Benny couldn’t work it out. He’d rocked up at the Nürburgring – yes, sorry, going to dwell on the place just once more, will try not to make a habit of it – and driven the crackers off a Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S around the place. He’d pulled back in, looked at a stopwatch and discovered that he was about seven or eight seconds slower than he should have been.
Which is an unusual situation if you’re Benjamin Leuchter, a racing driver who, like most of them, has an unfaltering confidence in how fast he is. I haven’t yet met a racing driver who doesn’t believe they’re as quick as the driver next to them. But in this case there was no one next to him except an engineer, with a stopwatch, saying: “Sorry mate, no lap record today.”
See, Leuchter is not only a man whose surname Google translates to ‘chandelier’ but also the man VW had tasked with going as fast as he could around the Nordschleife – and doing a bit of handling development while he was at it – as it tried to wrestle the front-drive production car lap record from… I don’t know, from whoever had it at the time. Honda, I think, with a Civic Type R.
Honda had nabbed it from Seat, which had a Leon with some bits on. And Seat had taken it from Renault (pictured below), which made a hot hatch with no rear seats and asked a fella who used to rallycross 2CVs, and was therefore adept at maintaining corner speeds, to drive it.
Anyway, they all seem to care about it quite a lot, but that day the track wasn’t up to it, Leuchter said.
Because it’s not just enough to give a car no rear seats, unique damping and more power than you’ve ever dared put into a front-drive hatchback before; driving around a circuit that takes nearly eight minutes to circumnavigate requires the conditions to be just right, too.
If it has rained recently, sap falls from trees onto the track, so you need cars to clean the muck off and bed the surface in. Even if it has been dry, if there has been little running, the surface can get dusty.
Ideally, then, you’d go for a record just after a race has left lots of grippy rubber to increase your corner speed and shorten your braking distances. Ideally, you’d do it in the morning or evening. If it’s too warm, the air is less dense, turbochargers get hot and a car makes less power.
If it’s too cold, though, the track’s unlikely to be dry.
Because it’s such a long track, the gulf between optimum conditions and poor ones is huge. And because it’s always busy, opportunities to set a time are precious. There’s a huge amount of science, chance and guesswork in it, in other words.
And when you finally do it? Well, someone else will be along in a minute to beat it.
Prior got to sample the Clubsport S on the 'Ring for himself. Ride onboard below: