Porsche, Bernhard smash ‘Ring record, but will it stand the test of time?
Monday, July 09, 2018
Germany’s Stefan Bellof had a great chance to be the country's first Formula 1 World Champion had he not been killed in a vicious accident at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium in 1985. In the years since, Germans have been crowned World Champion 12 times.
However, despite his untimely passing at age 27, Bellof’s legacy was immortalized thanks to his record lap at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in a Porsche 956 in 1983, completed in 6 minutes, 11.13 seconds — a thought-to-be everlasting monument to speed at one of the world’s longest and most dangerous circuits.
After all, the record couldn’t be possibly topped, because Formula 1 stopped racing at the Nordschleife after 1976 and sports car prototypes departed after the 1000-kilometer race that accompanied Bellof’s record lap in 1983. Even in 2018, the touring cars that run the famed Nürburgring 24-hour race could only manage 8-minute laps in qualifying.
However, when Porsche unleashed the 919 Evo on the motorsports world on April 9, breaking the lap record at Spa-Francorchamps previously set by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 car last year, the questions suddenly became when, not if, Porsche would give a record run a try and by how much Bellof’s record would fall.
On June 29, we got our answer, as Timo Bernhard — a German in a German car, like Bellof — raced around the "Green Hell" in 5 minutes, 19.55 seconds, some 52 seconds quicker than the previous record. Thanks to 1,160 horsepower and active aerodynamics, Bernhard was able to reach 229 mph on the Döttinger Höhe straight, the fastest section of the Nordschleife, approaching the end of the lap.
Will Bernhard’s new record last 35 years as Bellof’s did, or have we entered into a new arms race of speed to be contested in the Eifel mountains of far western Germany?
Already, the answer appears to be trending towards the latter — but with some pretty sizable caveats.
Mere days after the 919 Evo achieved its record lap, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said to fans at the Austrian Grand Prix that the Aston Martin Valkyrie AMR Pro could be a "contender" for a record run at the Nordschleife. The Red Bull team is making the car in a partnership with the British luxury marque, who is the title sponsor for the Red Bull F1 team.
However, the Valkyrie doesn’t exist yet, much less the track-going AMR Pro version that Horner referenced. Still, the "base" hypercar is projected to have at least 1,130 horsepower, and rumored to make 4,000 pounds of downforce even before modifications for the track.
So, it’s not too hard to see where a version of the Valkyrie AMR Pro could be modified under the guidance of Red Bull/Aston Martin engineers and famed designer/aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, much in the same way Porsche did to the triple Le Mans-winning 919 to make it the 919 Evo.
In March, before the Porsche 919 Evo record-breaking frenzy got started, Mercedes-AMG chief Tobias Moers speculated that the high-performance Mercedes-Benz subsidiary’s Project One roadcar would beat the Bellof record and that the biggest obstacle would be "finding the right driver." The Project One essentially adapts a current-generation Mercedes Formula 1 internal combustion engine and supplements it with four electric motors.
And while both the Valkyrie and Project One are (very, very pricey) roadcars, new regulations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship unveiled last month mean that true racing versions of each could arrive for the 2020 season. If the AMG and Aston Martin marques choose to enter into the top class of endurance racing then, they would have similar racing infrastructure — and technology — to Porsche before it attempted its 919 Evo run.
Thanks to Porsche, one of racing’s great records has finally been toppled. While the new mark might not last 35 years, a new race to rewrite the record books stands to excite gearheads and racing fans the world over.
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