Journal: Alfa Romeo's Nürburgring Editions Of Giulia, Stelvio, And The Importance Of Chasing Records

Alfa Romeo’s Nürburgring Editions Of Giulia, Stelvio, And The Importance Of Chasing Records

By Alex Sobran
March 1, 2018
1 comments

Press release imagery courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo announced a few special editions of cars and SUVs from their current lineup earlier today in the lead-up to Geneva, but the ones that people will care about the most are those wearing “NRING” badges. The Giulia Quadrifoglio held the title of fastest production sedan at seven minutes and 32 seconds until the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 brought it down to seven minutes and 21 seconds last year, and the recent Stelvio Quadrifoglio holds the current record for the SUV segment with a time of seven minutes and 51 seconds. To celebrate these feats, Alfa is releasing 108 versions (one for each year of the marque) of both the Giulia and the Stelvio. In addition to every conceivable option in the models’ respective catalogs, they will have the special badges, different interior trims, plenty of new carbon pieces inside and out (as any good special edition seems required to), and the NRING-only color fitting named “Circuito Grey.” The Nordschleife is indeed a circuit, and there are usually grey skies at least somewhere along its loop. 

They are basically items for collectors and die-hard fans of the brand. The running gear is essentially the same as the existing Quadrifoglio variants of each. The engines are the same, the power is the same, all that. I think they are still relevant all the same, and even though you can rightfully label these special models a cashing-in of sorts, I’ll argue that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating achievements like these. No matter how often the records are broken or how much squabbling there is over tire pressures and rolling starts and speed limits and drafting and weather, when did it ever become something not worth pursuing? If you’re tired of hearing about each successive break in the track’s records to the point where you’d call it trivial and pointless, there’s no other way to say it but that mentality has given up on progress. Maybe not progress that matters in any practical sense, but when did fast cars have to fill those roles too? Giving up on building ever-quicker machines to go around what’s likely the greatest car racing track in the world seems like a bad idea. It almost seems like, in an attempt to avoid showing uncool excitement about things like lap records, so-called car enthusiasts would rather bemoan the fact that a company would have the gall to make some special trim packs. That’s what matters?

If people don’t want the stiffer spring rates and whatnot, there will always be base models to buy, and it’s a kind of poser repellant, at least for a few; if they can’t put up with a stiffer car (and really, with so many adaptive suspensions and settings you can toggle, very few sedans are truly “harsh,” if any of them are), then you don’t get to have the special badge on the trunk to show your off to your friends.

Sure, maybe the achievements in question aren’t important to you—that’s reasonable and well founded, because one can definitely argue that hot-lapping SUVs means sports driving has jumped the great white shark—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They’re important for a specific reason: it’s the future, and depreciation will exist as long as new cars are made in its anticipation. That means eventually you can spend 40 grand and have a used car that will lap the Nürburgring well under eight minutes and do 0-60 in less than three seconds. Even if I could afford the Giulia NRING though, I don’t think I would buy it. Not new anyway, but sooner or later something faster and newer will come along, and then another, and so on, and it will be relatively affordable. So if you’re the kind of person who’s looking at it and thinking “Well you can have an late-model E-Class AMG for a third of this,” the only reason that’s true is because of cars like this.

The Giulia NRING and its contemporaries are closing the gap on supercars. There’s plenty of space, but when the latest M5 can accelerate to 60 faster in under three seconds, you start to realize there’s a limit on acceleration, and until we start putting racing slicks on street cars it seems like it’s not that far away. This has probably been an overly defensive read if you’ve made it this far, but if you have, please let me know your thoughts. I’m always open to having my mind changed, and it does feel strange to argue on the behalf of an SUV…

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Jean-Noël Fermaud
Jean-Noël Fermaud
4 years ago

The problem in itself is not the record. It’s that records have become a marketing tool. And while they’ve always been, there’s been a kind of frenzy around the Nürburgring (probably due to a little thing called Youtube).

I think what happened is that, coming to a period where there’s a lot of (stupid) discussion on the Internet about which car is the most relevant against its rivals, there’s also emerged the need to have a point of reference. At first it was the 0-62 mph/100 kph numbers, but then, people realized (yes, incredibly, people on the Internat are capable of processing information) that this doesn’t make a car handle better. So then, how do you pitch a car against its rivals ? You compare it on a flying lap on a circuit. And there’s one circuit where virtually all manufacturers have tested their cars, because it’s like a road, but with no speed limitation. A little math : if it’s like a road, then, a car that handles well (= goes fast) there will handle well on the road. And the faster the better.

So, there we are, Internet people arguing about “the best car in the world” have found a common criteria : lap times around the Nordschleife. And so, the manufacturers, keen to be popular (hey, it’s business), are trying to make the headlines by attempting to lap faster than the other.

The problem in itself, then, is not the Nordschleife, nor the manufacturers, but this idea I put earlier : handles well = fast. Or even more dangerous : good = fast. And it spoils much of what’s, in the end precious to us car lovers : not if a car goes fast, but does it speak to us, does it have a soul, has it got history. So, we stand here, and feel like the value of the circuit, which lies in its long history, in its epic moments of endurance and sheer talent, in its core hardness, this value is blown away by the simple fact that it’s become a simple tool to prove that “you’re better than the other”. Although this doesn’t have only bad sides (the Nordschleife will probably live for a very very long time…).

All of this asks the question : what makes a good car ? The thing is, we’d be tempted to say that it’s personal, and it probably is. But this then means that what I value is of the same importance that what the guy-who-thinks-the-fastest-and-the-latest-is-the-best thinks, in front of his computer. And we’re probably not ready for that, in the same way we’re not ready to accept that this guy, combined with all of those who think like him ultimately had the power to make it a global phenomenon. In the same way we’re maybe not ready either (and will very likely never be) for the idea of time, progress, and loss in value from cars, because ultimately, all of this makes us reflect on our own value, age, and place in the world…

And that makes a funny loop, a millennial criticizing the internet, but speaking on it, and trying to prove the value of his opinion by speaking of the value of the opinions of others…