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Putting the brakes on: Nürburgring files for bankruptcy

Audi R8 e-tron laps nurburgring in 8:09As racetracks go, Germany’s Nürburgring is one of the most legendary. Alternately known as “The ‘Ring” and the “Green Hell, the roughly 14-mile track is both a place for racers to test their mettle, and a place for car companies to test new models. Despite that popularity, the company that owns the Nürburgring will file for bankruptcy next week.

Nürburgring GmbH actually owns the track, and 90 percent of the company itself is controlled by the German government. The company is 413 million euros (about $507 million) in debt, but the track itself is only valued at 126 million euros, or $154 million.

The company recently sought a 13 million euro rescue package from the European Commission to pay down the debt. The Commission, located in Brussels, turned the lords of the ‘Ring down.

The Nürburgring’s owners have been at odds with the Commission because a multi-million euro loan the company recently received to upgrade the track and an adjacent shopping center could be in violation of free trade laws. This matter is unrelated to the Commission’s decision to reject the request for the rescue package, sources say.

The company said the 2012 season will “probably” continue unaffected. Whether the track opens for the 2013 season will be decided by a court-appointed bankruptcy administrator.

The track host the 24 Hours of Nürburgring endurance race, as well as numerous shorter races. The track is also open to the public: for about $35, drivers and riders can take their car or motorcycle for a lap. For those with less talent, Jaguar and BMW give rides in specially equipped “‘Ring Taxi” M5s and XJs.

The ‘Ring is also known as a proving ground for high-performance cars. BMW tests all of its M-cars there. Cadillac followed Bavaria’s example with the current CTS-V, and it’s currently testing the 2014 CTS at the track. In addition, the Lexus LFA and nearly every current Aston Martin underwent testing there.

With so many cars being fined tuned on the ‘Ring’s nearly 14 miles of curves, the lap record for production cars has become a major competition for car makers. The current record of 7:11.57 is held by the Gumpert Apollo Speed, although the roofless and doorless Radical SR8LM went around in 6:48.

Anything under eight minutes is considered a good time. In 2011, a Corvette ZR1 posted a 7:19.63 lap time. In an independently conducted test, a Ferrari Enzo went around in 7:25.7.

As a place of pure, unadulterated speed, the Nürburgring holds a special place in car enthusiasts’ hearts. It would be a shame if it got shut down and ruined everyone’s fun.