Autoguide Asks: Does The Nurburgring Matter?

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Autoguide Asks: Does The Nurburgring Matter?

Automotive News, not generally known for its “enthusiast content” published a blog about Germany’s famed 13-mile Nurburgring race track, and how car companies are touting their ‘Ring times more and more in their advertising campaigns. We can’t help but wonder how many cars will be sold on that basis, and whether it’s worth paying attention to Nurburgring lap times anymore.

Hit the jump for more

Porsche and Nissan have been baiting one another for a few years over the times of their GTR and 911 sports cars, while Porsche has touted their new hybrid 918 Spyder’s Nurburgring time of 7:20, putting it ahead of the Pagani Zonda and Dodge Viper ACR. Closer to home, Cadillac is fond of touting their 7:59 time, which puts it just inside the “fast” category of sub-8 minute ‘Ring times.

The problem is that Nurburgring times, as a performance benchmark, are next to worthless. A proper comparison would have to test all the cars on a private, closed track, on the same day in similar weather conditions with the same driver being timed with calibrated equipment from an agreed upon start and finish line.

Unfortunately, the runs done by manufacturers couldn’t be more different. Despite the video evidence with a running stop watch, there is no independent observer to vet that these cars aren’t jacked up ringers (no pun intended) and one can’t count on the test driver, likely to be merely happy at getting a shot at such a prestigious gig, isn’t going to rat out the car company. The first reported Nissan GTR time of 7:26 turned out to be on some sort of fancy tires that would never be available on the production version. With stock tires, the time went up to 7:29, dropping it back from being able to “beat” cars like the Corvette ZR-1 or Porsche Carrera GT to being just ahead of the Porsche 911 GT2 (which, ironically, had hotshoe Walter Rohrl behind the wheel and was shod with non-production R-compound tires). As it sits now, companies use different start and finish points, and there’s no reporting of whether a rolling or standing start is utilized. You can imagine the wild difference that will arise from a pretty big difference like not having an agreed upon starting protocol, and we haven’t even gotten to Mother Nature yet.

Jack Baruth, a NASA road racer, sometime Koni Challenge driver and contributor to The Truth About Cars tells Autoguide that differences in temperature have an effect on things like intake temperature, the optimum grip temperature of the tires and how well the brake pads function. On a hot day, there will be less air available for the car to inhale, meaning less power, the brake pads will disintegrate faster and the tires will exceed their optimum grip temperature faster. According to Baruth, a hot day can cost a driver 2-3 seconds on a road course like Mid-Ohio. But on the ‘Ring, the effect is far more pronounced. “The Nurburgring is six times as long as Mid-Ohio,” he says. “Temperature can be an easy 20 second swing in Ring lap times and experienced racers will do whatever it takes to take advantage of that.” That includes tricks like running in the early morning, when it’s a nice, cool 50 degrees out, to eliminate the effect of the scorching heat.

More important than any of the above shop talk is what relevance do Nurburgring times have to you, the consumer. If you said bragging rights, congratulations for being the most honest person in the room. The fact that a Nissan GTR can run the ‘Ring a couple seconds quicker than the Porsche 911 Turbo is a moot point for a few reasons. For starters, if you’re reading this, you are almost certainly not going to be turning blistering times at any road course, let alone “The Green Hell”. And even if you could, your ability to repeat the pro driver’s times on any given day wouldn’t be guaranteed due to the variables discussed in this article.

It’s understandable that car companies want to show off their best creations and what they’re capable of doing. The Nurburgring lap time is an easy heuristic that PR flacks can regurgitate to eager bench racers and intertia-loving journalists and bloggers. The times find their way into message board posts and blog headlines, and a mythology is born. But a more honest and light-hearted descriptor would be the famous ad campaign for the Porsche 911 Turbo in the late 1990’s, seen below. Simple, effective, easily understood.

Leave your comments and tell us what you think on this topic.

