Nürburgring lap record smashed. Timo Bernhard’s Porsche 919 Evo obliterates time set by Stefan Bellof 35 years ago.
Thirty-five years. That’s how long Stefan Bellof’s Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record had stood for. Thirty-five years of debate asking if it could – would – ever be broken. Now Porsche has ended that debate. And then some. By 51.58 seconds. That’s how much quicker Timo Bernhard lapped the 12.9-mile circuit in the 919 Evo than Bellof managed in the Porsche 956 C. The now-defunct 919 LMP1 race car had already set a lap record at Spa earlier in the year, but the Nürburgring time was The One.
Friday 29 June 2018 started with an 8am ‘warm-up’ and finished with a time of 5min 31.0sec. A new record. On a warm-up lap. Thirty minutes later the five-time N24 winner, two-time Le Mans winner and reigning World Endurance Champion left the pits once again and returned even sooner, in 5min 24.0sec
Race teams are canny folk and they knew that despite the hour of the day the heat would soon slow the track, so they opted for one last run. Some 319 seconds after leaving the pits, Bernhard had completed another lap. 5min 19.55sec. The fastest of the morning. The fastest ever of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. A lap so fleeting not only requires Bernhard to have conkers the size of planets, but for the 919 Evo to be able to reach incredible speeds.
And so it did: 229mph along the Döttinger Höhe straight, over the double-ton through the Foxhole. He approached Schwedenkreuz at 214mph, and averaged 145mph over the entire lap. If you’ve been to the Ring, whether to drive a lap or just watch a race, you’ll know how unreal these speeds sound. If you haven’t, watch the on-board footage at evo.co.uk. Bernhard could have gone faster. Porsche believes a 5min 11sec lap is for the taking, but with the sudden spell of hot weather the circuit didn’t have the grip expected, despite Michelin providing very specific tyres. Porsche has yet to say if it will be back to try again.
Depending on which side of the catch fencing you stand, Nürburgring lap records are either your life and what you benchmark cars and drivers against, or they’re a total irrelevance. But even the hardest-nosed cynic can’t help but be impressed.
Bellof’s 6min 11.13sec record was a time of legend, set in an era when safety was more often than not considered a necessary evil, and simulators and telemetry were more finger-in-the-air than laptop plugged in for another couple of terabytes data dump. The young German also set his time over a race weekend – during qualifying for the 1983 1000km of the Nürburgring. Some may argue it is still the more impressive achievement due to the pressures a race weekend brings. Perhaps it is. After all, tyre, brake and aerodynamic know-how today compared to 30 years ago is the equivalent of comparing 1983’s biggestselling computer (the mighty ZX Spectrum) with an iPhone 10. In evo’s opinion Bernhard’s achievement is no less remarkable. A 919 bares little resemblance to yesterday’s 956, but it still requires a few kilos of flesh and bone (and immense talent) to make it all work.
Bellof’s lap time and unquestionable brilliance will never be forgotten. He was one of the greats taken all too soon, and the record books lack the championship winning entries to match his ability behind the wheel. Bernhard is already a regular in the record books and now there is one more richly deserved achievement to go alongside his name.