To me, Gerstlauer started off as a manufacturer who often made very solid family rides, but when it came to the high thrill creations, starting with their Eurofighter models, they were quite a way off the mark. The clunkiness of the trains and the seemingly below average track quality meant that these never managed to stand out as good rides by their own merit, instead relying on the public marketability of either a strong theming package or the signature vertical lift hills and beyond vertical drops.
In 2008 they began an experimental phase, introducing LSM launches into the mix with two ‘Launch Coasters’ built in Europe over two years along with the integration of this technology back onto Eurofighters. This started to point them in the right direction, but there was still the matter of the trains and those awful shoulder restraints to sort out.
Their first Infinity coaster came in 2013 and smashed the world record for the highest number of inversions in any layout. Although Smiler had different trains to any Eurofighter, the nature of this record likely contributed to keeping the restraints the same.
Just 2 months later, all the hardware finally fell into place with the opening of Karacho. Open seating and minimalist lap bars not too dissimilar to the ‘clamshells’ found on a B&M hyper meant that, for me at least, the Infinity Coaster now had the potential to really shine. No one could have imagined where they would go with it next, but there have been some spectacular results.
For a very brief period of time, I would have ridden every one of this ride type in the world – between my cancelled trip to Adventureland, Iowa at the start of June 2020 and the opening of Pitts Special at Powerland in Finland by the end of the same month. For now we’ll just have to live without those two and examine the rest.
#9 Karacho (Tripsdrill, Germany) – Although it finally brought the lap bars to the table, this early attempt wasn’t quite all there for me. The awkward way it enters the launch by tipping you forward just moments before you get slammed back into your seat by the force of the acceleration is actually quite unpleasant. Beyond that, I didn’t encounter any standout moments in the layout and it became a rather forgettable experience.
#8 Madagascar Mad Pursuit (Motiongate, UAE) – As the first of these rides to not include any inversions, this entirely indoor launch coaster relies heavily on interacting with theming. It felt a little more like a family ride in that it never had any substantial moments of airtime and didn’t get particularly intense. I couldn’t but help get the sense that the ride was holding back a bit.
#7 Smiler (Alton Towers, UK) – It may have been lumbered with the shoulder restraints, but going upside down 14 times makes for a very intense ride experience even for the hardiest of enthusiasts, something I’ve come to appreciate more as time goes on. The airtime hills that interrupt the almost endless inversions are the most satisfying part for me. I can’t help but wonder how good this could have been.
#6 Fury (Bobbejaanland, Belgium) – Following the experimental trend of these rides, Fury was the first of its kind to have buttons in the seats that allowed riders to vote for whether they wanted to go forwards or backwards through the triple launch shuttle layout.
It was a very satisfying moment for me to end up going backwards on my first attempt as there’s nothing I love more than to be surprised by a layout. Sadly I spent most of the lap just willing the ride to give a little more. While disorientating and fun, I believe it lacked just one truly intense moment to span the gap between good and great.
#5 Gold Rush (Slagharen, Netherlands) – Though lacking a little in length, the next of the triple launchers manages to pack a lot more punch into it’s footprint. The flop out of your seat following the reverse launch halfway through an inversion is mental, the exit from the top hat provides a strong moment of ejection and the train moves with a lot more purpose throughout.
#4 HangTime (Knott’s Berry Farm, USA) – The rides seem to be getting prettier as we go. Rather than any launches, HangTime returns to the vertical lift feature and then adds a terrifying holding brake into the mix. With a ridiculous amount of freedom and openness from the trains, riders literally hang forward over the edge of this drop with barely any contact between body and restraint for several scary seconds.
Once the teasing is over, the vicious first drop hurls you into a layout that vaguely resembles one half of a Smiler – disorientating inversions punctuated by a killer airtime hill, providing the perfect answer to my earlier wondering about how good it could have been.
#3 Mystic (Walibi Rhône-Alpes, France) – Here we have yet another different style of layout. I really do admire the variety in this list so far.
The vertical lift is combined with the shuttle aspect to produce some incredible results. The twisted first drop hits in all the right places and the inverted spike that stalls the train before sending it backwards through the course is pure insanity. It dangles riders on their heads for what feels like eternity with almost nothing keeping you in your seat. That’s the moment that really sets Mystic apart.
#2 Junker (Powerland, Finland) – To me, this felt like the perfect evolution of the Gerstlauer launch coaster design. With no awkward starting gimmicks, riders are smoothly and powerfully fired into the initial top hat. Every moment from here on out contains a wicked contrast in forces, with the strongest ejector coming as a complete surprise out of the mid course brake run and there’s a particularly odd and intense sequence throughout the wonderfully novel Finnish loop inversion.
The result is an amazing all round package, which is exactly what I look for in a coaster. It’s also just that little bit longer than nearly everything above, which makes Junker even more satisfying.
#1 Schwur des Kärnan (Hansa Park, Germany) – As strong as some of the newer creations have been, 2015 really was the year of the Infinity coaster and there can only be one winner of this list, the beast itself.
The ambition and scale of this ride is unprecedented, housing and theming a ~240ft drop like no other, the highest Gerstlauer have ever been by a significant margin. Within the same building Kärnan hides yet another unique feature – a backwards vertical freefall during the lift hill.
The outdoor layout also puts most other similar sized hyper coasters to shame, with just two other high points in the first twisted sequence before the train plummets to the floor through some violent transitions and stays at almost full speed, low to the ground, for the remainder of the course.
In complete contrast, the only inversion is taken at a snails pace and, apologies for mentioning them one more time, the trains give this a spectacular sensation, keeping it incredibly intense to the very end.
There’s no other experience like this on earth, and with good reason.