This is the Nio EP9. It’s an elec­tric-pow­ered hy­per­car and it re­cently set a new Nür­bur­gring lap record, beat­ing even the Hu­racán Per­for­mante’s time. Here’s how it hap­pened


Never heard of the Nio EP9? Nei­ther had we, un­til it laid down an epic Nord­schleife lap time. Here’s how it was done

IN MANY WAYS, THE NIO EP9 WAS just an­other im­pos­si­bly low, wide, elec­tri­cally pow­ered su­per­car with mind-bog­gling ac­cel­er­a­tion. Un­til ten min­utes past four on the af­ter­noon of 12 May 2017, that is. At that pre­cise mo­ment, rac­ing driver and Nür­bur­gring spe­cial­ist Peter Dum­breck em­barked upon his fourth and fi­nal lap of the day at the Nord­schleife, and six min­utes and 45 sec­onds later had marked his – and Nio’s – place in his­tory with a new lap record for a non-se­riespro­duc­tion car. The one-mil­lion-megawatt car was sud­denly the talk of the mo­tor­ing world.

‘The EP9 was Martin Leach’s brain­child: to make the ul­ti­mate car,’ says Nio’s head of per­for­mance pro­gramme, Gerry Hughes. An au­to­mo­tive lu­mi­nary, Leach was vice-pres­i­dent of Nex­tev, the com­pany be­hind the emer­gent Nio brand, but passed away in Novem­ber. ‘The EP9 is a no-com­pro­mise car, in terms of strength-to-weight and pack­ag­ing,’ adds Hughes.

Lis­ten­ing to Hughes talk­ing about the in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated chal­lenges be­hind the EP9 is like tun­ing into an alien di­alect at times. In­stead of turbo boost pres­sure and damper tech, there are power elec­tron­ics, re­gen strate­gies and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, bat­tery tem­per­a­tures. ‘It’s all about en­ergy man­age­ment and ther­mal man­age­ment. How much power you can draw from the bat­ter­ies is the key to it,’ says Hughes, whose aim is to stop the cells fry­ing them­selves to a crisp. The EP9 has two bat­ter­ies, four elec­tric mo­tors, DRS ca­pa­bil­ity and very large dif­fuser tun­nels un­der­neath the car.

While the EP9 is not cur­rently road-le­gal (and Hughes is coy when asked about tyres, say­ing only that they were ‘ de­vel­oped by our tyre part­ner to cope with the huge amounts of down­force load’), he does con­firm that Nio is work­ing with a third-party spe­cial­ist to de­ter­mine what’s re­quired to ho­molo­gate the car for key mar­kets. Six EP9S have been built so far, with a fur­ther ten cur­rently in pro­duc­tion.

Dum­breck first drove the car at the Ring back in Oc­to­ber last year, com­plet­ing four laps in what he de­scribes as more of a shake­down ses­sion. In the runup to May’s record at­tempt, he spent two days at the Aragón cir­cuit, in Spain, with the EP9. ‘That al­lowed me to get com­fort­able in the car again,’ he says. ‘I was able to see what hap­pens when you take the car to the

limit and slightly over it, and that’s im­por­tant be­cause, at a place like the Ring, there’s no mar­gin for er­ror. You need to know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.

‘On the day, there’s no chance to warm up and get my eye in. It’s just line the car up and go. I was happy in the car, so then it’s about how hard I can push in the edgy cor­ners. From Flug­platz to Sch­we­denkreuz is flat in my [BMW M6] GT3 car, but it’s quicker still in the Nio. I’ve got DRS de­ployed and I’m re­ally honk­ing along there. I was think­ing, “Am I go­ing to go flat over the rise? Yes, yes I am.” You can see from the video that I’m putting in more steer­ing in­puts than I nor­mally would.

‘The clos­est ref­er­ence is an LMP2 car. You’d never think about run­ning one of those at the Ring – they’re too stiff, too quick, have too much down­force. The EP9 is sim­i­lar. It’s too stiff for the bumps, it’s got mam­moth down­force – we al­most need to get rid of some of that and work on the me­chan­i­cal setup to go quicker. We’ve cer­tainly not op­ti­mised it for the track: we raised the ride height, put a bit more rake in the car for more front end [grip] and worked on the tyre pres­sures, but there’s not end­less things you can change like with a GT3 car. The car’s strength is im­me­di­ate power with no hes­i­ta­tion for gearchanges, and the down­force in the smoother sec­tions.’

More­over, the lap was set with the EP9 run­ning at nowhere near full power. Dum­breck be­lieves he had around 900bhp at his dis­posal, not the full 1341bhp. ‘When Lam­borgh­ini did their record at­tempt, they just filled the car with the petrol they thought they would need. With us it works the other way: we charge it 100 per cent and then work out how we can use the power.’ To this end, the team sim­u­lated in ad­vance how much power they could de­ploy while last­ing the com­plete lap.

Even a pro like Dum­breck feels the pres­sure: ‘I had the weight of a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany on my shoul­ders, and I knew every­one wanted it so much. We only had one more lap left that day, and the data from lap three showed it was

on. Sud­denly I had all the pres­sure heaped on me be­cause I’d proved it could be done. When I got onto the Döt­tinger-Höhe [the long straight at the end of the lap], I knew it was a good lap. We were hit­ting 174mph at Tier­garten and I said to my­self, “Hold it to­gether, keep it tidy, don’t go on the grass.” In hind­sight, I bot­tled it by a tenth or two.’

Days later a Mclaren P1 LM driven by Kenny Bräck took an­other two sec­onds off Dum­breck’s time. But if Nio can find a 40-sec­ond im­prove­ment in the course of just eight laps, what’s the bet­ting Stefan Bellof’s all-time record – a 6:11.13 set in race qual­i­fy­ing with a Porsche 956 in 1983 – isn’t one day go­ing to be un­der threat?

‘The clos­est ref­er­ence is an LMP2 car, but you’d never think about run­ning one of those at the Ring – they’re too stiff’

Above: the EP9’S 6:45.90 lap was some 6.11sec faster than the Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán Per­for­mante’s record for se­ries-pro­duc­tion cars (see page 54)

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