“I’m just taking my friend around the Nordschleife,” I stammered. “This isn’t a taxi, honest.”
I could feel the sweat prickling on my top lip though. The yellow-vested Nürburgring marshall, leaned further over, looking into the car with deep suspicion. Behind us a queue was building, back in 2008 there were only two car entry barriers on to the Nordschleife. And our RSR-liveried Porsche 996 GT3 RS was blocking 50% of them.
“Your friend?” he asked, with solid tones of I-don’t-believe-a-word-you’re-saying reverberating through his voice.
“Erm, sure, I’ve known him since school,” I profess, honestly, but it’s too late.
“Please turn around, I will bring you the paperwork. Do not try to drive the Nordschleife again today.”
It’s fair to say that my first experience as an alleged Nürburgring taxi driver didn’t go that well. But just like my transition from Nürburgring fan to Nürburgring journeyman, it wasn’t something that was going to happen overnight.
After around nine years of social visits, I’d bitten the bullet, took the plunge, and moved over to Nürburg. Lock, stock and barrel. I was now a Nürburgring instructor, and sales and marketing manager for RSR Nürburg (yes, we re-branded it from 75 Experience GmbH).
But, after years of taking friends and family around in whatever ringtool I’d built or borrowed, I’d learnt something. You can’t call yourself a professional, and expect to still take friends around the Nürburgring.
Why? Because that’s business.
In context, by the time I’d been turned around and banned for those GT3RS laps, I’d already been driving taxi laps for Nissan and Dunlop on private events most of the summer. Following that incident, I tried much harder to fly under the radar during touristenfahrten, and made it clear that my taxi driving exploits were reserved for VLN practice and private events only.
Back in those days a taxi license wasn’t even something you could bid on. It was something you were offered. You had to move in the right circles, be trusted, and, some suggest, know who to persuade and how. Driving an official “Ring Taxi” during public hours was a dream.
2015-2017 License period
By 2015 the dream was coming true. The taxi licenses were becoming officially available, and by March offers were being invited for that very season. Minimum bid €14,000. I knew how it would work, and we had an idea of how much it might cost. After working with NISMO for a few years, I had a cool plan, but it didn’t work out. Offering the license in March, ready to start in April, was a bit quick.
But after losing the race to a license, I was picked up as the primary driver for ringtaxi.de, racking up literally thousands and thousands of laps during touristenfahrten. Our competition was practically none-existent. Nürburgring were running their brand-new Jaguar only once or twice a month, and the other license holder (Renntaxi) wasn’t even allowed into the carpark. BMW had practically given up, after a series of high-profile crashes, and weren’t even selling new tickets. They spent a whole year just running through the back-catalogue of voucher sales. We slayed it.
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m rocking up to the Nordschleife car-park in the Jaguar F-Type SVR that Nürburgring had dropped. I was running the official Jaguar Nürburgring Race Taxi on behalf of Jaguar Land Rover. Just me. One man, a car, and a series of helpers and friends. It went well. Unbelievably well.
2018-2021 License period
By 2018 Jaguar were bidding on the new, publicly-offered 3-year-license, split between 4 companies again (we thought) putting in two cars. I expected it to go just as well as 2017, better even. I started with expectations that we’d be so busy, I’d need two drivers. Celia Martin was primed and ready…
But there were some disappointments on the horizon. Firstly, there were four licenses PLUS AMG Mercedes, as Nürburgring were running that, they didn’t feel the need to mention that they didn’t need to issue themselves a license. So now there were 10 cars, and five companies. A big difference.
AMG, RingTaxi.de, Getspeed, Apex and myself on behalf of Jaguar. Earlier in 2017, we’d been moved out of the Taxi hut, and next to the new ticket office in the gravel carpark. But in 2018 the four license-payers were moved into the smallest part of the carpark, surrounded by fences and hedges. I remember the first two months, I spent a lot of time trying to convince the carpark marshalls that pedestrians were even allowed in to our parking area. As if it wasn’t hard enough to sell ‘on-the-day’ tickets already, at least let the customers walk in, please.
The next three years of my life were fun, but even without buying any cars, or tyres, or brake-pads, I couldn’t realistically call it a great business. With careful scheduling, I rarely even needed a second driver. And while we made a profit, just, I would say that the only people making money out of “my” taxi was the insurance company… but more on that later.
My operation was pretty busy most times, and I certainly wasn’t the quietest taxi business. My under-the-table lap-counting confirmed it most weeks. But it only ever employed one person, and that wasn’t even me! Helen was full time, but it became obvious that I had to make my real wages test driving and doing the BTG stuff. So I invoiced the Jag taxi just a few quid per TF session, at legal minimum wage and enjoyed it.
My weekdays started at 7am, in the driving seat of a test car. By 3pm I was out and changing into my uniform, and by 5.15pm I’d be rolling out for the first lap of the night. Then weekends were 0700 ’til 1900. It was a busy schedule, and I was essentially working two jobs all summer. But, come on, Helen (my assistant) and me ran a whole Nürburgring taxi operation! How cool is that?
But with 2020 came COVID-19. With the first scheduled laps of the taxi due for March, we knew we were facing problems and we put our opening date back two weeks before we committed to the insurance contract for the year. It felt shit at the time, but it was a wise choice. We were in lock-down the very next weekend. And we never made it back on track. Nürburgring relaxed their rules in June, and allowed 2-seater taxis to run if the driver and co-driver wore a mask. Jaguar’s view on this was, erm… ‘dim’. The official company policy at the time was to avoid sharing cars wherever possible. Which precluded our entire taxi operation.
Now the next chapter begins, and I’m truly sad not be part of it. Nürburging taxis have been my life for the best part of a decade. But I knew last year that 2021 would be a tough year.
It started with the application process, which you can read here. The contracts were, erm, ‘restrictive’. Have you ever considered selling a taxi lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife without using the word Nürburgring or Nordschleife in the marketing material or operation name? In 2018 we were moved into the quietest corner of the car park, but at least we had plenty of parking space to drive each taxi in and out, open the doors, and give our customers some quality. From 2021, taxi operators only get 2 spaces.
I also knew that with the interest in Nürburgring taxis, the big sum we had bid with Jaguar in 2018, would need to be increased significantly. The taxi licenses aren’t handed out based on quality of service, or experience, or qualifications. You make a blind bid, and hope it’s high enough. That’s it. And the rumours were that you’d need to bid even more this year, than in 2018. Anybody expecting to bid the same amount, or even lower it, would be disappointed. And I could believe it. I knew that Hyundai were disappointed about not getting a license sooner, and their Hyundai Driving Experience was hot for it. I’d also spoken to some pretty wealthy individuals who were also interested in sinking their supercar collections into a loss-making business, and the license fee for them was just pocket-money. Damn.
But the real kick in the balls? It was trying to make a decision for the next three years, whilst also trying to weather the worst business crisis I’ve ever known in my 40 years on this planet. Having been forcibly shut-down for a whole year, how are you supposed to commit to another 3 years of license fees for something that might run in a reduced fashion, or might not run at all? Mission impossible for myself, so the deadline came and went, and I kinda knew that Jaguar wouldn’t even try to renew. It makes no sense.
If it was really a good thing to do, I would have done it myself with Rent4Ring. But, for now, Nürburgring taxis are more of a marketing opportunity than a real business. And for that reason, I’m out. So are Apex.
*If you are holding a Jaguar RaceTaxi voucher, and haven’t been contacted by Jaguar Experience, I invite you to contact me directly at dale at rent4ring dot dee ee and I will expedite your requests! 😉