THE BELLOF ULTIMATUM

911 Porsche World - - The Usual Suspects -

I spent much of my last Usual Suspects slot wit­ter­ing on about the Nür­bur­gring and I’m about to do it again. No apolo­gies, I’m a bit of an ob­ses­sive.

To cut to the chase, though. Should Porsche have de­lib­er­ately set out to beat Ste­fan Bellof’s in­cred­i­ble 6min 11.13sec lap of the Nord­schleife, set dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for the 1983 Nür­bur­gring 1000km? The time had, after all, stood for 35 years and was de­scribed as “an eter­nal record” back in 2013 when a pre­vi­ously un­ti­tled sec­tion of track (where Bellof had a huge ac­ci­dent in the race) was hon­oured by his name. The mag­ni­tude of the achieve­ment, given tragic poignance by Bellof’s death a cou­ple of years later, has stood as a tes­ta­ment to his tal­ent and brav­ery and is held as de­ci­sive proof that, what­ever tech­no­log­i­cal progress has been made in the last 30 years, a Group C Porsche driven by a very brave man was STILL the bench­mark.

Or rather it was un­til a few weeks ago when Timo Bern­hard took the 919 Hy­brid Evo and sliced nearly a minute out of the time to record a scarcely be­liev­able 5min 19.55sec. Hav­ing watched the lap on Youtube and spent a few min­utes shak­ing my head I then started di­gest­ing some of the chat­ter on Twit­ter. Where I posed the ques­tion had Porsche dis­re­spected Bellof’s mem­ory by break­ing this sup­pos­edly unas­sail­able record?

The ro­man­tic re­sponse is that, yes, to an ex­tent it had. It’s only re­cently the sev­en­minute bar­rier has been reg­u­larly bro­ken by any­thing other than track spe­cials. Even a GT2 Rswith 700hp, trick tyres and a Porsche fac­tory driver couldn’t get within 45 sec­onds of Bellof’s time, this on a track that’s ar­guably faster and smoother than it was back in 1983. As­ton­ish­ing for a road car but when even a spe­cially pre­pared Mclaren P1 with nearly 1000hp can’t even get within 30 sec­onds of Bellof’s time his record looked safe.

Per­haps the guys at Porsche felt some­body was go­ing to break it one day. And if so it should be them. Porsche clearly feels a sense of own­er­ship for the Nord­schleife (buy me a beer and I’ll tell you a funny story on that topic…) and it there­fore had the re­spon­si­bil­ity to raise the bar.

Which is why I think Bellof’s legacy re­mains in­tact. I am a lit­tle sad a 35-yearold Roth­mans 956 is no longer the fastest car around the ’Ring. But I also ad­mire the chutz­pah that mo­ti­vated Porsche to prove how much the 919 was re­strained by WEC rules. After three con­sec­u­tive ti­tles and Le Mans wins there re­ally wasn’t any­thing to prove. But they did it any­way, seem­ingly for the hell of it.

I’ll leave the last word to Timo Bern­hard, clearly sen­si­tive to the fact he’d smashed a record many thought could – and should – have re­mained sa­cred. “For me Ste­fan Bellof is and re­mains a gi­ant”, he said in the press re­lease on the day of the run. “To­day my re­spect for his achieve­ment with the tech­nol­ogy avail­able back then in­creased even more.” Couldn’t agree more.

The lap: youtube.com/watch?v=pqm­suhh­p3ug

Porsche’s new Nür­bur­gring record mea­sures 35-years of progress in sheer speed, but Bellof’s legacy and lap time re­main in­tact

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