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Nurburgring lap record beefs and controversies: A brief history

By Cameron Kirby, 30 Jul 2018 Features

Nurburgring lap record beefs and controversies: A brief history

Green Hell lap-record claims and controversy go together like bangers and mash

GERMANY’S infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife is irresistible to high-performance vehicle manufacturers, luring them with the prospect of record-breaking times that inject PR opioids straight to its marketing vein of their big-budget marketing department.

However, the art of achieving, and subsequently claiming, a new Nurburgring production-car lap record has become almost controversial in and of itself, with internet experts – and sometimes even other car manufacturers – quick to claim balderdash on attempts.

While some take umbrage to race seats and roll cages being fitted to cars during record attempts, they’re necessary because of the colossal speeds now being achieved with road-legal equipment on one of the most dangerous circuits in the world. If something goes wrong at those velocities, safety should be paramount.

Read next: Lamborghini’s unreleased Aventador SVJ breaks Porsche’s Nurburgring record

However, some manufacturers are pushing the grey area of special engine and suspension tunes and super-sticky R-Spec rubber that have seen the Nurburgring has become a wild west, ripe for disputes over legitimacy, with no official governing body to adjudicate matters.

Here are some of our favourite rivalries and controversies surrounding Nordschliefe bragging rights from over the years:

Porsche vs The World

Porsche features heavily in this story, not because its many ‘Ring records have been subject to controversy, but because of its propensity call out other car companies if it suspects foul play.

The men and women of Stuttgart clearly take their Nurburgring records seriously, and don’t take it lying down when another manufacturer beats them on home turf.

Nissan caught Porsche’s ire when in 2008 it claimed the R35 GT-R had bested the 911 GT2 with a 7:29 lap.

Porsche engineers and suits thought it inconceivable that a Datsun which cost half the price of its GT2 and Turbo heroes could shame it on the Green Hell’s 20.6-kilometre circuit. So they set out to independently test Nissan’s claim, going as far as buying a US-spec 2008 GT-R, and benchmarking it against both the Turbo and GT2.

Porsche claims it was unable to get anywhere near ex-Formula One driver Toshio Suzuki’s mid-seven minute lap, with its own test driver managing a best time of 7:54 – significantly slower than the Turbo’s 7:38 and GT2’s 7:34.

Read next: Nordschleife at night: One lap from the Nürburgring 24-Hour

This led the German carmaker accused Nissan of using special tyres, and non-production engine and suspension settings on its record attempt.

Then in 2013, Porsche put McLaren in its place, when the pair where releasing the 918 and P1 hybrid hypercars respectively.

Then McLaren boss Ron Dennis boldly claimed the P1 would complete a sub-seven minute lap at the ‘Ring, which until then had only ever been achieved by barely-legal Radicals (more on that later).

Following months of speculation, with rumours of a mid-six minute lap by the P1, Porsche beat the Brits to the punch, revealing the 918 completed a 6:57 lap, with a full video to prove it.

It was a coup for Stuttgart, with the 918 less powerful and heavier than its ‘Holy Trinity’ rivals the P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari.

Despite returning to the ‘Ring with the P1, and continuing to claim a sub-seven minute lap had been achieved, McLaren never officially revealed the final time.

Final score: Porsche 1, McLaren 0.

Lamborghini’s botched video surgery

The most recent ‘Ring controversy occurred when Lamborghini released video of its Huracan Performante’s outright production record-breaking lap.

Early in 2017, the Raging Bull claimed the Performante had snatched the Nurburgring record from Porsche’s 918 hypercar, with a time of 6:52.0. However, doubts emerged almost immediately after the time was announced.

As is now traditional with Nurburgring lap records, Lamborghini released an accompanying video of the lap, and that’s where the hubbub began.

Internet sleuths quickly claimed video trickery to speed up the footage, pointing to discrepancies in speed displayed by the on-screen visuals, and vehicles instrument cluster. Others claimed footage had been sped up by a frame-per-second to shave valuable tenths off the laptime.

Read next: Watch: Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo's Nurburgring onboard footage

Eventually, the internet mob go so loud that Lamborghini was forced to release actual GPS data from the record lap in order to silence critics – something no other manufacturer has been forced to do before.

Wary of a similar lynch mob arising with its most recent claim, Lamborghini stated the new outright record recently set by the Aventador SVJ was independently verified by representatives from Remak.

Nissan gives Godzilla a tune-up.

The 2008 GT-R laptime wasn’t the last time Nissan courted controversy at the ‘Ring. In 2013 the Japanese carmaker claimed its GT-R NISMO had become the ‘fastest volume production car’ at the Green Hell, with a 7:08 lap – 11 seconds slower than the low-volume Porsche 918 hypercar.

At the time, Nissan claimed the time was completed with a car fitted with ‘track options’, insinuating that customers would be able to purchase a similarly-specced vehicle. But that wasn’t the case, with Nissan engineers later confessing the NISMO had been specifically tuned for the track, with unique engine and suspension settings.

Read next: Upcoming supercars spotted at the Nürburgring

The GT-R NISMO’s claim to fame of being the fastest ‘volume production car’ also highlights another controversial aspect of Nurburgring records, with manufacturers adding caveats and qualifiers in order to generate new records.

Volvo’s humble brag

While most Nurburgring records are enthusiastically proclaimed with hubris-filled press releases, and flashy videos, Volvo took a completely different tack in 2017.

The Swedish manufacturer didn’t reveal its S60 Polestar was the fastest “road-legal four-door car” on the Nordschleife until after its 7:51.11 lap had been thoroughly trounced by the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV by 19 seconds.

It took a full year for Volvo’s record to come to light, with the company stating “being Swedish we didn’t want to shout about the record.”

With most ‘Ring records a cynical exercise in easy PR, it was certainly refreshing to see a manufacturer refrain from grandiose boasting, even if it had every right to a bit of chest-beating.

Unknown electric Chinese gate crashers rubber up

NIO was a relatively unknown Chinese vehicle manufacturer when it broke onto the scene with the EP9 all-electric hypercar. But it quickly earned a name for itself, with a seemingly endless stream of lap records achieved around the world.

Last year, it claimed to have completed a scintillating 6:45.9 lap around the Green Hell, which would have been a record for the fastest road-legal car, usurping combustion-powered vehicles entirely.

However, NIO has proven to have a penchant for fitting its EP9 with slick tyres during public appearances, such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

It remains unclear if the EP9 was wearing grooved rubber boots during its sub-seven minute lap, though Car magazine did report that the time was set with “bespoke tyres designed specifically for the record attempt”, casting a shadow over the entire achievement.

The Radical definition of ‘street legal’

One of the most confusing aspects of Nurburgring records is the murky area between ‘road-legal’ and ‘production-car’ records.

For nearly a decade, the ‘road-legal’ Radical SR8 LM was the fastest thing with numberplates at the Nordschliefe after Michael Vergers set a 6:48.28 time in 2009.

However, the Radical is only registerable in the UK after modifications make it eligible for British Single Vehicle Approval. The McLaren P1 LM (a modified version of the track-only P1 GTR) falls into a similar bracket.

Similarly, cars such as the 918 have had their title as the fastest production car challenged, due to limited production numbers.

Until a governing body steps in to become the arbiter of the ‘Ring, Nordschleife lap records will remain a controversial and tricky business.