There must be something in the air. On Friday, we brought you news about Romain Dumas and Volkswagen breaking records at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Just five days after Dumas' made it to the top of the mountain, his colleagues at Porsche Motorsport—the team with which he won Le Mans in 2016—have gone and shattered another record some thought would never be broken. The track is the 12.9-mile (20.8km) Nürburgring Nordschleife, and Porsche factory driver Timo Bernhard drove a Porsche 919 Evo around it in just 5:19.55.
35 years ago
Until now, the fastest man to ever lap the Nordschleife was the late Stefan Bellof. By the time of his run in 1983, the track was considered too dangerous for Formula 1, but little else had changed since the 1920s. Nordschleife was still workable for Group C though, which held its 1983 1000kms of Nürburgring there. During qualifying for the race, Bellof—driving a works Porsche 956—lapped the place in 6:11.13. (There's no in-car footage of his run, but teammate Derek Bell did carry a camera for a practice lap that isn't that much slower.)
When the shorter and much safer Nürburgring GP-strecke opened in 1984, the Nordschleife's days of hosting the very fastest racing series was over. Bellof's time, therefore, was presumably the last word in speed around this dangerous ribbon of tarmac. Until the 919 Evo program, that is.
The 919 unleashed
After Porsche won Le Mans for the third time with the 919 Hybrid—bumping to 18 its total overall wins at the French race—the car maker decided to end the 919 Hybrid racing program. But instead of just sticking the race cars in the museum, Porsche decided to see how fast they could really go. New engine management software and no need to abide by a fuel-flow restriction bumped the 919's turbocharged V4 engine output from 500hp (373kW) to 720hp (537kW). The hybrid system is 10-percent stronger at 440hp (328kW).
Active aerodynamics at the front and rear have increased downforce in the corners and decreased drag on the straights. The suspension has been beefed up to cope with higher loads, and the traction control and brake-by-wire systems have been enhanced. About 86lbs (39kg) of weight was removed, and Michelin even made a bespoke tire for the car. Obviously there had to be a point to all of this, and there is: a farewell tour for the car, now named the 919 Evo, with the goal of setting some new lap records.
Our first clue as to the sheer speed in the 919 Evo came in April. Porsche took it to the Belgian track of Spa-Francorchamps, where driver Neel Jani drove it around in 1:41.770. That's 12 seconds faster than the 919 Hybrid's best time, and almost 8/10ths of a second faster than the current F1 lap record at the track.
But the one everyone was waiting to see was an all-out run at the Nordschleife. Prior to this year's 24 Hours Nürburgring race in May, the 919 Evo whetted our appetite by running some demonstration laps in formation with Bellof's 956. A busy race weekend isn't the ideal time to set a record like this, and so Porsche returned when the Evo could have the track to itself. Watching the in-car footage, what followed is scarcely believable:
I'm not sure which is more impressive—the 228mph (367km/h) Vmax on the main straight, or the sheer speed Bernhard carries through the corners. His time? 5:19.55, almost an entire minute faster than Bellof's qualifying time and more than a minute faster than he managed during the 1983 race.
"This is a great moment for me and for the entire team—the 919 programmes icing on the cake," five-time Nürburgring 24 winner Bernhard said. "The Evo was perfectly prepared, and I have done my best on this lap. Thanks to the aerodynamic downforce, at sections I never imagined, you can stay on full throttle. I'm pretty familiar with the Nordschleife. But today I got to learn it in a new way."
Our next chance to see the 919 Evo will be at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (July 12-15) and the Festival of Porsche at Brands Hatch (September 2), both in the UK. After that, you can spot the Evo at the Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca here in the US (September 27-30). That last one should be special: we've been told by Porsche the aim is to break the 1-minute barrier at the Californian circuit…
Listing image by Porsche