Nürburgring lap records used to come less frequently than presidential elections. The Jaguar XJ220 held the mantle of the fastest street-legal car around the 13.7-mile-long Nordschleife for no less than eight years, but in these impatient modern times the benchmark is under constant attack. So we’d barely heard about the 6:45.90 time that the Nio EP9 set in May—making it the first electric car to break the record—before McLaren announced that its P1 LM had gone 2.7 seconds faster.
“It was a bit annoying,” said Gerry Hughes, the leader of the EP9 project, “especially as it was broken by my best friend, Kenny [Brack]. He told me about it before the official release. He wouldn’t tell me the exact time they had done, but said that we’d have to go back there. Like all these things, it just happens to be the timing. The days when you can get an exclusive [on the track] are limited, and we only had one day this year when we could go and break the record, so we had to use it.”
While we’ve already given you the official details on the EP9 project—a Chinese-funded electric hypercar intended to reflect some glory onto its parent company, NextEV—the back story behind the Nürburgring record is just as interesting.
The original target, achieved last year, was simply to set an EV lap record at the ’Ring. But although impressive, the 7:05.12 time was nothing close to the car’s ultimate potential. The driver was Peter Dumbreck, a hugely experienced sports-car racer who survived a spectacular high-speed aerodynamic flip in the Mercedes CLR GT1 race car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999 but who has since gone on to become a recognized Nürburgring specialist.
“My first lap on the ’Ring in the car was the first lap of any real race circuit it had done. It had just been on an airfield before that,” Dumbreck explained, “so I’m thinking that I’d better not crash the thing, but at the same time knowing that they want a record. I only got three laps and I was able to do the 7:05, and everybody was over the moon—but we all knew the potential was there for a lot more if we could have a bit more time, so straight away they started to plan for this year.”
The most obvious limitation of record setting in an electric car is the need to recharge the battery pack, with the EP9 only able to manage a single flying lap of the circuit at a time. Meaning that, over the two visits, Dumbreck has only driven a total of eight laps of the Nordschleife in the car.
“It’s not a case of doing an out lap, getting up to speed, pushing for a flying lap, and then driving back in,” he said. “You basically drive the wrong way around the circuit for two corners, turn the car around, get on the radio to say you’re coming, and then start the lap. It’s pushing from the start, there’s no buildup, and as soon as you cross the line you stop, do a three-point turn, and come back into the pits.”
The other challenge was weight. Despite its carbon structure, the EP9’s 1400-pound battery pack means it weighs 3825 pounds (per the company’s figures), significantly more than any other Nürburgring record setter.
“The batteries alone are the equivalent of a Formula 1 car,” said Dumbreck. “It’s an odd feeling, but you just get used to it. Essentially it’s driving a heavy car with lots of downforce on a bumpy circuit, so it’s always going to bounce about a bit. The car has phenomenal front-end grip through corners, though, with all the aerodynamics. There are certain corners where it’s pulling over 2.5 g.” Regenerative braking was also enabled for this year’s run—last year’s was run without it—gaining around 8 percent in battery range.
Despite the EP9’s headline 1000-kW power figure—that translates to 1341 horsepower—the car had less power during its record run because of battery capacity and, more significantly, the need to manage temperatures in the electrical system due to current flow. Dumbreck said the record was set with a total output of about 872 horsepower, or less than the total system output of the lighter McLaren P1 LM. “The car is capable of 194 mph on full power, but we were doing 174 mph max,” said Dumbreck, “so you can see where improvement can be made.”
Nürburgring records aren’t policed by any official body, and a big question remains whether the EP9 can be regarded as being street legal. The six EP9s that have been built are working as track-experience cars in China, although another batch of 10 is being produced for wealthy buyers. The Nürburgring record also appears to have been set on tires that wouldn’t pass muster for road use.
“Our tire supplier is not in the public domain, so I can’t say much about them,” Hughes told us. He refused to confirm whether the tires were patterned or slicks; on the basis of the loads being put through them, we’re speculating on the latter.
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Although the EP9’s Nürburgring record was briefly held, the very achievement of setting it without a combustion engine was huge. The team is in no doubt that they could make the car go quicker if given another chance, although Hughes admitted that the cost of a Nürburgring record attempt is considerable, even for well-funded companies. “It’s about £50,000 [$64,000] for the circuit, and that’s before getting the car and the personnel there,” he said. “Could we beat [the P1 LM’s time]? Yes, I feel hand-on-heart confident that we could do that; it really depends how much time we want to spend at the Nürburgring and how much money we want to throw at it. Ultimately it would be nice to take the all-time lap record, which is a 6:11 [set by Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956 racer back in 1983], but that would require full race technology.”
As the EP9 project proves, where there’s a will—and a huge sum of money—there’s usually a way.
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