Monday, May 21, 2012

How 'Ring Lap Times Became Irrelevant

Once upon a time the famed Nürburgring was a great evaluator of vehicle performance as a quick internet search would easily settle an argument between fanboys over which supercar could lap "Green Hell" the quickest. Over the past decade a sizable internet database of 'Ring time developed with help from a few European publications with Sport Auto and its editor Horst von Saurma doing the heavy lifting. Not wanting to miss out on all of the fun a couple of manufacturers decided to begin publishing (and even providing video evidence) of their own lap times and in the process essentially destroying the Nürburgring's reputation as a performance benchmark.

Currently the times at the top of the time sheet for street legal mass* production cars are occupied by runs from Dodge, Lexus, Porsche and GM all without third party verification. The manufacturer supplied times are impressive and the videos are fun to watch but they make comparisons between other times completely useless. The time difference between some of the manufacturer times and their verified third party counterparts* are not insignificant and indicate at best a combination of a professional race car driver, perfect conditions, and lots of laps to ge tthe perfect time. A more cynical viewpoint would have one believing that a particularly healthy example was used which may or may not pass a smog check and so on.

In the perfect world there would be a group comparison test whenever a new supercar came out to challenge the top of the chart, and there have been a few*, but in reality we are forced to compare runs made in various weather conditions. Nevertheless it is much more believable comparing 'Ring times from the same magazine and the same driver with weather being the only unaccounted element rather than comparing highly polished manufacturer times to third party magazine times. So the next time you compare a manufacturer "sponsored" time compared to an Auto Sport 'Ring time remember that comparing the two is like comparing lemons and oranges, both are citrus but don't taste the same.

*The Gumpert Apollo and Donkervoort times are from Sport Auto but neither brand is mass production. The same could be said about the Lexus LFA though.
*A few of the official times are close to what the magazines were able to replicate, many are 20+ seconds apart.
*Auto Bild Sports Cars November 2010 is an excellent example with the 458 Italia, LFA, LP 570-4 Superleggera, Porsche 911 Turbo S, GT-R all tested by the same driver in the same conditions

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