Nurburgring lap times are bullshit. Yet, when 0-100km/h times and top speeds aren’t enough to win the barroom game of drunken Top Trumps, you can bet Nurburgring lap times will be there to ‘prove’ which vehicle is best. But Nurburgring lap times don’t prove a thing. In fact, Nurburgring lap times are useless – nothing but a blind pissing contest with any verifiable result at the end of the day.
I can hear the objections already, “how can you say there’s no verifiable result when we have a lap time? Numbers don’t lie!” You’re right, numbers don’t lie; but if we’ve learnt anything this past year, manufacturers do. Yes Volkswagen, I’m looking at you and your whole Dieselgate saga. Manufacturers lie, and we have no guarantee they aren’t doing the same when setting Nurburgring lap times. There’s no governing body holding them accountable and ensuring fairness across the playing field.
The point of these lap times is to show how fast a production spec car can lap the 20.8 km length of the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit. In principle it’s a great idea; with 154 turns and an altitude variance of more than 300 metres, the Nordschleife is ideal to prove what a production car can do – putting driver skill and vehicle ability to the ultimate test.
But although the idea itself is novel, the implementation is less so. How would we define what is and isn’t a standard production car? By all logic, it should be a vehicle identical to one a buyer would purchase off the showroom floor, right? Yet if you look at most Nurburgring lap time videos, these so-called ‘production spec’ vehicles often have added roll cages, racing seats, and 6-point racing harnesses – all if which are most definitely not available from the factory. Just look at Porsche’s recent Panamera Turbo lap and you’ll see what I mean.
Manufacturers will try convincing you these differ little from production vehicles; that the roll cage doesn’t make the car stiffer and thus able to corner better. They’ll also tell you in order to compensate for the additional weight of the cage they needed to remove the air conditioning and radio.
Take Honda for example, who set their FWD Nurburgring lap record in the Civic Type R in a ‘pre-production prototype’ – what exactly does that mean? We know it didn’t have air con or a passenger seat, and it had a roll cage in the back, but for all we know it had an extra 20kW under the bonnet. But no, that’s their production car lap record. Apparently.
Or what about Alfa Romeo duct taping any and every panel gap on the 4C coupe for its lap record? Does the roll of duct tape come standard with every 4C purchased?
It’s not just one though; many manufacturers are guilty of it, and while we understand that safety is paramount hence the roll cages etc, it kind of defeats the point now, doesn’t it?
What About Governing the Lap Times?
So what are we going to do? How do we know one manufacturer isn’t running a more powerful car just to attain that all important bragging right of having a Nurburgring lap record? The truth is, we don’t; and that’s the problem with Nurburgring lap times. With no governing body ensuring complete production standards, with no governing body ensuring manufacturers don’t use super sticky race tyres, without a governing body to oversee any of this, Nurburgring lap times are nothing more than two guys on either side of a wall telling each other how high they peed.
It’s about as good as me saying my Opel Astra can run a 6 second quarter mile, all completely stock. I have no proof to back it up, no proof my car is stock, but I’m telling you it can, so you must believe me. Utter crap, right? Yet that’s exactly the case with Nurburgring times.
Some manufacturers know this is how it operates, and refuse to buy into it for that reason. Ford’s performance division regularly tests and hones their performance vehicles on the Green Hell, but you won’t find any official times published by Ford. Jamal Hameedi, chief engineer of Ford’s Global Performance Vehicles famously weighed in on the matter stating, “Nurburgring times? Oh man, don’t even get me started on this topic. These times being posted by many manufacturers are, in my humble opinion, akin to qualifying times being set at a race with no pre/post inspection. In order for us to set an official time, corner weights would have to be taken, calibrations check sums need to be verified, engine power verified, a hoist inspection, and probably a fuel sample taken by an independent third party…”
McLaren too had a bit of a say about it, albeit in a slightly different way. When they went out to set a lap time in the McLaren P1, they refused to give the final time, only stating that they had run a sub-7 minute lap which was their goal. To this day we still don’t have any official confirmation as to whether or not they beat the Porsche 918 Spyder.
That may well have garnered them more publicity than typical Nurburgring lap times do – Lord knows they milked the hell out of the marketing on that one – but at the end of the day all that the lap times really are good for is marketing purposes.
Do We Ignore Nurburgring Lap Times Altogether?
So do we rubbish these lap time claims altogether? Well, not quite. As much as the lap times are completely unverified and as a result, useless, they still hold some weight as to the potential of the vehicles. We also don’t know which times are legitimate and which aren’t. So we’re not saying you should ignore them completely, but take them with more than just a pinch of salt; and please for the love of cars, don’t think a fast lap time means a car is automatically brilliant to drive. Sometimes the drivers setting lap times on the Nordschleife just have balls of solid steel – just like that Alfa Romeo driver…