September 5, 2008, 5:33 pm
Around the Nürburgring in Record Time, Again
By Richard S. Chang
In an auto race at what is widely considered the riskiest racetrack in the world, Dodge recently wrested the lead from Chevrolet and Nissan.
The cars aren’t exactly racing with each other; they aren’t even on the track at the same time. But over the past few months, the automakers have been staging an informal competition for the fastest time around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany, once used for grand prix races, before it was deemed too dangerous.
In April, Nissan recorded the lowest lap time for a road car when its new 2009 GT-R looped the circuit in 7 minutes and 29 seconds. An eight-minute lap time around the ’Ring, as its known, is considered very fast. A time in the sevens is spectacular, especially for a $70,000 grand tourer.
In June, Chevy beat Nissan’s time with its 2009 Corvette ZR1, recording a time of 7:26.4.
And just last week, Dodge bested the Vette with its 2009 Viper ACR with a time of 7:22. You can watch the video here (and Nissan and Chevy’s videos here, spliced together courtesy of Garage419.com)
Holding the lap record at the Nürburgring provides more than instant blog fame. It also carries substantial marketing appeal, partly because of what the Nürburgring is — a mix of varying surfaces, corners and elevations with no speed limit, sort of an autobahn for surface streets — and partly because of its history.
In his memoir on the 1970 Formula One season, “Faster,” Jackie Stewart, a three-time world champion, wrote:
The Nürburgring circuit runs more than 14 miles through deep forest, has a dozen spots where the road rises so quickly that the car is actually airborne, gets up in the air two feet or more, and it’s so long around they can’t get to you quickly if you do have a shunt. It’s also very, very fast, next to Spa probably the most dangerous circuit in Europe.
He was referring to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, which, like the Nürburgring, was a track built from existing roads. Mr. Stewart won at the Nürburgring three times but was still fearful enough of the track to call it “The Green Hell.”
“I didn’t drive one lap of the Nürburgring that I didn’t have to,” Mr. Stewart said recently in a phone interview. “Those who weren’t scared weren’t driving fast enough.”
In 1976, Niki Lauda, the then-reigning Formula One champion, crashed heavily at a fast uphill part of the track. Mr. Lauda’s Ferrari was engulfed in flames as his fellow drivers pulled him from the wreckage. Mr. Lauda survived, barely; the accident validated a decision made prior to the season to retire the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Although a new track was built next to the old one in the early 1980s and officially called the Nürburgring — it has even held several Formula One races — the name is still generally used in reference to the Nordschleife.
While the Nürburgring Nordschleife has not been used for high-level racing since 1984 — hence the official track record has not changed in over 20 years — it is still intact as a one-way public toll road. It is frequented by thousands of tourists every year. For a 21-euro toll (there are multiple-lap tickets, as well), drivers can run their own cars on the circuit. But don’t think it’s still not dangerous. According to this frequent Nürburgring visitor, “You’ll spot a damage-only crash every few laps, and closures due to more serious accidents are everyday fare.”