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You don't need to book laps at the Ring; just turn up, buy a card, load it with laps (per vehicle not per person), and get on to the track during a Touristfahrten session. Cars and bikes pay the same for laps.
A single lap ticket is €27 in 2015 - it was €16 a few years ago. A four lap ticket has gone up 12% over the 2013 price but there is a nine lap ticket that should be sufficient for one day for many people. Nine laps is about 90 minutes driving, which is probably similar to what you'd do on a normal track day and on that basis €209 isn't terrible value for money.
Lap credits expire at 31st December 2015 and there are no refunds. The pricing schedule was supposed to change May 1st, but it remained the same. I am waiting for more details of the pricing structure but am confident that any laps/Jahreskartes bought before then will be valid for the entire year.
You can buy a multi-lap ticket and share it between more than one car. Like any toll booth, it's not a great idea to hold people up at the barrier while you pass a shared card between cars though.
The good news for 2015 is that the Ring Card has been abolished. You can now pay for food and drinks with cash.
Costs for a weekend at the Ring
If you want to get an idea of all-in costs for a weekend trip, for a 'standard' weekend (out Fri, full day Saturday, half-day Sunday, return Sun afternoon/eve) from London by car, the costs look something like this:
Total = approx £500, plus laps as above.
You can use credit and debit cards for petrol, Ring tickets and food (in most places) but you'll want cash for accommodation costs and miscellaneous bits and pieces. For visitors from the UK it's usually cheapest to get euros in the UK and take it with you, but you can also get cash at a local ATM. Most banks charge a 1-2% commission on debit/credit card payments, plus extortionate exchange rates.
Cost of crashing on the Nurburgring
These include Armco repairs, safety car attendance, vehicle recovery, track closure, hospital stays and helicopter fees. I recommend avoiding these. If you can't, then the following price-list may help:
Everything except the recovery truck is then subject to 19% VAT.
The record armco bill I'm aware of is €15,000. That was a car that managed to flatten a very impressive length of armco between the Quiddlebacher Hohe bridge and the crest on the approach to Flugplatz. But even a minor bump can turn into a surprisingly expensive day out.
A Jahreskarte ('year card') is a season ticket valid for unlimited use by the cardholder within the calendar year.
Jahreskarts are also valid only when the Jahreskart holder is driving/riding. They are not valid when you are a passenger, even if you are a passenger in your own car. The transponder is for the driver/rider, not the vehicle. They do sometimes check the photo, and confiscate cards and transponders which are being misused, so it's not adviseable to take chances.
The procedure for buying a Jahreskarte is to turn up with cash or credit card, a passport-sized photo and your passport. At quieter times, they will issue your card immediately; at busier times, they will keep your passport and lend you a temporary 5-lap ticket. Go back 5 laps later and swap your temporary ticket for your passport and Jahreskarte. To renew an existing one, just take your existing card and the dosh. Note that although they have a digital camera there, it isn't always working, so it's best to take your own photo with you just in case.
The Jahreskarte itself is only an identity document. To open the barrier, you get a watch-style transponder. The transponder is coded with your ID card number, and random checks are made to prevent misuse.
The transponders have a theoretical range of 8cm, but in reality you often have to almost touch the transponder pad, which can be difficult when on your wrist in a car with harnesses. Most of us put it around the gearstick or hang it round our neck to lean out the window with it.
The Ring Card was a pre-payment system for use on food/drink/merchandise at the Ring but apparently it has been abolished from 1st January 2015. I am not sure though whether this means you still load laps onto it. If you have money remaining on a Ring Card ask for a refund at the main kiosk at the Touristfahrten entrance.