The Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo’s time of 5 minutes 19 seconds in 2018 smashed Stefan Bellof’s 35-year outright lap record. We examine what makes the track so unique and why every petrolhead should experience it.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: RSR Nurburg
The Michelins are at the limits of their adhesion as I’m pushed into the side bolsters of the 991 GT3 RS. The driver stomps on the brakes, shifts down two gears and flattens the accelerator pedal again. The engine sings all the way to 9 000rpm while another S-bend, replete with dips and rises, pushes and pulls me around in the bucket seat. I brace myself and then laugh heartily... nothing could have prepared me for this hot lap! Behind the wheel is none other than Ron Simons, owner of the well-respected RSR Nürburg car rental business… and the man can drive!
Simons has extensive race, tuition and ‘Ring experience dating back to the 1990s, when he was involved with Ferrari and Porsche’s customer programmes. There is no question about his ability to push a GT3 RS to its limits on the ‘Ring. However, since his company has been bringing customers to the Nordschleife for more than two decades (during which time they’ve always used 911s in their fleet), Simons is the ideal person to detail the Porsche they’ve called into action over the years and how they’ve fared on the ultimate automotive playground.
Porsche's history at the 'Ring
But let’s first analyse Porsche’s extensive history at this magical place, which Formula One legend Jackie Stewart famously named the Green Hell. Porsche’s history with the Nordschleife dates back as far as August 1953 when a new engine was tested in a Porsche 550. Umberto Maglioli ran a Type 718 in May 1957 during practice for the car’s debut outing. Testing of the Type 901 prototype, the car that would become the 911, also took place here.
In 1966 a 911 won the GT Class (it finished 19th overall) during the world-renowned ADAC 1 000km race, while in 1971 Erwin Kremer drove a 911S to victory. Two years later the Müller/Van Lennep pair took the 3.0-litre RSR to fifth place and a 2.8-litre Kremer RSR came 11th (Group 4 winner) driven by Keller/Neuhaus. In 1977, 935s finished in first and second places. In 1979, again at the 1 000km race, 935s occupied no fewer than the first five places in the standings!
The Bellof record
The 911 has always fared well at the Nordschleife, but there is one statistic that has remained the most fabled over the years: the ‘Ring lap record set by the late Stefan Bellof. In 1983 Bellof somehow set an incredible time of 6:11.13 in the Porsche 956 – although that was on a slightly shorter circuit than today’s layout. Until Timo Bernhard and the 919 came along, that time stood as the fastest-ever full lap of the Nordschleife, an incredible feat when you consider how far the automotive industry has come in the 35 years since.
Road-going Porsches have created their own dynasty at the ‘Ring too. It was upon the release of the 996.1 GT3 that the lap time, set by none other than the revered Walter Röhrl, drew particular attention to the track. The first 911 to wear the now-legendary GT3 moniker broke the eight-minute barrier with a scorching lap time of 7:56.33. The Zuffenhausen-based firm continued its development at the track with the Carrera GT, which clocked 7:28 seconds, and it is rumoured that if shod with a set of new, modern tyres, the GT could lap no less than five seconds faster.
The Carrera GT’s successor, the 918 Spyder, dipped below seven minutes with a time of 6:57, a record for a production road car at the time. However, it is the lap times of the current 991 GT2 RS and 991.2 GT3 RS (6:47.3 and 6:56.4 respectively) that really grabbed headlines in 2018, not to mention the latest 992 GT3. It’s astounding that Porsche can offer a six-cylinder, naturally-aspirated 911 that can clock such impressive times.
RSR’s Ron Simons and his team are experienced in offering all clients a chance to experience the Nürburgring. After all, Simons has spent half his life on and around the Nordschleife. “I was doing tyre testing for Pirelli while I was racing in the early 1990s. Back then I did a lot of instruction on the Nordschleife. It was a largely forgotten place; even Germans didn’t know where the entrance was. The circuit hosted historic racing and at times the top three or five drivers were all under my wing for instruction,” he tells us. So why does he think the ‘Ring is so popular?
Why is the 'Ring so popular?
“There are a number of reasons,” Simons says. “The first is the industry pool days, when manufacturers put their test mules through their paces around the circuit. Initially the testing was very low profile, but not anymore. Secondly, it’s the tourist drives, a practice that actually dates back to the 1950s. Honestly, the ‘Ring is the engine that drives the economy in this area.
“Then, the lap times (and their subsequent commercial impacts) are driving forces too. One feeds the other: enthusiasts and owners of these 911s want to see and experience their cars after witnessing how impressive the times are. Plus, public roads are getting too congested. Given the myriad speed restrictions, enthusiasts want to come to the ‘Ring to really experience their cars. After all, most performance cars are ‘illegal’ by the time you get out of second or third gear.”
