The N�rburgring circuit, 14.2 miles around, is the longest and most frightening big dipper in existence. It has more nightmarish twists, bends, blind corners, ascents and descents than any other course in the world, and the weather is often dirty. There are 172 corners, and between the highest point at the start and finish and its lowest point, the course falls and rises nearly 1,000 feet.
"There's so much of the N�rburgring," said Graham Hill, "that there is never time to get to know every corner. You can do 30 to 50 laps in practice else-where, but here you can gel in perhaps seven to 10."
Rather than compete first at the N�rburgring, Honda had wanted to enter the prior Dutch and French Grands Prix.
"This course," commented Nakamura, "is particularly difficult. We couldn't make it before because Japan and Europe are such a distance apart. I think one really needs three or four weeks to know it. We've only two days practice. But it is very good experience and good study. I must study more and more."
Because of typical new-car bugs, Bucknum got little study time himself. First the Honda leaked water, then oil (the ingenious Honda cure for that was an oil overflow tank consisting of a Coke can wired to the car), then swallowed a valve, requiring a change of engines. Bucknum was barely able to complete the five mandatory practice laps.
On the last two, he took the car carefully around on a rain-slicked course, clocking 13 minutes each time. "I set a record for slowness," he said, "but I know that if everything was right the car could certainly do under nine minutes."
"Next year," said an astute follower of racing, "will be a different story. You'll notice nobody laughed when they put a Coke can on the back. Honda has money, engineers and technicians, and they'll be in there fighting before long." Lotus Designer Colin Chapman, one of the men who will have to meet the Japanese challenge when it really comes, said during the practice periods when Honda was in such trouble, "I admire their courage in coming here and getting into difficulties in front of us. Most people would be afraid to do that."
The race reinforced the N�rburgring's reputation as a car killer. Of 22 cars on the grid only 10 were left running at the finish, and John Surtees repeated his 1963 Ferrari victory. By placing second, Graham Hill (BRM) moved slightly ahead of Defending Champion Jimmy Clark (whose Lotus failed) in the run for the world title.
It must be admitted that the Honda performed well beyond expectations. From the beginning Bucknum started working up through the field and by the third lap was running 12th. He held that position until the seventh lap when he moved into 11th place as Clark had to come in. He stayed there until the 11th lap, when Richie Ginther (BRM), who had pitted for a plug change, overtook him. On the 12th, after driving a fine race, he ran off the road just before the famed Karussel Bend. He was unhurt but the car was wrecked.
Bucknum had been traveling at about 130 mph. He went into a ditch, losing three wheels on the way. The fuselage collapsed. "The steering broke," Bucknum explained. "They'll never race that car again."