There was a time, not too long ago, when a lap time of under eight minutes around the infamous Nurburgring, truly meant something. It was a crude but accepted method for being able to compare one extra-special car’s track ability with another.
These days, though? These days, the exercise is utterly irrelevant.
The Nurburgring lap time was meant to showcase a “showroom condition” car’s ability to conquer the green hell. The idea was that if you went and bought that exact car from your local dealer, and put it in the hands of the same racing car driver responsible for that original time, it would achieve the same result.
For a while there, the lap times all seemed like they were pretty close and, as each new model came, slight progress was made and the competition intensified.
Back in the year 2000, a Porsche 911 Turbo set a ring time of 7:56m. For a short little while, it was a glorious thing. Of course, it's been pummelled by 97 other cars since. Cars like the Ferrari F430 ran 7:55m (2005), which was then again bested by the then new 911 Turbo (2007) in 7:47m.
Porsche and Nissan have traded blows over their respective recorded times and their validity over and over again. The Germans even admitted to having bought a GT-R, trying – and failing – to set anything close to Nissan’s claimed time.
It became clear many years ago that manufacturers had taken some liberties with what 'showroom condition' meant. Tyres were replaced, roll cages were installed, passenger seats removed, brakes upgraded and whole teams of engineers were given time to set the car up.
And, of course, only the most naïve would think those engines didn’t have a different tune to the one you buy down the road.
It has now got to the point where the car’s that are setting lap times are almost irrelevant to the one you can buy. Which begs the question: what the hell is the point?
Earlier, when the Nurburgring lap record was forced below seven minutes by the hypercar that is the Porsche 918 Spyder (6:57), the automotive world took notice. This was a remarkable feat for any car, but then its Italian cousin went and upset the apple cart with 6:52, some 36 seconds faster than the standard Huracan.
So, here’s the problem. There is zero doubt in my mind that Lamborghini achieved that lap time. But, it's clear the car was running specialised tyres, it had no passenger seat, and had the benefit of a roll cage.
What else was modified on the car remains unknown. But perhaps, most damning, the video that Lambo released has a few contentious issues.
At this point, I'll hand over to CarAdvice friends and data analysis experts, Daniel and Jay Gordon. Read on.
Did Lamborghini go wrong in presenting its record lap for public view?
Daniel and Jay Gordon
Carl Sagan didn't come up with the rule, but he popularised it enough for it to be known as "The Sagan Standard".
Simply put: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".
By now, much has been said about the veracity of the record-busting Nurburgring lap by Lamborghini's Huracan Performante. This had to have been expected, with the Performante completing the lap 36 seconds faster than the standard Huracan.
To put that into perspective, what separates the standard Huracan from the Performante in on-track prowess, is greater than what you can expect in going from McLaren's 650S to its hybrid hypercar, the P1. The Performante does boast an additional 30hp, almost 40kgs of weight loss, suspension, gearbox and ABS tweaks. However, the nearly unbelievable time is primarily attributed to the all new active aerodynamics.
An extraordinary claim indeed.
Lamborghini's press release stated plainly that the record was achieved in a single video-recorded attempt, and no other attempts were made. The only evidence released was the video of the lap with the timer and dashboard display overlaying a video from a front-mounted camera, and a presumably synchronised in-cabin shot.
You already know what happened next. Popular Nurburgring expert Misha Charoudin pointed out a number of seeming inconsistencies with the video. Jim Glicrekenhaus cast aspersions on camera at the Geneva Motor Show. Alborz spoke to Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali directly and asked him if Lamborghini was lying.
Comments sections lit up. Lambo swore the time was correct, the car was a production-spec model (with the exception of the roll cage) and they had the telemetry data to prove the time. The data that surfaced, however - obtained by tech site CNET - was not a spreadsheet or .VBO telemetry file, but a photographed screen of a telemetry graph taken on the floor at Geneva.
Certain media and industry figures leapt to the conclusion that if Lamborghini was prepared to release this data, it must be true. CNET themselves (with no copy of the file and only an "eyeball" analysis) were positively derisive of any sceptics in their article.
Road and Track reported Robb Holland saying that he thought the lap was legitimate because anyone could check the lap against the graph released in an article entitled "Why Sceptics Doubted Lamborghini's Nurburgring Record, And How Lambo Proved Itself" without offering further analysis of their own.
So we went and did the work. First CarAdvice requested the original file from Lamborghini. Unfortunately, the company has not made that available to us. We queried Racelogic, makers of the VBOX equipment used to measure the time, and they admitted they didn’t have the file.
Next, we exported the footage frame by frame, and transposed the on-screen speed to a spreadsheet. Then we built our own telemetry graph based on what happened in the video. This allowed us to cross-check our graph based on the video, the Lamborghini graph, and the actual video extensively.
Some anomalies we found:
- The onscreen map indicates the lap finishes where it began, a true full lap, not the 20,600-metre production car lap reported.
- The average speed over the whole video from the speedometer doesn't allow for a full lap to be completed. It comes short of the 20,600 metres as well.
- The telemetry data isn't consistent with the video. Example: at 30 seconds in, the Lamborghini telemetry shows the car accelerating - yet at this point in the video, the car is clearly decelerating.
- The inverse occurs at five minutes, where the car in the video is accelerating but the telemetry shows it decelerating.
- The telemetry graph shows the car hitting 230 km/h at 4:10, but the speedometer in the video never hits this speed at that stage or near that corner.
- The telemetry graph shows the speed of the car as approximately 85km/h at the start of the lap, when in the video the car is travelling at 137km/h when the timer begins.
- The telemetry readout shows the final time to be 6.52.10, while the video shows the final time to be 6.52.01
You can see all our data here. Let us know if you can find any problems or abnormalities of your own.
We are not accusing Lamborghini of lying. There is most likely a reasonable explanation for all of this. Fellow journo and newly-minted Top Gear host Chris Harris opined that if the time was legitimate, but that filming issues meant the video was doctored to fit, there was “no crime in that”.
What troubles us the most, as collectors, enthusiasts, and buyers of high-performance cars is that the main appeal of these vehicles, to us at least, is the relentless pursuit of technological progress as measured by times, statistics and empirical data.
When the ignorant and jealous assume the sole purpose of a supercar is to placate the ego, we rest easy knowing that we love these machines for what they are capable of, and not just how they make us look.
If we were to let these inconsistencies slide without raising the questions that come with them, it would indicate that those people are correct. An indifferent attitude to manufacturers' massaging their statistics is admitting they are.
Lamborghini, re-do the lap with some independent verification. It would be extraordinary.