January 31, 2018
In the motor racing industry, lap times produced by the various drivers in their production cars are used as a measure of their performance. For some reason, lap times obtained at the Nürburgring race track matter – or do they? Let’s go and find out.
The Nürburgring is a race track complex that has a capacity for 150 000 people. It is situated in the actual village of Nürburg, that is found in the Rhineland-Palatinate area of Germany. At first, a “North loop” (Nordschleife) track was constructed in the 1920s, which went around the village and the ancient castle of Nürburg, situated in the Eifel mountains. The Nordschleife, which is 22.8 km long, and has an elevation change in excess of 300 m, was dubbed by Jackie Stewart as “The Green Hell.” In 1984, the Grand Prix race track was built and added to the north loop. Today, the shorter version of the Nordschleife is still being used for testing cars, racing, and public access.
Named the GP-Strecke, the Grand Prix race track was constructed according to the highest safety standards. The problem was that fans did not consider it as important compared to the legendary Nordschleife. In fact, they thought it should not even be even part of the Nordschleife. The new addition also provided little opportunity for drivers to be able to overtake.
Formula One racing returned to the Nürburgring for a while, in the 1984 European Grand Prix, and the 1985 German Grand Prix. At the start of the race in 1997, Ralf Schumacher crashed into his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella. The race was won by Jaques Villeneuve. A highlight of the racing season in 2005 was Kimi Räikkönen's failure to finish the race, when in the last lap, his car’s suspension collapsed while battling with a particular tyre.
Since it came into the racing world, the Ring, as it is known, has, without doubt, been regarded as the accepted standard of racing performance as far as both manufacturers and tuners are concerned. The track is regarded as the best combination of elevation, straights and turns. For many decades, no driver was able to break the elusive 7-minute barrier, but, on 10 September 2013, Porsche, using its 918 hypercar, claimed victory, with an astonishing time of 6 minutes 57 seconds. In March 2017, the Lamborghini Performante roared around the Ring in less than 7 minutes. This sparked a huge debate regarding the importance of the Nürburgring lap times, and whether they really matter or not.
Not too long after the Lamborghini blew us away Porsche has broken the record again. This time in their Porsche 911 GT2, which lapped the Ring almost 5 seconds faster than the ballistic Lamborghini with its 6:47:50 lap time.
The problem is that the Ring times are not regulated by an independent third party such as a governing body, and this is at the root of the controversy. Normally, for manufacturers to claim a lap time, all they have to do is to either provide video footage, or, currently, data logging as evidence. However, authorities basically take the manufacturer’s word for it. Manufacturer lap times have come into question by experts because such car specifications include sometimes additional undeclared items such as special tyres that provide an unfair advantage over other manufacturers. In addition, some of the drivers may well be top professionals. To take it a step further, many out there no longer trust the manufacturers, confirmed by scenarios such as Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate.”
One opinion is that there should be some independent governing body that oversees all the lap time events, and ensures that each lap time has met the required standards. Such a body would possibly remove most of the suspicion that has dogged these lap times. For instance, this body could ensure that the production car being tested does not have added to it all the extra frills such as roll cages, extra racing seats, as well as racing harnesses.
When Lamborghini announced that their Huracan Performante had clocked a staggering lap time of 6:52.1, there was an immediate outcry. For this non-hypercar be a whole 5 seconds faster than the Porsche 918 makes one question everything. In fact, quite a storm built up over this claim, with some alleging that it was impossible for such a lap time to be achieved with that kind of car. However, these allegations fell flat, as Lamborghini did provide the complete data logging as evidence a few days later.
There is the other situation that arose with the Honda Civic type R, which established an FWD lap record of 7:43.8, which was 5 seconds faster than the previous record held by the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport. In a way, such information does not really affect the average motorist, who won’t ever own such a car. However, in the restricted and unique racing world, such lap times are of great significance from a status point of view.
The question is being asked if the Ring lap times should hold such significance? Some are of the opinion that it has become more of a media-type issue, where having a lap time from the Ring has become a status symbol. Some owners may boast that their car is the fastest around the Ring.
The Ring lap times may well be most helpful from a marketing point of view to manufacturers of certain niche-type cars. However, cars that are not at this level, such as the Pagani Huayra, will not be affected by this. Their drivers won’t be able to reach such low lap times anyway.
If any sense is to be made of all these lap times, one should be able to compare apples with apples or a levelling of the playing field if you will. Perhaps, the lack of such an overseeing body has touched the credibility of the Ring lap times, as there is no control as to who does what to a production car.
Unfortunately in this day and age, one can no longer take someone’s word for it if their production car with a certain Ring lap time was completely standard. Manufacturers appear to balk at the idea of a governing body, and this just arouses even more suspicion. The car manufacturer Ford regularly tests their performance cars on the “Green Hell” section, and yet they will not publish any official times, for the very reason that the Ring lap times have lost credibility. In the same way, qualifying times for a race track event would also lose credibility if no independent official carefully inspects the racing cars before and after the race. Some of the checks that should be made for the Ring lap times would include, for instance, verification of engine power, a hoist inspection, as well as testing a fuel sample.
Unfortunately, no one knows which lap times are correct, and which are dubious. One opinion states that although the lap times have not been verified by some independent body, they still hold some value, in that they do demonstrate the capability of these cars.
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September 21, 2019
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