Lord of the ‘Ring

The 919’s time of five min­utes 19 sec­onds re­cently smashed Ste­fan Bellof’s 35-year out­right lap record. We ex­am­ine what makes the track so unique and why you should ex­pe­ri­ence it

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Wil­helm lut­je­harms Pho­tog­ra­phy by rsr­nur­burg and Porsche

Dos and don’ts for vis­its to the Nübur­gring Nord­schleife, by a man who’s been around it more than oth­ers

The Miche­lins are at the lim­its of their ad­he­sion as I’m pushed into the side bol­sters of the 991 GT3 RS. The driver stomps on the brakes, shifts down two gears and flat­tens the ac­cel­er­a­tor again. The en­gine pos­i­tively sings all the way to 9,000rpm while another S-bend, re­plete with dips and rises, pushes and pulls me around in the bucket seat. I brace my­self and then laugh heartily… noth­ing could have pre­pared me for this hot lap! Be­hind the wheel is none other than Ron Si­mons, owner of the well-re­spected RSR Nür­burg car rental busi­ness.

Si­mons has ex­ten­sive race, tu­ition and ‘Ring ex­pe­ri­ence dat­ing back to the 1990s, when he was in­volved with Fer­rari and Porsche’s cus­tomer pro­grammes. There is no ques­tion about his abil­ity to push a GT3 RS to its lim­its on the ‘Ring. How­ever, since his com­pany has been bring­ing cus­tomers to the Nord­schleife for more than two decades (dur­ing which time they’ve al­ways used 911s in their fleet), Si­mons is the ideal per­son to de­tail the Porsche they’ve called into ac­tion over the years and how they’ve fared on the ul­ti­mate au­to­mo­tive play­ground.

But let’s first an­a­lyse Porsche’s ex­ten­sive his­tory at this mag­i­cal place, which For­mula One leg­end Jackie Ste­wart fa­mously named the Green Hell. Porsche’s his­tory with the Nord­schleife dates back as far as Au­gust 1953 when a new en­gine was tested in a Porsche 550. Um­berto Magli­oli ran a Type 718 in May 1957 dur­ing prac­tice for the car’s de­but out­ing. Test­ing of the Type 901 pro­to­type, the car that would be­come the 911, also took place here.

In 1966 a 911 won the GT Class (it fin­ished 19th over­all) dur­ing the world-renowned ADAC 1,000km race, while in 1971 Er­win Kre­mer drove a 911S to vic­tory. Two years later the Müller/van Len­nep pair took the 3.0-litre RSR to fifth place and a 2.8-litre Kre­mer RSR came 11th (Group 4 win­ner) driven by Keller/neuhaus. In 1977, 935s fin­ished in first and sec­ond places. In 1979, again at the 1,000km race,

935s oc­cu­pied no fewer than the first five places in the stand­ings! This year, Porsche’s 70th birth­day was cel­e­brated in fine style when the 991 GT3 R of workssup­ported Man­they Rac­ing took the che­quered flag at the ADAC 24-Hour race, beat­ing a throng of big­ger V8- and V10-en­gined com­peti­tors in the process.

The 911 has al­ways fared well at the Nord­schleife, but there is one statis­tic that has re­mained the most fa­bled over the years: the ‘Ring lap record set by the late Ste­fan Bellof. In 1983 Bellof some­how set an in­cred­i­ble time of 6:11.13 in the Porsche 956 – although that was on a slightly shorter cir­cuit than to­day’s lay­out. Un­til Timo Bern­hard and the 919 came along, that time stood as the fastest-ever full lap of the Nord­schleife, an in­cred­i­ble feat when you con­sider how far the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try has come in the 35 years since.

Road-go­ing Porsche have cre­ated their own dynasty at the ‘Ring too. It was upon the re­lease of the 996.1 GT3 that the lap time, set by none other than the revered Wal­ter Röhrl, drew par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the track. The first 911 to wear the now-leg­endary GT3 moniker broke the eight-minute bar­rier with a scorch­ing lap time of 7:56.33. The Zuf­fen­hausen-based firm con­tin­ued its de­vel­op­ment at the track with the Car­rera GT, which clocked 7:28 sec­onds, and it is ru­moured that if shod with a set of new, mod­ern tyres, the GT could lap no less than five sec­onds faster.

