TG gets the inside line on *that* lap of the Nürburgring...
The news bulldozed through the petrolhead internet on the morning of Wednesday, 1 March 2017. Lamborghini had done it. We all presumed, after the Porsche 918 Spyder obliterated the production car lap record around the Nürburgring Nordschleife – becoming the first fully fledged road car to dip below the seven-minute barrier in the process – that its 6min 57.00sec run would remain the standard for the foreseeable. Attention was focused more on the four-door saloon battle and the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, and whether Honda or Volkswagen would emerge with the spoils from the front-drive niche of ’Ring bragging rights.
Yet there it was. An almost poetic press release, a crucial on-board video and a time. The Lamborghini Huracán Performante, driven by N24 racer and GT3 motorsport specialist Marco Mapelli – he of Aventador SV ’Ring lap infamy – had recorded a 6:52.01 lap. Marco had smashed the benchmark not only of the Huracán’s much more powerful V12 cousin, but embarrassed the even more exotic, bona fide hypercar offspring of fellow VW Group member Porsche.
Immediately, there was consternation. How could a car with several hundred horsepower less than the incumbent record holder, with a lower top speed on paper and peak speed during the lap, have taken five seconds out of the mighty 918 hybrid? Then there was the on-board video itself. Sceptics noticed that at various points in the lap the Performante’s speed readout showed different velocities despite the gear and engine revs being matched. It appeared the data from the car’s Racelogic VBox GPS tracker was inaccurate.
Or, perhaps even more nefarious behaviour was at work.
Debate raged over whether or not Lamborghini had sped up the frame rate of the video itself, effectively filming the lap in fractionally slow motion then accelerating the footage back up to 25 frames per second on YouTube to give the desired time. Either that, or the car was in no way standard, with much of the questions being pointed at the mystery tyres used for the hero run.
The press release itself issued by Sant’Agata merely referred to “tyres specifically for the Huracán Performante: the same Pirelli Trofeo R tyres available on cars delivered to owners”. These super-sticky tyres are a cost-option: the standard tyre is a Pirelli P Zero Corsa. Nothing new in that policy, mind you: the McLaren P1 was sold in exactly the same configuration, offering its own bespoke design of optional Pirelli Trofeo R rubber for ultimate circuit performance.
Hero driver Marco Mapelli told Top Gear that the 2017-spec tyres were a major contributing factor to the Performante beating Porsche’s four-year-old record. “The development of the car was proceeding with this lap time target”, he said. “We developed everything together – the car and its tyre – and this makes a big difference because you need good tyres to make the most of a good car’s performance. Obviously conditions were a key to the lap: during summertime we did some development and we tried to find our level, but it was too hot and not perfect. Usually we’re running in the manufacturer test pool, then we get the last half an hour of the day exclusive, so you only get one lap.” No pressure…
“If you’re lucky,” Marco smiles, “you have good weather, and I’m satisfied with the lap time. You can always have something [more to give], but it’s far too easy to overdrive, especially a road car on road tyres. Sure, I could gain one second, but then I might lose four or five.”
So, if he was driving with a degree of self-preservation, how come the baby (631bhp) Performante outperformed than its big, bad 740bhp brother by over seven seconds? Marco says: “We have a lighter car, and much more downforce, which is key, so everything is balanced better. The tyres are also big step forward. We didn’t always target a lap time [with the Aventador]; we were just at the Nürburgring testing, and the car was so nice to drive we said, ‘Hey, let’s get out the watch and see what the lap time is.’ [In the Huracán] we were always running to get the maximum out of the car, which is why the difference is quite big.” He says this progress in grip is why he’s so much smoother in the on-board video of the Huracán versus his feverish fighting of the SV. Good thing too: he tells TG Lamborghini’s marketing team wants to be competing with the top supercars, so ’Ring times are set to stay a Lambo mantra.
In that case, how does the man at the sharp end of both Lambo ’Ring laps explain the Performante’s beating of the ultimate Porsche performance car to date? Again, he reckons it’s simply the pace of progress in tech since 2013. “To me, it’s about understanding the full picture of what’s gone on,” Marco says. “From what we’ve seen of the Porsche 918, they’re four years earlier in their development, which in the automotive world is such a long time, especially for tyres and electronics. We know they lost the hybrid system going down the straight, where you can gain a lot of time [reducing the 918’s output from 887bhp to some 595bhp]. For me, their lap was outstanding, but the key to the Performante’s time was our four-wheel-drive system, downforce and so on, despite less power.”
Running out of electricity, he says? This is evidenced by Racelogic’s GPS data. The 918 Spyder’s speed comes not from it being a particularly lightweight or downforce-producing machine, but the savagery of its instant electric punch from corner apex to exit. The ’Ring has a lot more bends than straights, after all. Lamborghini’s adaptive aero harnesses that to its advantage, improving its corner speeds despite deploying less power, and down the straights, the drag stall effect cuts drag while the 918 actually decelerated on the 23-second charge down the 1.7km Döttinger Höhe.
Racelogic managing director Julian Thomas told Top Gear that frame-by-frame analysis eradicates speculation over video tampering, and may have simply been down to Lambo’s equipment clashing.
“To be sure the video had not been sped up, I analysed the engine sound using a Fast Fourier Transform (or FFT for short) from the Huracán at the top speed it reached on the same straight. The maximum revs were just under 7,750rpm on the rev-counter in the video. This FFT analysis showed a strong amplitude peak at 640Hz, which equates to 7,680rpm for a V10, which all points to a genuine video which has not been sped up in any way.”
What about the car’s recorded speed not corresponding with its gear and revs? Again, Julian has investigated misuse of his company’s equipment.
“People also commented on the fact that the speed was a little erratic at times and made some impossible jumps. I have since seen a screenshot of the data, and it is clear they are using a VBOX 3i logger, which is a 100Hz data-logging unit, which will show a noisy speed trace when used without the optional IMU for difficult GPS environments such as tracks with trees close to the edge. If you use a Video VBox with a 10Hz GPS engine tuned for circuits, you get a much smoother, more realistic speed trace.” His retort to the doubters? “Overall, our conclusion is that the video is 100 per cent genuine, without any room for doubt.”
So, the science and eyewitnesses all point to the record’s legitimacy. Do you believe? Interesting, isn’t it, that since Lambogate, a handful of manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and risk going demonstrably quicker…