Uncooked Truth: Why Nürburgring Lap Times Are Flawed & How It Can Be Changed

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In this week’s Uncooked Truth, Josh gives you the skinny on why most of the Nürburgring lap times car makers or enthusiasts quote are flawed or just plain incorrect, and how we can fix it.

Prepare to have your feelings hurt about your favorite ‘Ring battles, kids, because most of them don’t mean a damn thing. The Cadillac CTS-V laps the Nordschleife in just 7 minutes and 59 seconds. Impressive, no doubt. However, the BMW M3 laps the same track in 8:05. I know, you’re going to all whine and moan all at once that I’m hating on the Caddy, but shut it, because it’s just not true. I’m not trying to dog anyone here, just give you a little insight and truth into the matter. My brother and I had this discussion/argument a few months ago, and once he researched what I’m about to share with you (his personal research only took about 10 minutes), he understood and agreed 100% with everything I said. This is typically not the case, so that’s why I know I’m right.

Now, racing drivers, weekend track guys, they’ll all tell you a lap time around the famous Nürburgring doesn’t count nor matter. Yet, I tend to disagree completely. Sure, there are other race tracks that matter more and can prove what a car and its driver can do: namely Road Atlanta, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track circuit, as well as a few others around the world. While these tracks are special and great, it’s hard to compare anything to 12.9 miles of pure insanity. Make one mistake and your ass is in a small patch of grass before you slam into a wall at as much as 130+ mph. Just see if you can keep off the grass in Forza or Gran Turismo. Most won’t be able to… So to say that the ‘Ring has no relevancy to the performance, tuning, or understanding of a car’s abilities is just incorrect. Where a car with 1,000 hp may be amazing at one track, on the Nordschleife it could spell disaster for the brakes, suspension, tires, interior, whatever.

Let me just get right down to the point of why the actual lap times are skewed. As I said in the first paragraph, the Cadillac CTS-V went out on the Nürburgring and did a 7:59; quite a good time for a car weighing more than 4000 lbs and being a sedan. Now, Caddy lovers enjoy touting this as the end-all-be-all of ‘Ring lap times. Why? Because it’s faster than the E60 BMW M5 at 8:13 and the E92 M3 at 8:05. Here’s where they’re wrong to cry “win”. John Heinricy, a professional racing driver, as well as the father of the Cadillac V cars, went out and set that lap in a non-showroom stock car with a roll cage and the supercharger tuned specifically for the higher elevation of the Nürburgring, and the suspension was tuned especially for the hard corners. Is this wrong to do? Absolutely not. The roll cage will save a driver’s life on the ‘Ring, no doubt. The supercharger and suspension being tuned properly is perfectly fine, as far as I’m concerned, too. I’ve never been able to find out exactly which tires were used for the run, though I’d hope and suspect the factory offered Michelin PS2s were used.

But here’s where it gets rather muddled. The BMWs that have lap times posted at the Nürburgring aren’t from a factory driver, nor are they from any set of engineers. No, BMW don’t actually post any lap time whatsoever that they achieve around the track. Why? Because they typically prefer not get into a penis measuring contest on their home soil where they’ve engineered the chassis, suspension, engine, gearbox, steering, etc. on every BMW I can name off the top of my head; it’s a lot.

Then how is there a 8 minute and 5 second lap time listed for the current M3? Or an 8 minute and 13 second go-round for the last-gen M5? Horst von Saurma. Don’t know the name, do you? That’s because you’re most likely not well versed on these things. You see a lap time and say, “Ooooh! My car’s faster than yours… nanny-nanny-boo-boo!” like a small child. Mr. Saurma is the editor-in-chief of Sport Auto magazine, a German automotive publication, as well as a former professional racing driver. He is also a key Nürburgring driving expert, and has put pretty much any modern car you can think of around the famous track. But, noticeably, his times are always much slower than those by a factory team and driver. Why, you ask? Because Sport Auto and von Saurma use cars that are registered for the road. They don’t use any roll cages, special tires. They don’t tune the motor or the suspension. A showroom stock car, so to speak.

So there you have it, the truth that will set you free. A 7:59 from Cadillac would have been more like an 8:02 or 8:03 from Sport Auto. Making it just slightly faster than the M3. Even though it also has 142 more horsepower and 255 more lb-ft of torque.

My point here isn’t to hate on Cadillac, GM as a whole, Porsche, Nissan, Sport Auto, or any fanboy. It’s to learn y’all somethin’. Wanna know a great money making scheme? Have either Horst von Saurma, Sabine Schmitz (another pro-racing driver, and BMW ‘Ring Taxi driver), or Walter Röhrl (Porsche’s chief test driver, and greatest ranked Rallye driver of all-time) test every car on sale today. We can either set it up as a factory test with their support teams and car, or we can just do a showroom stock car like Sport Auto already do. Either way, it would end a lot of confusion on who are the best and worst on the Nürburgring. How would this be a money maker? Well, you get car companies -most higher end sport car companies have their own ‘Ring testing facility- to pitch in with the cars they’re already testing, along with the crews, shut the track down for a little while, and allow journalists to come and cover the event(s), and then allow the general public to pay to watch like they would a race. Simple as that. You have a set of Lap Time dates set up each year for car companies, and people would come from miles around to watch it. Think I’m wrong? Then you come up with a better idea, Sherlock.