THE BELLOF ULTIMATUM
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