It sounds unbelievable for any car to lap the 12.94-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife course in only 5:19.546. The Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo went 51.58 seconds faster than the former overall lap record, with an average speed of 145.3 mph. What’s even weirder, though, is that the last record remained unbeaten for over 35 years, and wasn’t even that big of a deal when it was set.
(Full Disclosure: I was Porsche’s guest today for this run, which included travel, food and lodging to fly me over from Texas to watch this lap record drop.)
I know we posted the onboard earlier today, but holy crap. The lap record is almost less believable in the onboard view, like you’re playing one of those experimental Red Bull cars that only exist in theory on Gran Turismo.
Porsche told us it didn’t run a camera on when it ran the Formula One car-beating lap of Spa-Francorchamps to save extra weight, but we all know that won’t fly with the Nürburgring. Obsessive ‘Ring fans have made a whole cottage industry out of scrutinizing every lap time announced for the ultra-popular Nordschleife course, where most ‘Ring times are set.
We now need the receipts if you’re going to pronounce anyone the new king of the ‘Ring, and here they are, complete with a picture-in-picture view of driver Timo Bernhard’s bobbing helmet. Porsche even overlaid some of the basic data recorded from a Vbox in the car the onboard video above, which is nice to have.
It’s important to note that the obsession over ‘Ring times is a relatively modern phenomenon. When Stefan Bellof set the longstanding 6:11.13 record time exactly 35 years and 31 days ago today, it barely got recognized at all.
In fact, there was only one page where it was documented at all when we went through Porsche’s historical archives related to Bellof’s lap:
Bellof set his untouchable lap in qualifying for the race, so the only actual mention of his record 6:11.13 time was on a qualifying results page. Bellof’s Porsche 956C was later totalled during the race after Bellof also set the fastest in-race lap of 6:25.91. During the race, Bellof flipped the car and destroyed it, but somehow managed to get out to sign autographs for fans. He went on to win the World Sportscar Championship in 1984, but died in a crash at Spa-Francorchamps in 1985. It was a tremendous loss of a promising young racer.
As far as his record went, it took years for it to be spoken with the kind of reverence that it held even today, when the 919 Hybrid Evo bested it. To everyone that day, it was expected that the 956C would be faster than its predecessors, and just a routine thing to set a fast lap in practice.
Porsche’s head of engineering at the time, Norbert Singer, told Jalopnik that Bellof’s record wasn’t even a planned thing. It was just normal work. When the time came through, some of Singer’s teammates asked it the time posted was a mistake, but that’s about as much attention as it got for years.
Yet we all know that the cult of ‘Ring times is alive and well. Bellof’s lap developed a strange mythos about it over the years, including unfounded claims that Porsche and everyone else held some kind of superstition about beating the lap. Porsche’s archivists and Singer alike both said that this wasn’t true—rather, there just hadn’t been a car that was fast enough to beat Bellof’s setting timed laps on the track.
I feel like ‘Ring time mania seems to have coincided with the rise of the Internet as an accessible, ubiquitous thing. That’s when I first noticed that people care about some track in Germany, anyway. Anyone who ever, ahem, “acquired” Top Gear remembers rooting for Jeremy Clarkson to get beaten by local racer and my one true girl-crush Sabine Schmitz in a Transit van.
Whole forums and websites now track every move of the vehicles that drop into tourist drive sessions or industry pool times. We obsess over weird stuff and fast times alike. It’s a testament to the highly online nature of car enthusiasm today that someone like me who lives across an entire large ocean from the Nürburgring will root for new cars to go faster on one specific race track in the world.
Porsche’s lap today is the satisfying forefront of ‘Ring time mania. These cars like the 919 Hybrid Evo and Volkswagen’s Pikes Peak record-setting I.D. R are delivering outright speed records that give us something missing all too often in many modern-day racing series. (Indeed, both are nice wins for the Volkswagen Group, still struggling to recover from a costly diesel cheating scandal. It could also be seen as a vindication for the Group’s big push into electrification in the wake of that mess.)
Wheel-to-wheel racing needs some kind of parity between cars to make it interesting, and to give each driver or team a chance to win. That’s fine, but sometimes you just want to see cars over-engineered to deliver raw, nasty speed. That is why we love ‘Ring times so much, even when we aren’t physically there.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo is a technological marvel based on Porsche’s Le Mans prototype that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 2015-2017, but is now freed from any one racing series’ restrictions. That means that its hybrid powertrain now churns out 1160 horsepower, its active aerodynamics produce over 50 percent more downforce, and weight has been dropped to only 1872 pounds.
It was surreal to to watch this lap record drop in person, because it came back around far faster than you expected any car to be able to do so. Once the car was out, there really wasn’t even an opportunity for a bathroom break unless you’re capable of speed-peeing in the building they had open for this purpose, which was a short walk from the 919's tent.
Want another unbelievable stat? Today’s top speed on the notoriously dangerous, twisty Nordschleife was 229.5 mph.
Makes you wonder where we’ll be at in another 35 years.
[This post has been updated since publication.]