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Story by Jack Baruth
Okay, class, put away your books. Time for a pop quiz. It’s just one question, and it’s multiple-choice:
Which car holds the official Nurburgring lap time record for production automobiles?
a) Nissan GT-R
b) Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
c) Porsche Carrera GT
d) Radical SR8
So, what did you pick? It doesn’t matter. Whatever you picked, you’re wrong. It was a trick question. There is no “production car record” at the Nurburgring. Period. It doesn’t exist. You may find that shocking. After all, don’t the British car rags continually natter on about the “production car record”? Didn’t Edmunds.com recently devote several terabytes of hype to the idea of the GT-R setting a “production car record”? Isn’t there, like, a totally official list on Wikipedia somewhere? There has to be a record! Everybody talks about it all the time!
Sorry. There’s no “Nurburgring lap time record” for a simple reason: Real lap time records are set by real race cars, using real timing and scoring equipment, during actual competition or sanctioned practice sessions. They aren’t “self-reported” for the same reason the World’s Strongest Man Contest isn’t held by having everyone mail in their “results”: because people can, and do, lie and cheat.
Despite the obviousness of this concept, it is not yet universally understood that one cannot simply claim a lap time on the Internet and have it be “official”. Case in point: I happen to be a member of a small Web forum for Midwestern racers and open-lapping drivers. A few years ago, we had a bit of a tempest in a teapot when a fellow claimed that his $5000 project car had lapped Mid-Ohio in a certain time. He’d obtained this time by taping a stopwatch to the dashboard and timing himself during a NASA HPDE session. While this fellow was a competent driver, we were rather skeptical about his reported time, not least because it would have put him on the pole of the American Iron race which had also occurred that weekend, and his old sedan was pretty far away from being an optimized AI car. Furthermore, those of us who have to race under the cold glare of an accurate-to-one-ten-thousandth-of-a-second transponder system rather objected to the idea of just banging a stopwatch somewhere around the start/finish line every lap. It’s pretty easy to gain or lose a few seconds by sloppy stopwatching, you see. After much discussion, the driver in question agreed that the time probably shouldn’t be considered “official” in any sense, and everybody calmed down. It wasn’t that we didn’t trust him; it was simply that recording one’s own lap time is not, and will never be, the equivalent of setting an honest, independently timed lap under controlled conditions. It’s just plain common sense.
Or is it? After all, didn’t Nissan recently manipulate the all-too-willing media into “witnessing” and then reporting “official Nurburgring lap times” for their all-conquering R35 GT-R? First, there was the pretty-hard-to-believe 7:38 time which the fine journalists at Edmunds advertised, excuse me, reported, followed by the no-really-you-have-to-be-kidding 7:34 time, and finally the don’t-insult-our-collective-intelligence 7:29 shared with the world in a breathless press release a few months later. The Nissan media blitz was so successful that when Horst von Saurma obtained a 7:50 time from a real production GT-R, it went virtually unreported by the major automotive rags. Where’d those twenty-one seconds between von Saurma’s drive and Nissan’s “test” come from? The Internet had many answers, none of them credible, and none of them particularly persuasive to anyone who has ever driven the Nurburgring in anger.
And now, Porsche – the company which has had perhaps the most storied relationship with the ‘Ring, the company which has been testing production cars in the Black Forest since the Fifties, the company which has historically set the benchmark for excellence around the North Course – has called Nissan out on their self-reported times. Without quite saying as much, Porsche has implied that Nissan cheated at the ‘Ring. Did they? If so, how?
The answer is simple: Nissan did not cheat, because it’s impossible to cheat when there are no rules. There’s no official lap time record, remember? What they did do was knowingly manipulate a credulous, ignorant media and general public into misunderstanding the GT-R’s capabilities. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, and they aren’t the only guilty parties.
Here’s how it was done.