“Take your stinkin’ paws off the ’Ring, you damn dirty capitalists!” That, in so many words, is the latest battle cry of “Save the Ring” protesters who must now contend with a private equity firm buying out Europe’s most prized racetrack, Germany’s Nürburgring.
According to a Reuters report, Miami-based HIG Capital has posted the lead bid on the Nürburgring for at least €60 million (roughly $82 million), beating out earlier offers by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and ADAC, Germany’s equivalent of AAA. German media reports said co-investors on the offer include Meyrick Cox, who helped broker the Volvo sale to Geely in 2010, and Marcus Graf von Oeynhausen-Sierstorpff, who presides over a private resort-style track called Bilster Berg in northern Germany.
Other known bidders include the Düsseldorf-based Capricorn Group, which supplies engine parts to racing teams and operates a test center—as many automotive companies do—near the Nürburgring. The ’Ring officially declared bankruptcy in July 2012 and was put up for sale last May. ADAC, which registered for the sale weeks later in June, filed a complaint with the EU Commission after its bid—which wouldn’t have included the accompanying amusement park and hotel—was rejected for being too low.
Any final sale requires approval from the EU Commission, which opened an investigation in March 2012 alleging the German government had supported the money-losing public facility with €524 million in “illegal state aid.” According to the latest Commission report, local German authorities deferred the track’s loan interest and relaxed repayment schedules without its approval, which it says “could distort competition and affect trade between the Member States.” The report even cited other nearby racetracks, including Hockenheim and Spa-Francorchamps, as having the potential to be hurt by government support for the ’Ring.
We think that’s bunk, because the Nürburgring—technically a quasi-public toll road—isn’t built or managed like any a typical private track. The idea that anyone can show up in a qualified road car, pay a fee and drive like mad for 12.9 miles has made it a gearhead mecca that draws enthusiasts from every corner of the world to attack its dozens of corners. The danger of the latest bid is a Nürburgring restricted to wealthy playboys and automakers—or worse, the iconic spray-painted tarmac being developed into DerMansions and condos. We hope the EU Commission has it in its heart to help facilitate the ‘Ring being run by people with genuine regard for its history.
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