Are Ultimate Lap Records More Interesting Than Formula 1?
If you’re even a part-time motorsport enthusiast you probably read some words about and watched the video showing Porsche’s 919 Hybrid Evo breaking the 35-year-old Nordschleife lap record by almost a full minute last Friday (6:11.13 in 1983 with Stefan Bellof in the 956C, 5:19.55 in 2018 with Timo Bernhard in the 919 Evo). We’ve already written about the car in the past (when it set a new record at Spa), so there’s no point in rehashing what we all already know—Bellof’s feat in 1983 was immense, but it was bound to fall at some point even though challengers had to best it on the longer version of the circuit.
Instead of turning to the thesaurus in search of synonyms for “spectacular” then, let’s talk about what this might mean for the future of race and road cars. Before getting into all the conjecture and hopeful wondering, a simple question: do you think the 919 Evo’s record-setting laps in 2018 will lead to other manufacturers striving for achievements on race tracks outside of the sanctioned series? After all, the production car records at this track seem to change hands multiple times per model year, and Nürburging special editions for the street have a long history to prove it.
Holding the outright lap record—the one with no caveats whatsoever—on the Nordschleife is like having your name on the top score list at the arcade’s toughest game, except we aren’t talking about the ’80s or Japan, and it takes more than one obsessed soul spending days in front of a screen and a joystick to do something like this. The cachet earned from all the hard work is definitely worth it I’d say, because what’s more of an argument-ender than being able to claim you’re the fastest manufacturer of all time on the world’s longest and most revered and feared car racing circuit? Winning Le Mans a bunch of times is arguably more difficult than building something to set lap records with—and the two go hand in hand in this case—but really, and this isn’t rhetorical, which is the bigger bragging right?
Of course this car wouldn’t exist without Porsche’s desire to compete in the WEC leading to its creation, and it would be a very bizarre decision to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into developing something that can’t legally race against anything else nor be sold to anyone, but what’s stopping Toyota from modifying the TS050 in a mirrored move to Porsche’s? That car proved itself faster in single laps in most cases anyway. But regardless of which flag you waved at Le Mans when the two were there, wouldn’t it be exciting to see another ridiculously quick car take on the Nordschleife record?
If manufacturers are clearly using the place for PR purposes, and if motorsport success in a more general sense is good for brand perception (“sell on Monday”), it seems like an almost obvious fate for retiring race cars. Why not take the outgoing models, like the 919 was, crank up the power and downforce beyond anything allowed in the rulebook, find a willing driver, and see what they can do? The space in the museum will still be there, and perhaps the plaque can include something beyond season stats.
If LMP1 is done for, and F1 is perpetually won in the pits, do we really want to pin our hopes on something like Formula E to provide our entertainment in the way of the prototypes and the cutting edge? Touring car, GT, and historic racing aren’t going anywhere, but I think there’s a definite void forming in the fastest echelons. The idea of an all-out lap time battle is an intriguing one, and if the trend takes off it could help the often overly sterilized and sponsored state of modern motorsport return to a more daring, a frankly more exciting time when it feels like history is being made by something more than just the passage of time.