For those who can’t bring their car to the ‘Ring, or want to experience the thrill of the Nordschleife in a new GT 911, clients can turn to Simons’ RSR Nürburg. Based right next to the entrance used for tourist days, it was around the early 2000s that a 996 GT3 and GT3 RS joined the RSR fleet, followed by a 996 Cup car. Subsequently every GT3 model that Porsche released has found its way onto the ‘fast fleet’, such is the public demand to experience a Porsche on the Nürburgring.
“When a new car arrives we religiously run it in on the road until 2 500km – these are ‘soft miles’. Then it goes to Porsche for its first service, which includes an oil and oil filter change. Once it comes back from the first service, we’ll take it straight to the Autobahn to see how fast it will go,” says the company’s head technician, Thomas Wenzel.
“Only after the service do we let it loose on the ‘Ring. Once it has done 10 000km it goes back to Porsche for its next service as these cars are still under warranty. Every time before a car goes out or is handed to a customer, it gets thoroughly checked too. These checks include the oil level, brake wear and the condition of the pads and discs; we further ensure that each tyre is undamaged and inflated to the correct pressure. The cars are also checked when they return from an outing,” says Ray Shepherdson, RSR Nürburg’s sales manager. “Keep in mind these cars, owing to what they are being used for, can be checked numerous times a week. The result is that our technicians can sometimes detect early on when there is play in suspension bushes or bearings. A lot of preventative maintenance is carried out, and with the settings that we apply to the suspension we don’t allow any play in the system.”
Wenzel elaborates further: “The brakes are very good on the GT3s; they tend to last long, but most inexperienced customers can’t do more than a few laps before they, not the car, need a rest. By way of a comparison, we can have two full days of lapping Spa-Francorchamps with the cars out on circuit throughout the event and then, following this punishment, we’ll hop in and drive them on the road back to the ‘Ring. That’s how good they are.”
Needless to say, the 911s are popular rentals in RSR Nürburg’s business. Booked out relatively far in advance, the company often considers if it should purchase another. However, some of the 911s have been troublesome: “One of our 991.1 GT3s is currently on its eighth engine,” Simons says. “The initial problem with that engine has been well documented, and Porsche recalled the earlier cars. Each time the GT3 was returned to the dealer they replaced the engine under warranty. Porsche has a good warranty. No questions are asked – they simply replace the engines. Today its odometer reads 65 000km, the majority of which has been done on track.
“We are currently running two 991 GT3 RSs and three 991 GT3s, all PDK models. The second 991.1 GT3 has 39 000km on the odometer and is on its fifth engine, while our purple 991.1 GT3 RS has done 14 000km without any issues. Finally, the yellow 991.1 GT3 has 29 000km, all with the same engine and no issues.”
The ‘Ring clearly takes its toll on cars, especially when consistently driven to their limit. It is very encouraging to note that these cars are pretty much standard, exactly as they left the Porsche factory: “We use a more temperature-tolerant brake fluid,” Shepherdson adds, before pointing out that the lifetime of brakes and tyres largely depends on the experience and style of the drivers of the cars they’re fitted to. If the driver doesn’t know how to handle the car and make the most of it the brakes and tyres will actually wear quicker compared to a more accomplished driver.
I’ve noticed none of RSR Nürburg’s GT3s are fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes. “Porsche’s carbon-ceramic brakes work really well and we’ve used them before, but we don’t spec our cars with them anymore. They are just too expensive, and the price versus performance ratio doesn’t add up. In the wrong set of hands you can quickly lower their workable lifetime,” Shepherdson concludes.
If you were a car manufacturer, reasons to sell a car to RSR Nürburg are compelling. Within the first couple of months the firm would be able to empirically tell you the strong and weak parts of your car. If you consider RSR Nürburg’s two decades of experience with a number of manufacturers’ cars and Porsche’s prominence in its fleet, the 911 is not only one of the more reliable models, but also well suited to dutiful service on the ‘Ring.
Is a passenger lap worth it?
If you’ve not experienced the demanding environment of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, consider a passenger lap first. The drivers are highly skilled professionals who have been there and done it all when it comes to the ‘Ring. They have a wealth of knowledge, so don’t be afraid to ask questions – they are petrolheads and will be more than happy to talk cars.
If you’d like to press on with a drive, we highly recommend seeking tuition. You can never have enough of it. Some, like RSR Nürburg, offer a variety packages.