Currently reading: Matt Prior's tester's notes - Do the Nürburgring's speed limits matter?
The Nürburgring's management have imposed speed limits which prohibit manufacturer's setting lap times for the latest vehicles - but will it have any real impact?

A reader writes: “Would it matter if car makers no longer set lap times on the Nürburgring?”

To recap: at the moment, there are speed limits on certain sections of the German race track following a fatal racing accident this year. So car makers can’t now set lap times for road cars, and there’s some uncertainty about whether it’ll stay that way.

Reader, though, might have a point. His thinking is that, if you ditch the lap time flag waving, you ditch cars being timed on a racetrack, which is good because even though the Nordschleife is twisty and bumpy, unless your name’s Sabine or Walter, it’s not representative of the places you drive very often.

I agree, but I’d still worry. Car makers like an opportunity to tell you how fast their car is, relevant or not. Hence 0-60mph times – less relevant than they once were, but still some kind of benchmark we understand.

Even if manufacturers don’t like being overtly transparent against other machines, they’ll tell you how fast cars are on their own test circuits.

So ’Ring or not, we’ll end up being quoted relative lap times anyway. And when it comes to performance cars, I’d buy the argument that there is relevance to it. I think there’s merit in knowing that the latest hypercar trio – the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder and LaFerrari – are probably, there or thereabouts, as quick around a circuit as a late 1970s/early 1980s Formula 1 car.

The three of them were together at the Goodwood Festival of Speed the other week in the Supercar Runs, on which I commentate. And I think Lord March, boss of Goodwood, would quite fancy a new performance benchmark being up the hill at his gaff, hence a timed Supercar Shootout on Saturday afternoon. A Noble M600 won it from the Lexus LFA and Aston Martin Vantage GT12. Annoyingly, the hypercars declined to be timed.

Perhaps that’s because a 50sec run where there’s little more than a quarter turn of the wheel in either direction isn’t that enlightening, and because driver error is amplified tenfold because the distance is so short.

The same could be true of the handling circuit we use at MIRA proving ground, hence we average several laps. And that remains, Nürburgring aside, the best and most diverse handling circuit I’ve driven.

Still, I suspect car makers won’t be able to stop themselves finding a track, in which case they might as well use the most challenging. We might be careful what we wish for if we hope the Nordschleife remains out of action. Better cars are benchmarked there than somewhere even less representative.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Peter Cavellini 18 July 2015

Does not matter.....?

So, the point of the Nurburgring was?,to see who got round the fastest,so, there stopped that now,where else to compare cars for press purposes?,answers here please.
bowsersheepdog 23 July 2015

Peter Cavellini wrote: So,

Peter Cavellini wrote:

So, the point of the Nurburgring was?,to see who got round the fastest,so, there stopped that now,where else to compare cars for press purposes?,answers here please.

If they have to go somewhere they should go to the best circuit of all....Spa. Failing that La Sarthe.

eseaton 17 July 2015

918/P1/LaFerrari are NOT as fast as late 70's/early 80's F1 cars

For comparison, pole at Monza in 1976 was 1:41, and in 1980 1:33 on the same track. So 8 seconds faster over a 5000m course.

Lauda in 1975 would have done a time of around 6:12 against the 918 at 6:57, and Rene Arnoux in his 1980 Renault would have done it in around 5:40.

eseaton 17 July 2015

918/P1/LaFerrari are NOT as fast as late 70's/early 80's F1 cars

Matt - it is nonsense to say 918 etc are as fast as a late 70's/early 80's F1 car.

Lauda set a pole time of 6:58.6 in 1975, long before the advances of ground effect aerodynamics of the late 70's.

The 918 has a recorded time of 6:57. However, the track Lauda was driving on was 2235m/10.8% longer, so 918 man wouldn't have seen Nikki for dust, let alone Giles 4 years later.