several places. The number of corners officially decreased from 174 to just over 70. It didn't keep heavy crashes from still taking place on a regular basis.
Carel Godin de Beaufort was aware of the danger but loved the circuit for its challenges. He wasn't able win in the cars he drove but showed the world that he was a very capable driver. With his advanced driving skills and track knowledge he could outrun some of his opponents in faster cars. On the main straight he was short on horsepower but having fun while racing isn’t always about top speed, especially at the Nürburgring. And when Carel was having fun, it wasn’t in a straight line.
Most of the famous drivers who achieved results at the Ring are called Ring master. Carel was certainly one of them, not because of lap records or victories but because of his ‘Ring skills’. The reason why he wanted to drive at the Ring as much as possible was simple - he was good at it. This fact provided him with the motivation and mental confidence to drive it at his own limit, even though his car was outdated and uncompetitive. In his mind the car was less important, it was all about the driver. These aspects caused Carel and so many others to become addicted to the Ring.
His first steps at the Ring ended upside down, literally. In his first few practice miles he went into a corner with more speed than his car could handle. The car flipped over and landed at the side of the track, with Carel underneath it. He switched off the ignition to save himself from being blown up but was unable to get away from under the car. His horn was still functioning, though, so he made a lot of noise to get attention but nobody responded. Carel said it took more than two hours until some people managed to put the car back on its wheels. He could laugh about it, especially when a couple of hours later the 1000 kms race started and his fuel tank started leaking.
After that strange episode, Carel was found racing quite a lot at the Ring, whether it be in sports cars or in F1/F2 during the Grands Prix he participated in. He became the first privateer to lap the circuit within 10 minutes, and raced with people like Richard von Frankenberg, who was familiar with the Nurburgring as the author of the famous book Der Nürburgring.
People still remember Carel today as one of the Ring Masters and that’s what makes the Ring special. You don’t have to be Tazio Nuvolari or Jim Clark to be a hero at the Nürburgring. Every driver, amateur or professional, will be noticed when he (or she!) finds the perfect line while racing on the limit. It doesn't really matter if a car has 150 of 550 horsepower, the Nürburgring is all about balance, in the car as well as in the mind. It’s about a combination between talent, skills and experience. The most talented, skilled and experienced people drivers still need luck and will have to work hard to win or even survive there. It was like that in the past, it is today and will be in the future. It is called the Green Hell for a reason.
The Porsche pits at the 1958 1000km-Rennen.
Carel during the 1961 German GP.