Why do carmakers hunt Nurburgring lap records?

Porsche has set the fastest time with its GT2 RS, but that doesn’t guarantee it’s a great sports car

Porsche 911 GT2 RS
(Image credit: Porsche)

Porsche has again stolen headlines: its new hardcore 911 GT2 RS snatched the production car lap record for Germany’s Nurburgring race track from the Lamborghini Huracan Performante.

It did this by lapping the undulating 12.9-mile circuit in 6min 47.3sec with the company’s test driver, Lars Kern, behind the wheel – breaking the previous record by around five seconds.

Carmakers often use the Nurburgring to develop their cars, with some models being spotted in heavy camouflage testing at the circuit before making their public appearance.

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But what is the significance of a lap record at the circuit?

Lap records are a great advert for sports cars

One of the reasons carmakers go motor racing is because it gives them a platform to show potential buyers they are better at making cars than the competition, hence the popular saying: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

The same can be said for lap records at the Nurburgring: they give customers and fans a clear indication of how fast a new production car is – particularly if it’s a performance model.

“Manufacturers throw bucket loads of money developing and engineering their cars so they can perform well at the ‘Ring”, says Top Gear, “and go about setting their cars just right for an outright lap time.”

Bob Laishley, head of Nissan’s sports brand Nismo, told the website that buyers of performance cars are “interested” in whether a car achieves a lap record around the circuit.

He said: “It’s a useful benchmark to see some of the more modern small hatches and other products aspiring to numbers around the ring that supercars were achieving not that long ago.”

But records can be misleading

While record-breaking times can get customers excited about new products, Digital Trends argues that carmakers use them as a “statistic” for how their vehicles handle.

For instance, the Nissan GT-R is “an amazing car that we all want to like because of its badass performance and neat-o ‘Godzilla’ nickname”, the website says, but in reality the sports coupe “is actually kind of a mess.”

“The focus on speed to the exclusion of other characteristics … is problematic,” says the site.

In 2014, Autocar reported that McLaren would not reveal how fast its supercars lapped the 12.9-mile circuit because it didn’t “want to get involved in a bragging competition with Porsche and Ferrari”.

The company’s technical chief at the time, Mark Vinnels, told the magazine it would “end in tears” if manufacturers continued chasing production car lap records.

However, the British carmaker appears to have changed its views since then, as Top Gear says: its ultra-exclusive P1 LM set a lap time of 6min 43.2sec in May.

Despite being road-legal, its limited production run means the P1 LM doesn’t qualify for the overall production record.

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