|Porsche 956 Museum car in a demo run on the Nordschleife.|
I was surprised to learn recently that a Porsche 956 still holds the ultimate lap record for the Nordschleife, set by Stefan Bellof in qualifying for the 1983 1000 km race. His time was 6:11. Couldn't a modern sports racer better that time? Maybe not: the ride height would have to be raised, and spring rates softened, which would mess with the downforce and handling.
The ultimate lap record for the old, bumpy, unimproved, course with no safety features was set by Niki Lauda in a Ferrari 312T, in qualifying for the 1975 German Grand Prix. His time was 6:59. When I was a youth, anything under 10 minutes was fast and times approaching 9:00 were blistering.
This got me to wondering about the relative pace of notable production cars. Certainly the Norschleife is a benchmark for superb handling. It has it all: decreasing radius, double apex, off-camber, blind, swoopy uphills and downhills incorporating them--you name it. Manufacturers tout their cars' lap times these days, to the point that the hosts of Top Gear ridicule them for making the ride of an otherwise fine sports car unduly harsh. Point taken: not every day is a track day. To enjoy the Tail of the Dragon, you must get to it, with your spine, kidneys, and mental attitude in reasonably good shape.
Anyway. Here are some lap times of various interesting and desirable cars. With the Porsche 908/3 thrown in as another benchmark. The times are not strictly apples-to-apples. The length of the current course can vary by about 1%. The old course was longer still, including about 1/2 mile of the former South Loop (now incorporated into the current Grand Prix course). Times for the same make/model can vary by 5 seconds or more. And some of these cars had "ringer" tires, or suspension, or both. All that being said, these lap times are roughly comparable. Here's a link to a Wikipedia piece that features an exhaustive list:
6:11 Porsche 956 (ultimate lap record)
6:59 Ferrari 312T Grand Prix car ("unimproved" course lap record)
7:43 Porsche 908/3 (fastest sports racing car time circa 1970)
7:23 Corvette C6 Z06 (the "famous" Jim Mero in-car video lap)
7:33 Ferrari 458 Italia
7:33 Porsche GT3 RS
7:34 Nissan GT-R
7:57 Honda NSX-R
8:04 Porsche Cayman S
8:06 Subaru WRX STi
8:25 Lotus Exige S
8:25 Mitsubishi Evo VII
What do these times tell us (or at least me)? Not a lot. Obviously I couldn't get the most out of a Z 06, let alone a 956. And I wouldn't want to be Mero's or Bellof's passenger in either! A 458 Italia is more fun than a GT3 RS, yet they have identical lap times. The Exige S and the Evo VII are 12% slower than the 458 and the GT3, but I'm not convinced they're 12% less fun.