Will Porsche’s 919 Evo break the ‘Green Hell’ track record?
Monday, April 23, 2018
In May 1983, young German driver Stefan Bellof piloted his Porsche 956 around the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife in 6 minutes, 11.13 seconds in qualifying for the Nürburgring 1,000-kilometer race as part of that year's World Sportscar Championship. The mark established a track record for the "Green Hell" that still stands today.
Bellof's lap was so dominant that it was 5 seconds clear of second place on the grid and a full 30 seconds faster than reigning Formula 1 champion Keke Rosberg, who was also in a Porsche 956. Bellof's own manager thought there had to have been a problem with the timing system when the then-25-year-old crossed the start/finish line at 6:11.13.
When you consider that prototype sports cars and F1 cars stopped racing on the 12.9-mile Nordschleife after 1983, it's perfectly understandable to think that Bellof's record would be one that stands the test of time. Just last year, Road & Track ran a piece stating exactly that.
But now, thanks to Porsche's recent 919 Evo project, a Nordschleife record run might not only be possible, but imminent within the next few weeks.
The 919 Evo is effectively a trimmed-out version of the Porsche 919 Hybrid that won each of the last three 24 Hours of Le Mans and the last three World Endurance Championships. The 919, retired from racing after Porsche pulled out of LMP1 competition following the 2017 season, was already going to go down as a legendary, conquering car. The Evo, however, is free from racing regulations and has the main purpose of topping the all-time timesheets.
In its first outing at Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps circuit on April 9, the Evo stunned the racing world by laying down a 1:41.770 with 2016 Le Mans winner Neel Jani behind the wheel. That time broke the former track record set last August by current F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. Furthermore, that lap was more than 12 seconds faster than Jani's own pole time at last year's WEC race at Spa in a "regular" 919 Hybrid conforming to WEC/Le Mans rules.
To help achieve this feat, Porsche increased the fuel flow rate on the V-4 turbo internal combustion engine in the 919, bringing the power from the traditional engine to 720 horsepower. Then, the unregulated hybrid energy recovery system (ERS) allowed the 919 an effective gain of 40 hp on the existing 400 that the ERS provided previously.
A total power output of 1,160 horsepower is an insane amount, but the 919 Evo team also modified the body of the car for a 66 percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency and downforce gains of 53 percent. Drag reduction systems were also added to the car, meaning that the rear wing could be adjusted during the lap on the straightaways to provide higher top speeds. Additionally, because weight is the enemy of speed, 86 pounds of nonrequired equipment was taken off last year's 919.
The next stop for the 919 Evo is indeed the Nordschleife on May 12, prior to the annual Nürburgring 24-hour race featuring touring cars, but Porsche's official release after the Spa-Francorchamps run only references a "demo lap." There's speculation that could mean a record-breaking attempt in front of thousands. However, Sportscar365 editor-in-chief John Dagys recently wrote that it was "unlikely" Porsche would go for a record attempt at large events and would instead use private test sessions to do so.
If Porsche used the May 12 "demo lap" as something along the lines of what a BMW Formula 1 car did in 2007, and intentionally shackled the Evo down, it would be understandable, as the Nordschleife is still an extremely dangerous track that has produced many casualties in vehicles nowhere near as fast as the 919 Evo.
However, the 919 Evo is one of the fastest racing machines ever built, and it could undoubtedly shatter Bellof's old record to bits, considering the advancements in aerodynamics made in the past 35 years and the fact that the Evo could run anywhere from 300 to 500 horsepower more than the Porsche 956 could put to the pavement in 1983. The question isn't whether the Evo can break the record, it's whether Porsche wants to take the risk and by how much the record would fall.
By using historical lap times from the 956 and 919, as well as accounting for the speed of the Evo, Bradley Brownell of the Porsche blog FlatSixes extrapolated that the 919 Evo might be able to take more than a full minute off Bellof's record and go under the 5-minute mark.
Even if Porsche ultimately decides against breaking the long-standing Nordschleife record, it's all but certain to break other track records, and possibly in front of Porsche enthusiasts. The 919 Evo will be at England's Brands Hatch on Sept. 2 for the Festival of Porsche and at the Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, from Sept. 26 to 29.
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