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ANALYSIS: Viktor Kharitonin Buys The Ring

Today was the deadline for NÜRBURGRING holding GmbH (CNBG) to make good on the debts they owed as the winning bidders in the sale of The Nürburgring earlier this year. CNBG was 2/3 owned by Capricorn and 1/3 by GetSpeed. From the beginning, Capricorn seemed to struggle in coming up with the funds as CNBG missed a payment this summer. Things went downhill quickly after that when Deutsche Bank pulled their backing.

Yesterday, everyone was shocked to learn that Viktor Kharitonin, a Russian pharmaceutical businessman, had stepped in to take Capricorn’s 2/3 share of CNBG. The payments owed were made by his company, NR Holding AG, and he is now the majority owner of The Ring.

So is this a good thing or a bad thing? To some extent, that remains to be seen, but let’s it break down:

The Good:

  • There’s now financial stability with the owners of The Ring. Since the sale was completed and the winners announced, there have been questions about their ability to meet the financial terms of the agreement. For months everyone has worried about what this meant for the future of The Nürburgring. We can now put that behind us and concentrate on how the new owners will administer our beloved Nordschleife.
  • It could have been worse. What if today’s deadline passed without payment? It’s likely the administrators would have had to set up another sale. Maybe it would have ended up with one of the other bidders that many preferred. However, maybe it would have taken longer than the administrators had money for operations as is and The Ring would have closed. Perhaps that closure would have been temporary, but there were scenarios where the cost to reopen it would have added challenges that private bidders may have chosen not to undertake.
  • Viktor appears to be a car guy. Here’s a picture from Italy’s Garda Time showing Viktor competing in the Mille Miglia in a 1935 Mercedes 500K.

    Garda Time
    Viktor Kharitonin, 1935 Mercedes 500K, 2014 Mille Miglia

The Bad:

  • The Ring is now truly in private hands. Since the EU had previously declared the sale legitimate and, even if the players have changed a bit, the buyers have now made good on their financial obligations, the transfer of The Nürburgring to private hands now appears to be complete. You can argue if this is truly bad or not, but I’m going to side with the Save The Ring crowd, Mike Frison and Sabine Schmitz. If you’re from that region of Germany, if your family built the racetrack, if your livelihood depends on it and if your tax dollars to the tune of millions of Euros were poured into an ill-advised attempt to turn the track into something it isn’t that resulted in the bankruptcy and it’s future now being at the whim of private companies it’s bad.
  • The drama isn’t over yet. Sure finances and operations are now more certain, but the protests and legal challenges to the sale will continue for some time.

The Ugly:

One has to ask, if Viktor Kharitonin was truly interested in buying The Nürburgring, why wasn’t he a bidder earlier this year? How and why did he come into the picture now? Given that some of those involved with the bankruptcy administration and sale have pharmaceutical industry connections, given all the bad press around Capricorn’s failure to meet its financial obligations and given the desire of the government to put this fiasco behind them I’d suspect some good old back room politics were involved.

So where do we go from here? I suppose we wait to hear what specific plans the owners have for maintaining and enhancing The Nürburgring complex. We have to hope that they are good stewards of the motorsports legacy they have acquired. We have to hope that the public touristenfahrten continue.

I think many fans of The Ring are tired of just waiting and hoping, though. The protests involving Save The Ring, We Are Nürburgring and others will continue, but I wonder if they need to change focus. It seems unlikely to me that the government is going to restructure the sale in any significant way at this point. Maybe we need to focus on ensuring that the new owners live up to their responsibilities as stewards of the piece of motorsports history and regional culture they have purchased.