The Car­rera GT’S suc­ces­sor, the 918 Spy­der, dipped be­low seven min­utes with a time of 6:57, a record for a pro­duc­tion road car at the time. How­ever, it is the lap times of the cur­rent 991 GT2 RS and 991.2 GT3 RS (6:47.3 and 6:56.4 re­spec­tively) that re­ally grabbed head­lines in 2018. It’s as­tound­ing that Porsche can of­fer a six-cylin­der, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 911 that can clock such im­pres­sive times.

This spe­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween Porsche and the ‘Ring con­tin­ues to this day. Porsche still uses the fa­cil­ity to test its pas­sen­ger cars: the com­pany has a semi-se­cret base nearby which it uses for prepa­ra­tion and fine-tun­ing of test mules. This ap­peal ex­tends be­yond the reaches of the com­pany, too: visit the ‘Ring on very nearly any day and you will no­tice nu­mer­ous 911s in the car parks around the track as well as on the cir­cuit it­self. There are even Porsche cus­tomers who tick the ‘Euro­pean De­liv­ery’ box, which en­ti­tles buy­ers to col­lect their new 911s

“Most in­ex­pe­ri­enced cus­tomers can’t do more than a few laps be­fore they, not the car, need a rest”

from Zuf­fen­hausen, who then drive to the ‘Ring and com­plete a num­ber laps of the cir­cuit, af­ter which the cars are shipped to their des­ti­na­tion coun­tries.

For many who share a Porsche pas­sion, a trip to the Nür­bur­gring is al­most a right of as­cen­sion.

RSR’S Ron Si­mons and his team are ex­pe­ri­enced in of­fer­ing all clients a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the Nür­bur­gring. Af­ter all, Si­mons has spent half his life on and around the Nord­schleife. “I was do­ing tyre test­ing for Pirelli while I was rac­ing in the early 1990s. Back then I did a lot of in­struc­tion on the Nord­schleife. It was a largely for­got­ten place; even Ger­mans didn’t know where the en­trance was. The cir­cuit hosted his­toric rac­ing and at times the top three or five driv­ers were all un­der my wing for in­struc­tion,” he tells us. So why does he think the ‘Ring is so pop­u­lar?

“There are a num­ber of rea­sons,” Si­mons says. “The first is the in­dus­try pool days, when man­u­fac­tur­ers put their test mules through their paces around the cir­cuit. Ini­tially the test­ing was very low pro­file, but not any more. Se­condly, it’s the tourist drives, a prac­tice that ac­tu­ally dates back to the 1950s. Hon­estly, the ‘Ring is the en­gine that drives the econ­omy in this area.

“Then, the lap times [and their sub­se­quent com­mer­cial im­pacts] are driv­ing forces too. One feeds the other: en­thu­si­asts and own­ers of these

911s want to see and ex­pe­ri­ence their cars af­ter wit­ness­ing how im­pres­sive the times are. Plus, pub­lic roads are get­ting too con­gested. Given the myr­iad speed re­stric­tions, en­thu­si­asts want to come to the ‘Ring to re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence their cars. Af­ter all, most per­for­mance cars are ‘il­le­gal’ by the time you get out of sec­ond or third gear.”

For those who can’t bring their car to the ‘Ring, or want to ex­pe­ri­ence the thrill of the Nord­schleife in a new GT 911, clients can turn to Si­mons’ RSR Nür­burg. Based right next to the en­trance used for tourist days, it was around the early 2000s that a 996 GT3 and GT3 RS joined the RSR fleet, fol­lowed by a 996 Cup car. Sub­se­quently ev­ery GT3 model that Porsche re­leased has found its way onto the ‘fast fleet’, such is the pub­lic de­mand to ex­pe­ri­ence a Porsche on the Nür­bur­gring.

“When a new car ar­rives we re­li­giously run it in on the road un­til 2,500km – these are ‘soft miles’. Then it goes to Porsche for its first ser­vice, which in­cludes an oil and oil fil­ter change. Once it comes back from the first ser­vice, we’ll take it straight to the Au­to­bahn to see how fast it will go,” says the com­pany’s head tech­ni­cian, Thomas Wen­zel.

