Part One - the test centre
German sports car racer Sascha Bert is in front of me on the radio saying "full throttle" down through a steep section with several S-bends on the Nurburgring. I could be doing close to 220km/h at this point, but there's no way I'm looking down to check the speedo. Don’t bother coming here unless you’re a little bit brave. Even so, I thank God that it’s not a wet track today and that I’m in a Jaguar XKR with a full suite of active safety systems on high alert.
Jaguar’s global head of Public Relations, Frank Klaas, himself a former ‘Ring Taxi Driver’ and multiple endurance racer, describes it as a “crazy track” with bumps and lumps that can literally torture a car’s chassis over a single lap of the Nordschleife.
That's because a single lap around this Northern Loop of the Nordschleife is an equally crazy 23 kilometres where drivers can reach speeds of up to 280km/h. At any given time, it also might be clear blue sky at one end of the track and rain, sleet, or snow, at the other end.
It’s precisely why Jaguar and many other car manufacturers have been testing the performance and reliability of their cars here for 20 years or more. There is simply no other track in the world that offers such extremes and such a variety of conditions as the Nurburgring.
It was built in 1927 in Germany’s Eiffel Mountains for motorcycle racing, with an original circuit length of a staggering 28km including 174 corners - it was heart-stopping stuff for sure.
The good news is that nothing much has changed in the past 30 years. Every few years another piece of the track is resurfaced, but it’s still the same “Green Hell” as it was years ago when Scottish driver, Jackie Stewart, coined it so.
What hits you straight up is just how narrow some of the faster sections are on the Nordschleife. It’s also very and there is almost no run-off between the track and the Armco, which means one mistake, and you’re a goner.
CarAdvice was part of a small group of automotive media from around the globe invited to experience the ‘Ring from behind the wheel of Jaguar’s current model range. ‘Heart-stopping’ doesn’t tell the half of it, at least for first time ‘Ringers’ like myself.
In recent years, the Nurburgring has become the number one test car facility in the world, with a host of carmakers and tyre brands using the track to improve their performance and durability.
It’s serious business these days, with the current owners pumping more than 300 million euros into this place, hoping they will attract new customers to this car enthusiast Mecca.
Although Jaguar has been using the track for many years, it was only in 2003 that it opened a stand-alone test centre at the ‘Ring, which just so happens to be next door to Aston Martin’s test facility. You never know what you might come across here either, how about the original F-TYPE Concept?
It’s not just about performance testing either - it’s as much about long-term durability and reliability in all Jaguar models, including the limo express-like XJ. It’s a huge car, but it’s hard to believe the speeds this thing can carry through various sections on this course.
Phil Talboys, is Jaguar’s European Test Operations Team Leader and explains that it’s not all about chassis, brakes and performance of the engine. A lot of work has gone into body quality and the construction of the current Jaguar fleet. I’m taking about an 8000km, that’s 390 laps of test program on the ‘Ring and that’s driving these cars at the limit.
Phil goes on to say that throughout this entire program, Jaguar only ever expects to replace discs, pads and tyres. It’s a remarkably robust program and has clearly paid big dividends for the brand in the reliability stakes. In 2010 Jaguar scored a number-three ranking (behind Lincoln and Lexus) in the JD Power ‘Dependability’ study of car owners, and that was down from its number one position in 2009.
On any given day, the Norsdschleife is just as likely to present a wet track, which presents a particularly dangerous situation for the test cars to deal with. That said, it’s precisely those conditions that provide the ideal opportunity to develop and enhance Jaguar’s on board safety systems, such as DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), Traction Control and the various braking systems, so that even at high speed these cars remain stable, and safe to drive in the hands of the average driver.
Progress in the active safety systems in particular has been all but revolutionary too when you consider that these cars can lap the Nurburgring quicker with the DSC on than off, and that’s with a race driver behind the wheel. That’s not surprising either, as there is a specific ‘DSC – Traction Control’ test team that will bring every variant of every Jaguar model to the 'Ring. This allows for the precise calibration of the full system (that’s normal driving mode, Track DSC and completely off) in a variety of conditions.
The same progress has been made in the braking area of these road cars, with the ability to measure the heat of the discs while the cars are lapping the ‘Ring and the DSC is working very aggressively, thus building up enormous heat on the discs which can affect the effectiveness of the brakes. That’s where EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) works its magic by compensating brake pressure from front to rear. It is able to signal to the rest of the car if there is too much heat in the braking system and will try to manage that situation, with safety being the prime motivation for this testing.
They say you never really get to know the Nordschleife track, and that you need at least 100 laps just to what’s around each of the 140 plus corners that make up this circuit.
In order to properly understand the extreme nature of what is the world’s most demanding track and how these forces affect the standard road cars, Jaguar assembled several professional race drivers to lead small groups around the track to show us the correct lines.
On board to show us how it’s done is Sacha Bert – a current endurance driver who has raced the Zakspeed Dodge Viper here at the Nurburgring and a world-class sports car racer.
Sascha and his team of Tim Bergmeister and Tom Schwister (also sports car racers and instructors) will lead small groups of two to three cars for three-lap sessions, which amounts to nearly 70km of ‘Ring time per session.
Stay tuned to find out how we faired in the XKR and XFR (with in-car video) in Part two tomorrow.
Read: Part 2 -Jaguar XFR, XKR, XJ and XK track test at Nurburgring