Hope often sources from misfortunate and Porsche’s motorsport engineers have spent most of this year proving that logic to be true.
After the brand’s enormously successful 919 racing cars were forced into retirement due to corporate rationalisation, some of the motorsport team’s senior staff commiserated over a round of beers – and hatched an inspired swansong idea.
With some winddown budget available, one of Porsche’s retiring 919’s has been touring the world and shattering lap records at some of motorsport’s most iconic circuits – much to the ire of certain F1 teams. The 919 is considered a pinnacle of racing car design and its intention was to dominate the world’s most testing race: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Which it did, winning three consecutive Le Mans races, from 2015-2017.
There has always been a sense amongst observers, that these 919s could be even quicker if they could run in unrestricted configuration – and that’s exactly what Porsche has been doing. Allowing the hybridised 2-litre V4 turbo engine to boost and harvest as much power as possible, Porsche’s test drivers have 537kW at their disposal, augmented by 328kW of electric power, and a very trick aerodynamics package to balance it all.
The result has been a string of lap records, most notably at F1’s most challenging current calendar stop: Spa Franchochamps. But for Porsche’s motorsport people, there was only one record truly worthy of capturing during the 919 tribute tour: the Nürburgring.
A fearsome circuit which climbs and dives through the Eiffel forest, at 20.3km it’s almost impossible to memorise all the features and calculate overall risk. Considered too dangerous for modern racing, it’s primary purpose is as a test and development venue and locals affectionately refer to it as the ‘Green Hell’. It’s also a venue most often cited as the truest test of any vehicle’s ultimate balance of performance, hence the Nürburgring lap time being a foremost unit of analysis when comparing the merit of high-performance road cars.
Before Timo Bernard set off on his attempt at an all-time ‘Ring record in the 919 last week, Porsche had already ‘won’. Back in 1983 Stefan Bellof lapped the Nürburgring in 6:11.3, driving a Porsche 956. Bellof’s record had never been equalled and after his death racing at Spa-Franchochamps in 1985, it has become the stuff of myth and legend.
When the timing data was finally relayed during a private test session, Porsche had achieved its aim with by a generous margin, clocking a time of 5:19.54, nearly a minute faster than Bellof’s lap 35 years ago. It is fitting that another Porsche had triumphed over Bellof’s record – but also a solemn reflection on the end of a great racing era for the Stuttgart manufacturer.
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