Anyone who follows the sport of racing, loves the history of race-cars or can’t get enough of the Gran Turismo or Forza series on their Playstation and Xbox consoles knows that certain tracks stand above others in terms of history and greatness. From Silverstone in England to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium to Suzuka Circuit in Japan, some tracks just stand out among the rest. Indeed, even among the elite tracks there is one which continually takes top spot even though it finds itself used more today as a test track and tourist attraction. The Nurburgring-Nordschleife has been surpassed by the Nurburgring GP track in terms of major racing events like Formula 1 – yet it remains the benchmark and the Holy Grail for the automotive world.
Built in the 1920s, the original Nordschleife was a nearly 23 km long track with considerable twists, turns and elevation changes throughout. Already a challenge to drive on, the continually increasing speed of vehicles, such as the Formula 1 cars, made the ring more dangerous with every passing year to the point legendary racer Jackie Stewart famously labelled the track “The Green Hell” in 1968. Stewart wasn’t being overly dramatic as he confessed that every time he left to race in the German GP he was never fully sure he would survive the ordeal. The concerns of drivers led to a major track renovation in the early 1970s with bumps and curves removed and Armco barriers installed. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, the size of the track, the increasing dangers of driving it and the costs associated with running events there all meant the old Nurburgring was gradually decommissioned as a top-tier race venue.
Despite the fact major racing events no longer used the Nurburgring-Nordschleife, the track remained the benchmark for racers and automakers who looked to take on “The Green Hell” and tame it. Companies began to unofficially compete with one another in order to break each other’s lap times. Track times became badges of honor and something to brag about when a company advertised a specific model of car. Of course, this may all be at an end now thanks to the recent crash and fatality a few months ago when a Nissan GTR hit a bump, became airborne and went into the crowd. In response, the ring’s owner put speed limits on various parts of the track and has banned record breaking attempts.
The following looks at 15 of the fastest cars to ever go around the Nurburgring. We were originally going to look only at production vehicle lap times but everyone in the world has covered that so we thought we’d mix it up. Ahead you’ll find a blend of street-legal and production cars, as well as prototype and race vehicles. To make it more interesting and fuel debate we also considered times from various periods which saw the track change in length. These track lengths are posted beside every car, ranging from the classic 22.8 km version to the tamer, more modern and standardized 20.6 km of today.
15 Gumpert Apollo Sport – 7:11:57 (20,600 m)
It’s fitting that for a German race track we should kick off the list with a German car. Created by Roland Gumpter, the Apollo sport was meant to be a street legal car that was ready for track duty with minimal modification. It is a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater built of fiber-glass and carbon fiber. Powered by a 4.2L twin-turbocharged V8 from Audi, the Apollo Sport puts out anywhere from 640 hp to 790 hp, depending on the tune and build. The Sport model stands out from the ‘standard’ Apollo in that it comes with a special aerodynamic package which helps produce more downforce and allows the car to reach a maximum speed of 360 km/h.
14 Nissan GT-R Nismo – 7:08:68 (20,600 m)
In large part, thanks to an accident involving a car of this type, the owners of the Nurburgring opted to enforce new speed limits and ban record breaking attempts. Nonetheless, the Nissan GT-R is a formidable opponent around ‘the ring.’ The Nismo edition takes the already potent performance of the GT-R and boosts it further. Nissan kept the original 3.6L twin-turbocharged engine but boosted performance to around 600 hp thanks to improved exhaust, intakes and turbochargers. Not done there, the GT-R Nismo is also lighter and more aerodynamic than the standard GT-R resulting in a Nurburgring lap time which is over 9 seconds faster than its sibling.
13 Maurer MM82-BMW – 7:06:51 (22,835 m)
Coming in at number 13 on our list is something a little different. This particular car isn’t road-legal and it set its Nurburgring record when the track was still nearly 23 km long. Driven by legendary German driver Stefan Bellof in 1982, this Formula 2 car was small and agile on the track – something which made it perfect to handle the Nurburgring. The MM82 was powered by a BMW 2.0L engine and in a lightweight body, the car finished the longer classic track setup faster than most can finish the shortened modern day version.