[Hat tip: Automotive News]

  • D

    valid points, but at the end of the day most people do buy cars for performance. even if someone wouldn’t get the most out of a car that can run X seconds on a 1 mile track, they’d probably do better than they would in a car thats capable of X+5 seconds on that same 1 mile track -all else equal.

    in the case of the gt-r:

    ” The first reported Nissan GTR time of 7:26 turned out to be on some sort of fancy tires that would never be available on the production version. With stock tires, the time went up to 7:29, dropping it back…”

    i dont think that’s accurate. nissan claimed 7:38 from the first car on oe bridgestone tires (source: http://www.nissanpress.co.uk/press_site/releases/arc_2007/53982nis.htm), then 7:29 on a series2 gt-r on oe dunlop tires (source: http://www.nissanpress.co.uk/press_site/releases/arc_2008/55186nis.htm).

    while the times will obviously vary with day/driver/weather/traffic/usual variance (due to track length), a reference of comparison is far from ‘next to worthless’. its not in a manufacturer’s best interest to outright lie. will they stretch it? yes. but like any mfr claim (eg horsepower, 0-60, mpg estimates) its up to the customer to take it for what its worth and its up to the media to help put everything into perspective and where applicable, keep them honest.

    when evaluating a mfr claim, such as in the case of the gtr, you could look at independent testing such as sportauto and see what they found. in this case, their data confirms nissan’s general claims even though their times weren’t the same. but i do agree a few seconds on the ring isnt worth much and even if it were, 99% of owners will not be able to take their cars close to that limit, but at the end of the day some buy cars to go fast… or because their fans of whatever car, and this metric, while i agree is often over-rated, does have value

  • Michel

    Of course Nurburgring times matter! It is one of the best multi-dimensional tests of a road car that we have. It’s infinitely better than just reporting power and torque and displacement numbers, which are of relatively low value when comparing vehicles in real-world use. Provided track & weather conditions and driver are reported, Nurburgring tests are arguably better than skidpads and acceleration and braking tests in controlled conditions, because the ‘Ring tests how these connected elements of total vehicle performance work simultaneously and (ideally) smoothly in dynamic situations.

    It’s about time sportscar manufacturers used more than sexy female models and idealistic video of their isolated car on a remote road (closed course, professional driver tag mandatory) to sell their increasingly overweight products.

  • SJE

    Nurburgring lap times are almost buzz words these days. Obviously, it’s an extremely famous track, and being able to say things like, “fastest ’round the ‘Ring” really drives home the performance selling points to a consumer.

  • Kamil

    Good question.
    In my opinion a lap around the ring is rather meaningless. It is not a standardized test of any kind; no conditions are defined and controlled and any matter. Therefore, the lap time can be interpreted differently by any manufacturer and made to fit their spec.
    Having said that, it is entertaining to watch companies go out there and fight over who’s got the most impressed fanboys – it’s creates a buzz at the very least and may actually lead to some car sales.

  • banovsky

    Don’t think they’re relevant. Made a special trip to run the ‘Ring last year for a few laps, told my family, got blank stares.

    If engineers feel the conditions at the ‘Ring make better cars, sure, I’ll buy that. Then again, the Saturn Ion Red Line *was* tuned on the Nurburgring, so…

    M!

  • Kristian

    Running the Ring is all about R&D, the marketing aspect is a tossed in freebe. No consumer of 90k+ sports cars make a decision about how to spend their money based on a lap time. For Nissan it is all about the trickle down marketing, and for Porsche, they are stuck in a bit of a pickle needing to respond to Nissan, but knowing that 90% of their core audience would never even consider a Nissan.

  • helen chen

    The Nurburgring lap time is an easy heuristic that PR flacks can regurgitate to eager bench racers and intertia-loving journalists and bloggers. The times find their way into message board posts and blog headlines, and a mythology is born

  • SBRacing

    Are you aware that a young American race car driver presented a research paper at the 2010 Vehicle Dynamics Expo in Stuttgart, Germany about this very topic? Right now I believe he is the only American to have ever raced in DTM and the first American to race in F2, but he presented a very well thought out and well researched engineering paper about how testing and development at the Nurburgring actually affects modern sports cars.

  • Mike

    Of course it “matters,” otherwise manufacturers wouldn’t be rushing to “tout” their ‘ring times and spend time and money tweaking cars to run on it. Frankly, I am much happier that American car manufacturers have finally woken up to the fact that there is more to life than straight line speed (with the exception of Corvettes) and idiotic minivans.

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