2015 was a bad year for 'Ring records, as that GT3 accident (when Jan Mardenborough's GT-R Nismoflipped and tragically killed a spectator at the Flugplatz section) led to speed limits imposed on parts of the famous track.
By Dale Lomas
2015 was a bad year for 'Ring records, as that GT3 accident (when Jan Mardenborough's GT-R Nismoflipped and tragically killed a spectator at the Flugplatz section) led to speed limits imposed on parts of the famous track. That mess sunk many manufacturer plans for record attempts altogether. Of the three limits, the 155-mile-per-hour cap for one mile of the Döttinger Höhe was easily the biggest frustration for record tries.
The first of only two highlights came from the Lamborghini Aventador nailing a cheeky sub-seven in April. Then we had to wait until December for BMW to release the M4 GTS lap time.
While an FIA GT3 car can accept the lower speed limit and just add more wing to try and make it up on the bends (the bestVLN – a sports car racing series held at the 'Ring – lap time this year was only three seconds slower than 2014), a typical road-legal sports car is basically hamstrung.
Frustrating? You bet. Highest on that list of unsatisfied development teams has to be the Corvette crew. 2015 was supposed to be redemption; a chance to beat the 7:08 lap set by the Nismo GT-R and defend themselves against the latest incarnation of the Viper ACR. An unlucky crash and some bad weather had ruined their 2014 lap record attempt; the sight of Jim Mero, the ride-and-handling engineer for Corvette, standing meekly next to the remains of a yellow Z06 haunted them all winter. This year's confusion may have left them with fast sector times (maybe, even, rumors suggest, some fast laps), but there was probably no politically correct way to shout about them without jeopardizing future testing rights.
The week after the speed limit signs went up, I asked the head of another major test facility if they applied to the industry sessions. "Nobody's said anything. You probably know more than me," was the bewildering answer.
Shortly after that conversation, right in the middle of this chaotic window of opportunity, Lamborghini released that wonderful Aventador lap time and video. After that, the rules were clarified. Koenigsegg might not have been the first to learn of them, but it was the first to go public. And the Koenigsegg folks were righteously upset. The Viper ACR team (which needed outside support from ViperXchange back in 2011, remember) embarked on another project.
In hindsight, those much-vaunted speed limits were only strictly controlled for the VLN and N24 racers. Some of the bigger trackdays were given an extra a marshal with a radar gun and a radio. And that's more than I never saw during any of the 700 laps I drove the RingTaxi. That's the truth. Industry sessions were almost entirely unmonitored. Don't ask, don't tell. If anybody else did record any lap times or break those wholly-unmonitored speed limits, they haven't shouted about it. Yet. So let's compile the full list of likely 2016 Nürburgring lap time candidates:
- Acura NSX: Honda's been running its NSX head-to-head with a 991 GT3, and the rumors swirling around in Pistenklause, a famous hangout for Nürburgring insiders, are that the performance is 'favorable'. Whatever that means.
- Honda Civic Type R: The USDM version of the Euro Type R was already turning laps late this summer. Honda doesn't often go backwards in development, so I expect a lap time from this sedan-shaped Civic by the middle of next year. Under eight minutes is a given.
- Chevrolet Corvette Z06: A year after the launch it's hard to say if another attempt is worth the effort. Will nailing a lap time invigorate sales? Or will it be a question of pride that brings them back to the Nordschleife? Or maybe, just maybe, there's a new model waiting in the wings.
- Dodge Viper ACR: Despite the possibility that 2016 could be a swan-song year for the Viper, insiders on the team confirmed that they'd love to bring the new ACR to the Nordschleife next year. But the engineers might have to battle the bean counters.
- Ferrari LaFerrari: It's been here in an official capacity twice that I know of, but instead of a lap time-setting session,Ferrari was most likely participating in the Pirelli tire testing and sign-off program. Don't rule out an Italian return to the 'Ring, as McLaren left the lap time door wide open in 2014.
- Ford Focus RS: Normally Ford doesn't bother too much with 'Ring lap times. The company never showed any signs of releasing a video for the GT350R (though it did answer Evo's pointed question a year ago) that tested so much here. But combine Europe's love of hatchbacks and obsession with Nordschliefe times with the fact that every other rival of note can boast a sub-eight-minute lap, I think the Cologne-based team would be crazy not to show us what the new RS can do.
- Koenigsegg Agera One:1: Another one from the 2014-crash-club that wanted a clean slate in 2015. Koenigsegg's been rather vocal about their return to the Nordschleife.
- Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2: Although in the shadow of its bigger brother, we can tell you for a fact that Lamborghini brought a grey example to the last test session of 2015, just days before the track closed for the year.
- Mercedes-AMG GT R: This 600-hp active-aero'd beast has been lapping all year, and it looks fast. The chaps from Affalterbach will be eager to prove their creation's credentials. Mercedes isn't normally one to post lap times and videos, but maybe that's because it's never had the car to do it with yet.
- Porsche GT3 RS: With the great exception of the 918 Spyder, the Weissach boys don't really shout about their lap times either, despite extensive testing on the Nordschleife. On the one hand, Porsche has nothing to prove. All the Rennsport GT3s are sold. On the other hand, I personally know it's a damn fast car around the Nordschleife and why wouldn't they want to prove that?
- Radical RXC Turbo: A British-built, Mustang-powered sportscar. This is one car that could actually fight for the fastest-ever production car lap time. Now that Radical has access to its own facility just a dozen yards from the circuit, I think it will.
Of course, there'll be more lap time attempts than those we've listed above. Remember there's still no official governing body or organization to monitor the attempts. As such, the concept of Nürburgring lap records is open to interpretation. Fastest hybrid, fastest electric, fastest commercial vehicle - we could go on. The only thing we're sure of is that with no speed limits, and an improved track, 2016 will be considerably faster than 2015. Bring it on.
Dale Lomas is a Brit who happens to live in Germany and work at the Nurburgring. In addition to contributing to Autoblog and other automotive outlets, he runs BridgeToGantry.com, an unofficial but very popular 'Ring fan site and community hub. He also races sports cars when he can.