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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 car not per person), and get on to the track during a Touristfahrten session.
A single lap ticket is €27 in 2014 - 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 2014 and there are no refunds.
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 restaurant at the Nordschleife uses credits that have to be loaded onto your card. The food and drink is very expensive.
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 is a pre-payment system for use at the Ring. It is free and quick to start up and can be used for almost everything you can spend money on during your visit. This includes laps around the Nordschleife, karting, food, race tickets and passes to the RingWerk and, of course, merchandise.
You can claim any money left on the card back at the end of your visit, but hardly anybody does. Any unclaimed money left on your card when you leave is only valid for 12 months after being added, so if you come back two years later, your card will be empty. You question is what the point of it all is, apart from sucking more money out of customers.
To top up your card you can visit a Ring Card machine or give money to one of the Ring Card staff who are located around busy areas wearing green Ring Card shirts. You can top up your card with either cash (notes and change included) or credit/debit card but have to put on a minimum of five Euros each time.