Hybrid sets fastest time yet at ‘Green Hell’
Last Friday morning Timo Bernhard lapped the 20.832km Nürburgring Nordschleife race circuit in five minutes and 19.55 seconds — a new record.
This results in an average speed of 233.8km/h on what is revered by race drivers, engineers and enthusiasts alike as the world’s most difficult track. Driving the Porsche 919 hybrid Evo, Bernhard beat the previous lap record, set by Stefan Bellof, by 51.58 seconds.
For 35 years and 31 days Bellof’s 6:11.13 record remained uncontested. The German driver from Giessen, who tragically died at Spa-Francorchamps in 1985, counted as the biggest racing talent of his time.
He drove his record on May 28 1983 at the wheel of a powerful Rothmans Porsche 956 C during practice for the 1,000km World Endurance Championship (WEC) sports car race. Also, his average speed was more than 200km/h.
Proud and relieved Bernhard, five-time overall winner of the Nürburgring 24-hours, two-time outright winner of the Le Mans 24-hours and reigning World Endurance Champion with the Porsche 919 hybrid, clambered out of the tight prototype cockpit.
"This is a great moment for me and for the entire team — the 919 programme’s icing on the cake. The Evo was perfectly prepared and I have done my best on this lap. Thanks to the aerodynamic downforce, at sections I never imagined you can stay on full throttle. I’m pretty familiar with the Nordschleife. But today I got to learn it in a new way," he said.
The achievement is the second track record on the 919’s tally: on April 9 this year in Spa, the evolution of the model lapped faster than a Formula One car with Neel Jani at the wheel. The 34-year old Porsche works driver from Switzerland — Le Mans outright winner and Endurance World Champion of 2016 — set a lap of one minute 41,770 seconds on the 7.004km Grand Prix circuit in the Belgian Ardennes mountains. He topped the previous track record, set by Lewis Hamilton in 2017 qualifying, by 0.783 seconds.
The Evo version of the Porsche 919 hybrid is based on the car that took outright victory at the Le Mans 24-Hours and won the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Over the winter, it was freed from some restrictions previously determined by the regulations. Its hybrid powertrain develops a system output of 865kW. It weighs just 849kg and its active aerodynamics generate more than 50% more downforce compared to the WEC model. Top speed at the Nürburgring was 369.4km/h.
Porsche LMP team principal Andreas Seidl said: "As a race team we constantly search for challenges that push a car, driver and team to operate on the limit. Conquering the ‘Green Hell’ definitely provided such a challenge. Since last winter we were preparing for that task together with our tyre partner Michelin — painstakingly and with a great deal of respect for this track. Today we have shown the full potential of the 919 Evo.
"Congratulations to Timo for his sensational drive. Being a record winner at the Nürburgring, Timo was the logical choice for the job. Balancing attack and caution at all times was mandatory on this circuit. Safety is the highest priority."
Fritz Enzinger, vice-president LMP1, added: "A big thank you goes to our development team in Weissach and the crew on site for the focused and safe operation of this record attempt. It is terrific what our team has achieved in four years in the WEC — from 2015 to 2017 three overall wins in Le Mans and three drivers’ and three manufacturers’ world championship titles. This isn’t easy to be reproduced by anyone.
"The Tribute Tour is our homage on these years. We didn’t want to see the most innovative race car of its time disappearing unceremoniously into the museum. Thanks to the support from our partners, we were able to develop the Evo version of the Porsche 919 hybrid for record attempts."
The technical regulations from the FIA for the WEC and Le Mans, introduced in 2014, successfully delivered close competition between the conceptually different class 1 Le Mans hybrid prototypes entered by Audi, Porsche and Toyota.
To prepare the 919 Evo record car, the base was the 2017 world championship car. On top came developments that were prepared for the 2018 WEC but never raced after Porsche’s withdrawal at the end of 2017. And several aerodynamic modifications were made.