The Nürburgring is still a thing for automakers at the LA Auto Show
Over in Germany, you'll find what may well be the scariest race track of all time. The Nürburgring Nordschleife is a 12.9-mile (20.8km) ribbon of tarmac wrapped around the Eifel Mountains that challenges a car like nowhere else on earth. Originally built as public works project in the 1920s, it got too fast for Formula 1 in the 1970s, then too fast for sports prototypes in the 1980s.
Despite relatively few changes over the decades, the Nürburgring still plays host to professional races today, as always operating as a test track and even a limited-access toll road when not being used for competition. For a while, the track's fearsome reputation faded from the public consciousness. But its inclusion in several popular video game franchises has done much to reverse that.
So much so that—for some—a fast Nürburgring lap time is the ultimate automotive badge of honor. It's not like a land-speed record. There's no official sanctioning body with a rule book to police and no dedicated race meeting during which time such records have to be set. You don't even have the promise of a clear lap with no other traffic unless you're prepared to rent out the circuit—even then, there's no guarantee the weather will cooperate. But that doesn't stop them from coming, and, at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show, more than one new model proudly boasted 'Ring credentials.
That’s a fast SUV…
First up, we have the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. We first met this 505-horsepower SUV at last year's show, and we still have to wait until next spring for it to go on sale. But in September, Alfa Romeo proudly revealed that one of its test drivers, Fabio Francia, lapped the Green Hell in 7 minutes, 51.7 seconds.
Reid Bigland, Head of Alfa Romeo, said at the time:
We specifically engineered and designed the Stelvio Quadrifoglio to set world-class benchmarks, and it did not disappoint with a world-record Nürburgring lap time of 7 minutes and 51.7 seconds. We're proud to now hold two Nürburgring lap time records with the Giulia Quadrifoglio as the fastest four-door production sedan and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio as the fastest production SUV.
… and an even quicker sedan…
Just two months after Bigland's comment, that last claim is now out of date—sort of. On the eve of this year's auto show, Jaguar had its own record to crow about.
The XE SV Project 8 is a 592hp limited-run track monster, loosely based on the regular production XE sedan. Hand-built with almost entirely new bodywork and mechanicals, plus a hefty roll cage for safety, an XE SV Project 8 completed a tour of the circuit in 7 minutes and 21.2 second, 11 seconds faster than the aforementioned Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Jaguar has claimed this as a record for a "sedan of production-intent specification," which is a fancy way of saying you can't buy one yet. Three hundred will eventually go on sale, and you'll need deep pockets: at $187,500, you're paying $10,500 for each second saved compared to the Alfa sedan I loved so much earlier this year.
(Fun fact: even Volvo can't resist the lure of the Nürburgring. The Swedish company briefly held the fastest four-door time last year with its S60 Polestar.)
… but to go really fast, you need a coupe.
A really, truly, stupendously fast Nürburgring time needs to start with a six. And to do that, you need something a little more… focused than an SUV or sedan—even one with wings like Project 8. No, you need a proper sports car, one with as much power as possible to deal with the long straights and ferociously fast corners.
And I do mean a lot of power; if you want your lap time to start with a six, better make that dyno readout start with a seven. Chevrolet has high hopes for its new Corvette ZR1, which made its US debut in LA the same night as the Jag. Its supercharged 6.2L LT5 V8 engine packs 755hp, and a sub-seven-minute lap time is surely on Chevy's mind. That will continue to elude it until at least the spring—on the one day most conducive to a record time, the automaker chose instead to run its Camaro ZL1 1LE. (That car managed a 7:16.04, besting the previous Corvette ZR1's time of 7:19.6.)
The Corvette has a tough time to beat if it wants to be crowned as the production car king. Right now, that title belongs to Porsche's new 911 GT2 RS. It's the most powerful 911 variant ever, with a rear-mounted 3.8L twin-turbo flat six that generates 700hp. On September 20, Porsche racing driver Nick Tandy lapped the track in just 6:47.3. Only two non-race cars have gone faster—in March, Peter Dumbreck and the Nio EP9 electric car set a time of 6:45.9, while Kenny Bräck used a McLaren's P1 XP1 LM prototype to shave a further two seconds off the go-round in May (6:43.2).
But neither vehicle was road-legal, unlike the $293,200 Porsche. The GT2 RS time was no fluke, either. Tandy and Porsche test driver Lars Kern each ran several sub 6:50 laps on the day in question.
Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars at Porsche, said the following:
At the start of the development process, we set ourselves a lap time target for the GT2 RS of less than 7 minutes and 5 seconds. The credit for beating this target by 17.7 seconds goes to our development engineers, mechanics and drivers, who demonstrated an exceptionally strong team performance. This result makes it official: the GT2 RS is not only the most powerful, but also the fastest 911 ever built.
Not everyone is an unabashed fan of the Nürburgring and the effect it has on a car's handling everywhere other than the circuit. TV's James May is famously on record denouncing the obsession. A few years ago, one of Ford's senior performance engineers joined that call. Even Andreas Preuninger, Walliser's colleague at Porsche, thinks the track ruins good cars. But, for now, those voices remain in the minority. As long as stopwatches still exist and cars still test there, the Nürburgring lap time will continue to be a thing.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin