Nürburg, Germany. It’s shortly after 5:30 PM, and I’m sitting on the roof of my VW T4 Caravelle (that’s a VW Eurovan in your lingo). I’ve just finished my own test-driving shift, but now I’ve come back to the ‘Ring to watch somebody else do their own bit of test-driving in a private session, rather than the open lapping that’s been running all day.
The sun is setting behind the iconic black castle, casting a golden halo through the late summer bugs and pollen. The sheetmetal of the VW's roof is pleasantly warm through my trousers (not pants), and from this perch I can see along the entire length of the Nordschleife’s Döttinger Höhe straight.
It’s over a mile long, and glimmering through the heat haze are the lashed-together LED lights of the approaching mid-engined C8 Corvette prototype. I've got one finger hovering over the stopwatch app on my phone as the big V8 covers the distance incredibly quickly. The intake noise of the engine changes note as the ‘Vette climbs the long hill towards the Antoniusbuche, the bridge I'm watching from. This is a fast one, I know it.
Just as I’m ready to stab the button, the phone buzzes. The screen is unresponsive. Dammit! A call is incoming. There’s just enough time to send it to voicemail and flick back to the stopwatch app. I glance at the timer just as the C8 roars underneath the bridge, vibrations of its 185-mph fly-by spreading through the concrete structure like an errant aftershock.
Under the bridge, around the blind left, and the Corvette driver is still flat out, a good sign that he’s trying hard. Seconds later, out of sight, the roar of the V8 dies suddenly as the car crosses the official finish line at T13 and exits the Nordschleife just a few yards later.
I stop the second timer. I look again. It’s not a lap record, it’s not even close. And it’s certainly not the first American supercar to go under seven minutes. That’s all I really need to know. It’s all anybody needs to know.
In fact, the lap time is so far off a new lap record that if I were to write it down I’d probably incur a couple of half-hearted internet forum death-threats, a dozen or so flame-threads and at least a hundred insults.
Why? Because lap times at the Nürburgring seem to be the a new kind of cryptocurrency. Manufacturers can’t spend a lap time, but they sure can turn them into clicks, and clicks make sales. Magazines, blogs and websites turn those clicks into readers, who click other things and make them money.
Rewind the clocks to April, when I reported that .
That session was a special private booking specifically for lap timing, and while the Porsche went sub-seven and gathered a dozen high-fives in pit lane, the Corvette ZR1 didn’t. Just a bunch of grim faces and much checking of phones and clipboards. Now, I don’t know why it didn’t hit the aimed-for 6:57 lap time. (A retirement gift given to recently-departed GM test driver Jim Mero, and , seems to indicate that the ZR1's unofficial 6:57 was calculated from "best sector times," where the best segments from numerous laps are combined to make a theoretical full lap time that was never physically run.) Maybe the Nordschleife was a little wet in one place, maybe the test driver had an inopportune bout of flatulence in a key section, maybe a little green man stopped him to ask for directions halfway around the Karussell.
But because I reported the facts of what I’d seen, I received many messages from many fans explaining that I didn’t see it, or that I’d got the timing wrong, or that I was just plain lying because Porsche had "paid me off." The language was colorful, but the point was clear enough: Even talking about lap times is dangerous.
Lap times are normally only released by the manufacturer, specifically by its marketing team, in controlled conditions for maximum effect. But the nature of the open-to-the-public Nürburgring means it’s hard to keep a lid on the information. After lap times of the GT2 RS and GT3 RS spilled out onto the internet, uncontrolled, within minutes of each run, Porsche developed a new strategy for their 919 Evo laps in June, live-tweeting each and every lap time as it happened.
The lap times I’ve just witnessed the Corvette achieve tonight are simply benchmarks. They’re not serious. The car has only been on the Nordschleife for six days. It’s like taking an end-of-year school exam halfway through your first semester. Sure, it’s not a passing score, but the team will be able to look back later, development cycle finished, and see how far they’ve come.
Will the mid-engine Corvette go sub-seven at the Nordschleife, finishing the work started by the C7 ZR1? I emerge from my thoughts, phone buzzing in my hand again, the voicemail icon blinking. I absentmindedly play back the message that had almost messed up my own lap time measurements.
"Yo, Dale! Did you get any lap times from the C8 test yet? Call me back, I gotta know right away!"
Nah, I don’t think you do.
Dale Lomas is the man behind Nürburgring-dedicated news and info site and lives on-site at the track.