Out­side Line

Nür­bur­gring lap records have be­come mighty but mean­ing­less, says Meaden, who reck­ons there’s a way to bring back the awe of the olden days

Evo India - - MAHINDRA SCORPIO - Richard is a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to RICHARD MEADEN and one of the mag­a­zine’s found­ing team @Dick­ieMeaden

EVENTEEN YEARS AGO THIS MAG­A­ZINE ded­i­cated its cover to a gath­er­ing of cars ca­pa­ble of lapping the Nür­bur­gring Nord­schleife in un­der eight min­utes. Front and cen­tre of the ‘Ring Mas­ters’ cover was the then­brand-new Audi RS4 Avant – the most main­stream car to crack the magic eight-minute bar­rier. Ar­ranged around it were the Cater­ham R500, Jaguar XJ220, Porsche 996 GT3 and Nis­san R33 Sky­line GT-R: four cars that had also built for­mi­da­ble rep­u­ta­tions by cir­cu­lat­ing the world’s tough­est 21-odd-km loop of tar­mac in a high seven-min­utes-and-some­thing.

Fast-for­ward to 2017 and a Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán has just lapped in a high six-min­utes-and-some­thing. That’s an as­ton­ish­ing lap time. An achieve­ment be­yond any­thing you can glean from the soul­less in-car footage. So why don’t I care?

Too much of a good thing, I reckon. Where once these Ring records meant some­thing, now I feel com­pletely in­ured to their im­pact. With more and more cars claim­ing quicker and quicker times, the sig­nif­i­cance of the cars, the laps and even the North Loop it­self seem to be erod­ing be­fore my eyes.

Part of it is be­cause the cars them­selves have evolved at such a rate that the chal­lenge has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion. Where it was once about get­ting the best from a fast road car that’s in way over its head, it has now be­come a case of find­ing a driver will­ing and ca­pa­ble to sum­mon enough com­mit­ment to find the car’s lim­its.

It’s of­ten said the Nord­schleife is like the ul­ti­mate B-road, and in many re­spects that’s true. It cer­tainly has more in com­mon with a fan­tas­tic coun­try road than a race­track. That’s what makes it unique, and why it has be­come a test and de­vel­op­ment mecca for all the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers. Think­ing back to 2000, even the best fast road cars could be tied in knots, or at least a tan­gle or two, by our tough­est road routes. Seven­teen years later we’re still us­ing the same road routes, but the best high-per­for­mance cars are pretty much im­per­vi­ous to the chal­lenges they present.

There was a time when I’d pick my mo­ment and rel­ish the prospect of driv­ing test cars hard on these roads. The chal­lenge was to be sen­si­tive to their lim­i­ta­tions and wary of their edgier traits. Self-con­trol was a fac­tor, but the limit was some­thing you sought with care and paid re­spect to. These days a 991 GT3 RS, Fer­rari 488 or even a Golf R is ca­pa­ble of such blis­ter­ing cross-coun­try speed that you would rightly be re­lieved of your li­cence and lib­erty should you be reck­less enough to un­cork any of them. And you’d still be some way be­low the limit of their ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Watch­ing the Hu­racán lap, or in­deed the Porsche 918 Spy­der lap it trumped, is a win­dow on the zone where those lim­its now re­side. Way up in the thin air, where only those charged with the job of wring­ing out a lap time are pre­pared or able to go. It’s a bit like watch­ing YouTube videos of those mad Rus­sians who climb ter­ri­fy­ingly tall build­ings, then dan­gle them­selves off the ledge at the top. It makes for com­pelling but de­cid­edly un­com­fort­able view­ing. I cer­tainly wouldn’t want to try it.

If you love fast cars and what it takes to drive them to the limit of their ca­pa­bil­i­ties, any­thing that hap­pens be­tween Hatzen­bach and T13 should matter. Sadly, as these ‘record’ laps be­come more and more com­mon­place it seems the no­ble, gnarly old Nord­schleife is be­ing nor­malised: plun­dered for dis­pos­able mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial that then sends vo­cif­er­ous in­ter­net ‘ex­perts’ into a frenzy of con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

I’ll al­ways have tremen­dous re­spect for any­one pre­pared to put their balls on the block and go for a time, but I’ve reached a point where, apart from a bit of tea-break tit­il­la­tion, the laps don’t mean any­thing. How can they when they are timed on dif­fer­ent days and the cars are pre­pared to a stan­dard un­governed by any kind of of­fi­cial body? If there’s no con­sis­tency there’s no con­text. That’s why al­most 35 years since it was set, there’s only one Ring record worth get­ting ex­cited about: Ste­fan Bellof’s in­cen­di­ary 6:11.13 at the wheel of a Porsche 956 in qual­i­fy­ing for the 1983 Nür­bur­gring 1000km. On the same day, in the same type of car as his fac­tory team­mates, Bellof went five sec­onds faster than the next quick­est man.

In­evitably there has long been talk of Bellof’s record be­ing ripe for break­ing. Thus far talk has proven cheap. So here’s an idea: if the man­u­fac­tur­ers en­joy the mar­ket­ing mileage from set­ting so­called Ring records, why don’t they get to­gether ev­ery year, al­low an im­par­tial scru­ti­neer to check the va­lid­ity of all the cars, strap in the mad­dest test driv­ers avail­able, give them a slap and let them go at it in the ul­ti­mate Time At­tack? From hot hatches to hy­per­cars, the score would be set­tled. Now that would get my at­ten­tion. ⌧

Al­most 35 years since it was set, there’s only one Ring record worth get­ting ex­cited about

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