Friday, May 24, 2019

Let's Talk About The Nurburgring Lap Time Obsession

Love it or hate it, Nurburgring lap times have taken over the motoring world.

The current obsession by auto manufacturers with Nurburgring lap times has become a hot topic among car fans too. Most people fall into one of two camps. The first feel that there is no merit in chasing ever faster times, the grippy tires and sporty suspension settings that are required to be competitive have little to no real-world relevance.

The other camp asserts that the continued investment in engine, chassis and tire technology has resulted in some very exciting fast road cars and the fierce competition essentially strengthens the herd. Who is right? As with most contentious topics, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Horses for Courses

When it comes to the world of super and hypercars, fastest is best and a much-publicized ‘Ring lap record does more for the image of the record holder than a year of well-placed ads and promotional videos ever could. Hard suspension setups, peaky engines, and impractical ride-heights are all part of the supercar experience. If we are talking about SUVs, hot hatches, and family sedans then the single-minded nature of the exercise will inevitably result in a vehicle that is not quite as accomplished on the school run as would be ideal. Knowing that your seven-seater SUV will leave a Porsche for dust around the ‘Ring is little consolation if every bump in the road has your family wanting to get out and walk.

JoJo Knows Tires

Another aspect of these ever-improving ‘Ring records that tends to muddy the waters are the effect the tires and drivers have on the times. That and the fact that the attempts are not conducted under comparable conditions makes direct comparisons a tricky affair. A manufacturer that can conduct a traffic free run with a racing driver behind the wheel is quite likely to post a better time than a privateer team who can just afford the entry fee. Still, that hasn’t stopped car fans the world over waiting impatiently to see what the latest supercars can manage over this challenging track.

Ring History

In light of this, we have taken a look at some of the most impressive lap times achieved at the ‘Ring by all manner of vehicles with a particular focus on ones that stand out for both the right and wrong reasons. The Nurburgring was originally a Grand Prix racing venue in the ‘20s and, depending on its configuration had 174 bends and was up to 17.5 miles in length. Stirling Moss called it the Green Hell thanks to the toll it took on both man and machine.

The current track is 12.9 miles long and the more dangerous sections have been tamed a bit, but it is still one of the toughest ordeals a car and its driver can be put through and aside from the scores of lap record attempts, the ‘Ring is also the venue for racing events such as the famous annual 24-hour endurance race.

There can be only one (at a time)

Let’s get the latest crop of production supercars out of the way first, the top six spots are shared between Porsche and Lamborghini. Currently, the Aventador 760hp LP770-4 Superveloce Jota is the top dog having usurped the Porsche 911 GT2 RS from the No.1 position on July 26 this year. Its time of 6:44.97 was achieved by Lambo Factory driver Marco Mapelli on Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. Its record is unlikely to remain unchallenged for long.

The Runners Up

The 700-hp 911 GT2 RS set its time of 6:47.25 back in September 2017 by Porsche test driver Lars Kern. The sticky Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires definitely helped his efforts but there is no denying the commitment required to post a time like that in a rear-wheel-drive rear-engined sports car. The 630-hp Lamborghini Huracán LP 640-4 Performante is the most focused and capable variant in the Huracan range. Its time of 6:52.01 earns it third place and even more impressive is 34 seconds quicker than the standard Huracan.

Hypercar Hype

The only hypercar to have been officially timed around this circuit is the hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder. Its 6:57 effort is impressive but without being able to compare it to the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 still shows us the current crop of supercars are even quicker still. It does have the distinction of being the fastest hybrid production car around the ‘Ring.

Manual For The Win

Another notable top 10 entrant is the 2017 Dodge Viper ACR, the only manual transmission car in the top 10. It achieved a 7:01.3 time and has now been bumped down to 7th place. Interestingly, all of the very fastest cars with manual transmissions come from the US. The 2010 Viper ACR (11th) and Corvette C7 (14th) both had good old stick shifts and put their power down solely to the rear wheels. Clearly, the old story that American cars can’t go around corners can finally be well and truly laid to rest.

GT-R Conspiracies

The Nissan GT-R has been around for over 10 years and while it may look mostly the same from the outside, the incremental improvements carried out under the skin have allowed it to keep pace with modern supercars costing way more. The first officially recorded lap of the GT-R was a 7:24, a time that decimated much pricier supercars. Claims that this time could only have been achieved using semi-slick racing rubber had Porsche conduct their own test with a stock standard example achieving a best of 7:54.

They also ran their own 911 Turbo and GT2 on the same day on standard rubber and achieved times of 7:38 and 7:34, respectively. Claiming that they had revealed the truth behind Nissan’s surprisingly fast lap time claim, they packed their bags and headed home. Since then the GT-R has continually improved its times with different drivers and differing road conditions and a 2015 NISMO version currently sits in 8th spot with a time of 7:08. The controversy continues.

Front-Wheel-Drive FTW

The top of the charts are predictably populated by all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive supercars. The inherent balance of a RWD setup and the traction advantages of AWD make a big difference on the track when you are trying to deploy 400+ hp. Yet the current king of FWD sports cars, the Honda Civic Type R, still managed a sensational 7:43.8 despite having only 310 hp at its disposal.

That time is up there with such track-focused machines like the previous generation Porsche 997 GT3. Even the monstrous Lamborghini LP670-4 SuperVeloce is only 1.8 seconds quicker. Other notable FWD stars are the Golf GTI Clubsport S (7:47) and Renault Megane R.S. 275 Trophy-R (7:54).

Classic Cars, Classic Times

Fans of modern classics may want to avert their eyes here. Older sports cars may have a lot going for them but quick lap times are not one of them. The E46 M3 was once hailed as one of the best road cars for the track yet it only managed an 8:22 back in 2000. To be fair it was better than just about all of its rivals (and around 30 seconds quicker in CSL trim thanks to ultra-sticky tires).

It was quicker too than the much revered 993 Porsche Carrera. This last air-cooled 911 may be shooting up in value but its time of 8:28 would be beaten by most warm hatches today. Yes, yes we know the 993 Turbo would have posted a faster time. Then again, the MkV Golf GTI at 8:53 is also embarrassingly slow compared to the latest GTIs. It is quite clear that automotive technology has improved massively over the years.

So, what’s the point then?

The latest crop of supercars are closing in on times that were once the reserve of pure racing cars, although Steffan Bellof’s 1983 lap record of 6:11.13 set in a Porsche 956 race car is still going to take some beating and that was set 35-years ago. The latest all-time Nurburgring lap record of 5:19.55 set in June 2018 in a 1,160-hp Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo just shows what a modern track car is really capable of.

The constant competition between today’s fastest road cars for top honors may seem pointless compared to these sorts of times but they do make for ever more impressive supercars. Even if you don’t particularly agree with it, one thing is for certain: a fast lap of the Nurburgring is one of the most exciting things you can watch on YouTube.

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