The Nürburgring Nordschleife: 12.9 miles and one hundred-plus corners snake through Nürburg's Eifel forest, presenting constant changes in gradient and articulation. Trying to visualise the next corner, as your vision blurs, under full throttle – speedo still climbing – you get the feeling the barriers are converging on you.
The Green Hell is an experience like no other, even at modest speeds. Going in search of lap records, then, is a serious and dangerous business. Here we take a look at the top ten fastest ever Nürburgring lap times recorded by road and track cars, rather than all-out race cars.
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The Nürburgring Nordschleife serves a dual purpose for manufacturers. Once purely the testbed for developmental work, the Ring has gone on to become an automotive benchmark by which potential buyers of the planet's top performance cars judge those products. The kudos and marketing weight attached to a fast Nürburgring lap time is hugely valuable, granting ultimate bragging rights and bringing customers to showroom floors. The extent that some manufacturers go to break records – whether its special tyres, the addition of roll cages or simply specifications you can’t buy the car in – cause uproar and controversy surrounding the legitimacy of many of the times.
It's a unique test of a car, though, but not necessarily one that points to exceptional performance on the road. Some manufacturers dismiss it, and the Nürburgring itself has come under scrutiny over safety in recent times, but there's no doubt that this special circuit retains a firm grip on the imagination of performance car enthusiasts. A car that excels there gains instant respect and the manufacturers keep coming in search of a fast time.
Nürburgring laps: selected recent times
To give you a point of reference on the spectrum of speed, here are the times of some assorted production cars that tackled the fabled circuit. The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is a former holder of the front-wheel drive 'ring record – one that in recent years has become hotly contested by manufacturers of hot hatchbacks.
Alfa Romeo until recently held the unofficial saloon record in a Giulia Quadrifoglio with a time of 7min 32sec, but Jaguar's limited-run XE SV Project 8 has just whipped around in 7min 21.2sec beating the Italian's time by over ten seconds. Jaguar has been cautious with its claim though, as the specific example that produced the time may technically be a four-door saloon, but sported a roll cage, two fixed-back bucket seats and no rear seats.
Many of the cars on the list below would certainly be considered ‘fast’, but to really put their performance into perspective you need to compare them to real race cars. Until recently, the outright lap record was held by the late Stefan Bellof. In 1983, driving a Porsche 956, the 25-year-old racing driver set a time of 6min 11.1sec during qualifying for the Nurburgring 1000km, a lap time over 30 seconds faster than any other cars on this list.
Due to the changes at the Nürburgring in 1983 – the addition of the GP circuit – the 12.9-mile Nordschleife isn’t solely used for races anymore, a combination of the two tracks are used, and so top-level Le Mans prototypes haven’t competed there since.
That means that Bellof’s record has stood, until recently. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Porsche has taken the 919 Evo – a modified version of Le Mans winning LMP1 car, the 919 Hybrid – to set the lap records of some European circuits. As well as breaking the record at Spa Francorchamps, the 919 Evo obliterated the Nordschleife time, with driver Timo Bernhard finishing the lap in just 5min 19.5sec.
The 919 Evo’s record isn’t acknowledged by everyone, though. As it wasn’t set under any race regulations in a car eligible for any championship, traditionalists still consider Bellof’s time to be the true fastest lap of the Nordschleife. Still, whether it’s a record or not, the 919’s time of 5min 19.5sec is an incredible feat by anyone’s measure. But what confirms it as a proper and true Nürburgring time is that it’s shrouded in some sort of controversy.
|Honda Civic Type R (FK8)||7:43|
|Chevrolet Camaro Z/28||7:37|
|Jaguar XE SV Project 8||7:32|
|Porsche 997 GT2 RS||7:18|
|Porsche 919 Evo||5:19|
Top 10 Nurburgring lap times
Top 10 Nürburgring lap times
Below is a rundown of the ten quickest laps of both road legal and exclusively track-bred metal. A brave few drivers have piloted cars round the circuit in sub-seven minute times, with those cars averaging over 110mph over the course of the lap.
10. Lamborghini Aventador SV - 6:59.73
Shod in Pirelli’s most track focused P Zero rubber, the big Lambo just creeps into the sub-seven club. The raucous 740bhp V12, squeezed between the driver and the central exit quad exhaust, went some way to landing the SV fifth place in eCoty 2015.
On our test we couldn’t get enough of the raw supercar spirit flowing through it’s spaceship-like looks. 'In a world where the outer limits of supercars are becoming inaccessible, the SV remains a thrilling proposition.' With serious performance pent up within the carbon chassis, this is a supercar true to the meaning and a Ring conqueror.
9. Ferrari 599XX - 6:58.16
A car destined only for the track, not at your discretion nor the law’s, but on the say-so of a higher power: Ferrari. Born out of Ferrari’s XX programme, this stripped-backed, pumped-up 599 arrives at the track courtesy of a courier, with a band of Ferrari mechanics in tow to support the day's track action. Then they’ll take it away again, back to its secret dehumidified hangar.
In 2010 the Maranello-based circus arrived at the Ring to set a time worthy of the badge. It did just that: the 599XX crossed the line almost half a second quicker than Niki Lauda's 1975 Ferrari 312T F1 car.
8. Porsche 918 Spyder - 6:57 (Weissach Package)
Assimilating a myriad of cutting-edge, automotive technology the 918 exploits these collaborative systems to great effect around the Nordschleife. Stepping in as the flagship model for the Stuttgart manufacturer, replacing the Carrera GT, the successor managed to shave over thirty seconds off the Carrera GT’s time. The 6min 57sec time still stands unchallenged by the LaFerrari and the regular McLaren P1.