“Only af­ter the ser­vice do we let it loose on the ‘Ring. Once it has done 10,000km it goes back to Porsche for its next ser­vice as these cars are still un­der war­ranty. Ev­ery time be­fore a car goes out or is handed to a cus­tomer, it gets thor­oughly checked too. These checks in­clude the oil level, brake wear and the con­di­tion of the pads and discs; we fur­ther en­sure that each tyre is un­dam­aged and in­flated to the cor­rect pres­sure. The cars are also checked when they re­turn from an out­ing,” says Ray Shep­herd­son, RSR Nür­burg’s sales man­ager. “Keep in mind these cars, owing to what they are be­ing used for, can be checked nu­mer­ous times a week. The re­sult is that our tech­ni­cians can some­times de­tect early on when there is play in sus­pen­sion bushes or bear­ings. A lot of pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance is car­ried out, and with the set­tings that we ap­ply to the sus­pen­sion we don’t al­low any play in the sys­tem.”

Wen­zel elab­o­rates fur­ther: “The brakes are very good on the GT3S; they tend to last long, but most in­ex­pe­ri­enced cus­tomers can’t do more than a few laps be­fore they, not the car, need a rest. By way of a com­par­i­son, we can have two full days of lap­ping Spa-fran­cor­champs with the cars out on cir­cuit through­out the event and then, fol­low­ing this pun­ish­ment, we’ll hop in and drive them on the road back to the ‘Ring. That’s how good they are.”

Need­less to say, the 911s are pop­u­lar ren­tals in

RSR Nür­burg’s busi­ness. Booked out rel­a­tively far in ad­vance, the com­pany of­ten con­sid­ers if it should pur­chase another. How­ever, some of the 911s have been trou­ble­some: “One of our 991.1 GT3S is cur­rently on its eighth en­gine,” Si­mons says. “The ini­tial prob­lem with that en­gine has been well doc­u­mented, and Porsche re­called the ear­lier cars. Each time the GT3 was re­turned to the dealer they re­placed the en­gine un­der war­ranty. Porsche has a good war­ranty. No ques­tions are asked – they sim­ply re­place the en­gines. To­day its odome­ter reads 65,000km, the ma­jor­ity of which has been done on track.

“We are cur­rently run­ning two 991 GT3 RSS and three 991 GT3S, all PDK mod­els. The sec­ond 991.1

GT3 has 39,000km on the odome­ter and is on its fifth en­gine, while our pur­ple 991.1 GT3 RS has done 14,000km with­out any is­sues. Fi­nally, the yel­low

991.1 GT3 has 29,000km, all with the same en­gine and no is­sues.”

The ‘Ring clearly takes its toll on cars, es­pe­cially when con­sis­tently driven to their limit. It is very en­cour­ag­ing to note that these cars are pretty much stan­dard, ex­actly as they left the Porsche fac­tory:

“We use a more tem­per­a­ture-tol­er­ant brake fluid,” Shep­herd­son adds, be­fore point­ing out that the life­time of brakes and tyres largely de­pends on the ex­pe­ri­ence and style of the driv­ers of the cars they’re fit­ted to. If the driver doesn’t know how to han­dle the car and make the most of it the brakes and tyres will ac­tu­ally wear quicker com­pared to a more ac­com­plished driver.

I’ve no­ticed none of RSR Nür­burg’s GT3S are fit­ted with car­bon-ce­ramic brakes. “Porsche’s car­bon-ce­ramic brakes work re­ally well and we’ve used them be­fore, but we don’t spec our cars with them any­more. They are just too ex­pen­sive, and the price ver­sus per­for­mance ra­tio doesn’t add up. In the wrong set of hands you can quickly lower their work­able life­time,” Shep­herd­son con­cludes.

If you were a car man­u­fac­turer, rea­sons to sell a car to RSR Nür­burg are com­pelling. Within the first cou­ple of months the firm would be able to em­pir­i­cally tell you the strong and weak parts of your car. If you con­sider RSR Nür­burg’s two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence with a num­ber of man­u­fac­tur­ers’ cars and Porsche’s promi­nence in its fleet, the 911 is not only one of the more re­li­able mod­els, but also well suited to du­ti­ful ser­vice on the ‘Ring.

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