Kharitonin Rescue of Nurburgring Raceway Sparks Controversy

A group of protestors including German professional race car driver Christian Menzel have planned a Nov. 15 protest against the sale of iconic German raceway Nürburgring GmbH to a Russian billionaire.

The protestors hope to drive to a nearby meeting of the Social Democrat party to plead for the re-nationalization of the Nürburgring. The group is afraid the track faces an uncertain future in private hands, threatening thousands of related jobs.

The Social Democrats now govern the state of Rhineland-Palatinate where the track is based in a coalition with the Greens and took over the track after its previous owners collapsed in 2012.

Russian biillionaire Viktor Kharitonin late last month agreed to take over the 67% of the Nürburgring owned by Dusselfdorf automotive supplier Capricorn Automotive GmbH. Capricorn in March agreed to buy Nürburgring out of bankruptcy from the government alongside GetSpeed GmbH & Co. KG, an automotive tuning and driver training company based at the track, for €77 million ($95.5 million).

GetSpeed paid the first installment of €5 million for Nürburgring last spring but Capricorn stumbled with the next €5 million payment, due Oct. 31. Nürburgring said Kharitonin has since paid that installment as well as the next, due in December.

Capricorn founder and CEO Robertino Wild discovered Kharitonin as a potential investor after meeting Russian oligarch Roman Abramovitch while on vacation. Kharitonin is investing through his NR Holding AG vehicle and also owns 38% of Abramovich's Pharmstandard OJSC pharmaceutical business, Russia's largest.

"Nürburgring's operations and management, with the many races and events, are unaffected by these events," the track said.

The track's 2012 bailout by the state government raised hackles in Brussels because regulators said a private business would never have invested the €1.28 billion required to keep the track afloat prior to the sale. The European Commission ordered the repayment of the aid from Nürburgring's previous owners, which are bankrupt.

The main Grand Prix racetrack was built in 1984, but the track's origins go back to the 1927-era North Loop, track, dubbed "the Green Hell" by British racer Jackie Stewart and still used for racing and testing by car companies.

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