7. Lamborghini Huracan Performante - 6:52
Lamborghini released data of a new production car lap record, even before the car in question has been shown to the public. The new Huracan Performante, revealed at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, went round the Ring in 6:52, toppling the vastly more powerful Porsche 918, with an onboard video released by Lamborghini to prove it. The extraordinary lap time was set by works Lamborghini GT3 driver Marco Mapelli in October of 2016.
With 631bhp the Performante has 29bhp more power than the regualar model and is 40kg lighter, too. But even more impressive is its active aero, ‘Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva’ or ALA for short. Flaps and panels open and close to either direct air over its forged carbonfibre wings to create downforce, or bypass the spoilers to reduce drag. As remarkable as Mapelli’s time is, some of the credit has to go the Performante’s ALA system.
6. Radical SR8 LM - 6:48.28
In Formula 1, bending and stretching of rules is the road to success. Radical took a leaf out of the F1 playbook producing a barely road legal Nürburgring record-setter. The SR8 LM was briefly the holder of the road-legal lap record, only to be undercut by a few painstaking tenths, by the £1.5 million Zonda R.
What it may lack in raw sex appeal next to a Zonda it more than compensates for in performance. The 650kg, open-top, British racer’s 6min 48sec effort is incredibly impressive when you look the competition it places alongside on the Ring leaderboard.
5. 991.2 Porsche 911 GT2 RS - 6:47.3
Porsche's latest triumph on the 'Ring has come courtesy of the 991.2 911 GT2 RS, officially the fastest Porsche 911 ever and briefly the record holder of the fastest lap in a production road-legal car. The fact that the GT2 RS effectively started life as a docile four-seat sports car speaks volumes about the inherent quality of the 911's chassis, but also the talents of the development engineers that pour their hearts and souls into projects like the GT2 RS. The GT2’s time was achieved on special Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tyres, and, although not on the car’s options list, they are still available from Porsche.
4. Pagani Zonda R - 6:47
In 2010 Horacio Pagani sent the most hardcore iteration of Zonda to test its performance in a fearsome racing environment. Harbouring componentry that went on to underpin the Huyara, the Zonda R was well armed. Countering the weight of the considerable 7.3-litre AMG-sourced engine, was a sparing use of carbonfibre, which saw the R tip the scales at 1,070kg (dry).
Keeping all 740bhp on the black-stuff was a sculpted body channeling air towards the rear wing, sucking the R to the asphalt. The incredible downforce meant the track-ready Zonda could generate 1.62g of lateral G and the ability to attack corners mercilessly. The recipe that created Zonda R was such a success that for a while it held the non-production, and production lap records for the Nürburgring.
3. NIO EP9 - 6:45.9
Internal combustion fans are allowed to shed a little tear now – the Nürburgring lap record was held, briefly, by a pure electric car. The Chinese-built EP9 is a pure electric monster with 1,341bhp, set a time of 6min 45.9sec.
Though a previous attempt at this record saw the EP9 return a 7min 5.1sec lap back in October, that visit was marred by bad weather, and after claiming a pair of lap records at the Circuit of the Americas in February the car came back to the Eifel circuit, eclipsing its previous mark by an amazing 19 seconds. The EP9 is built to order and carries a £1.15m price tag, and with such an accolade now behind it, orders may begin to flood in.
2. Lamborghini Aventador SVJ – 6:44.9
Details of the Lamborghini Aventador Super Veloce Jota are still scarce, the full car hasn’t even been revealed yet. One of the very few pieces of information we do know, however, is its Nürbirgring Nordschleife lap time of 6min 44.9sec. The camouflaged Lambo is said to feature a host of lightweight components and more power to create ‘the best weight to power ratio’ possible.
Although not confirmed, we expect the SVJ to have Lamborghini’s ALA system, the active aero that helps the Huracan Performante further up on this list complete such an impressive time.
1. McLaren P1 LM - 6:43.2
The P1 LM proves that while electricity is helpful, it doesn't have to be the be-all and end-all. With almost 800bhp coming from its 4.0-litre V8 and a further 200bhp provided by electric motors, the P1 LM managed an incredible lap time of 6min 43.2sec – nearly three seconds ahead of the time set by the NIO EP9.
To make things even better, the P1 LM that set the lap time immediately drove home from the Nürburgring to the UK afterwards on public roads. The time was run on road-legal Pirelli Trofeo tyres, and the LM has a number of weight-saving measures over even the standard P1 GTR; lightweight seats, titanium tailpipes and the removal of race parts like the air-jack system. We wonder what will be next to take the LM's place at the top of the charts.
However important these lap times may be, they don’t provide conclusive comparative results. Often, published lap times emanate from attempts undertaken by entities external to manufacturers, as well as cross-manufacturer testing. In 2008, Porsche sent a Nissan GT-R out to the Nürburgring citing a time of 7min 54sec, some 25-seconds slower than Nissan’s official time.
The backdrop to Nissan’s quicker time will have entailed a hoard of mechanics and engineers overseeing proceedings, ensuring the GT-R is primed to set the fastest time possible. Contrast that to Porsche’s test, where the GT-R won’t have had the same benefits, and a significantly slower time arises. From an outside perspective it becomes difficult to determine the car's true, representative performance.
Ultimately, a car’s Nürburgring time stamp isn’t the overriding performance metric due the ambiguity surrounding the recorded times. This though, doesn’t stop manufacturers engaging in lap time battles and looking to create the fastest thing around the Nürburgring.