12 McLaren M23 – 7:06:50 (22,835 m)
If you’ve seen the film Rush then you’ve seen a recreation of the race this particular car took part in during 1976. Driven by the eccentric James Hunt, the McLaren M23 set this record during qualifying for the German Grand Prix. The M23 only weighed around 1200 lbs and was powered by a 3.0L Ford-Cosworth engine which produced 490 hp. Hunt claimed the pole position and the win in a race which is better remembered for the fiery crash involving Ferrari’s Niki Lauda. It was to be the last Formula 1 race ever held on the old Nurburgring-Nordschleife.
11 Porsche 996 Turbo – 7:04:00 (20,832 m)
The best known Nordschleife lap times come from the 20,600 m track. To make matters more confusing, the actual full length of the modern track is a little over 200 m longer. The first car on our list from this full-length configuration is the Porsche 996 Turbo which set the time in 2003 during the Castrol-Haugg Cup, a touring car racing series. The stock Porsche 996 Turbo utilized a twin-turbocharged 3.6L flat-six cylinder engine which had an output of 450 hp. Adding some weight but giving better traction around the demanding ring, the 996 also sported all-wheel drive. We’re guessing driver Uwe Alzen modified his car’s weight and power significantly given the impressive time posted here.
10 Dodge Viper ACR-X - 7:03:06 (20,832 m)
In production since the early 1990s, the Dodge Viper is, as its name suggests, a powerful and potentially dangerous car. It's a V10 performer without all the electronic stability and driver assist features found in other high-powered sports cars. The ACR-X model takes things to an even more extreme level. The 8.4L V10 puts out 640 hp. Helping to keep this power firmly planted through the rear-wheel drive is an aerodynamic package which produces over 1000 lbs of downforce. Lighter and more powerful than a standard Viper, the ACR-X can be a real handful. Throw it onto one of the most challenging tracks in the world and the driver who set this lap time deserves a special award for bravery.
9 Lamborghini Aventador SV – 6:59:73 (20,600 m)
This Lamborghini set this time in May 2015, making it the most recent addition to the Nordschleife lap times. The Aventador SV ( SV stands for Superveloce) is faster and lighter than a ‘regular’ Aventador. The SV weighs in at 3362 lbs which is 110 lbs lighter than its predecessor. This is possible thanks to extensive use of carbon fiber in the body. It uses the same 6.5L V12 engine but has its power boosted from 690 hp to 750 hp. Using the same all-wheel drive system, the lighter and more powerful Aventador left its mark on the test configuration of the Nurburgring, beating out the likes of the Nismo GT-R and the Gumpert Apollo Sport while breaking the seven minute barrier.
8 Ferrari 312T – 6:58.60 (22,835 m)
Naturally, any list which mentions James Hunt and his McLaren racer must also include his adversary Niki Lauda and the Ferrari 312T. In 1975, the 312T was a new design from the Italian F1 team. It utilized a 3.0L flat-12 cylinder engine which produced around 510 hp. In this car, Austrian Niki Lauda was the first person to break the seven minute barrier – a feat made all the more impressive given it was on the classic Nordschleife which was over 2 km longer than the modern configuration. It was in a variant of this car that Lauda suffered his terrible crash in 1976. We’re guessing that had Lauda and the 312T driven on the shorter version of the track used today, you’d see them at least a few places higher up on this list.
7 Ferrari 599XX – 6:58:16 (20,832 m)
Designed for track use only, the Ferrari 599XX is based on the street-legal 599 GTB Fiorano. In April 2010, the 599XX took on the full Nordschleife track and posted an impressive sub-seven minute time. How’d it manage this? In comparison to the standard 599, this particular Ferrari has some substantial modifications. The 599XX is lighter by more than 350 lbs thanks to the use of carbon fiber and other composite materials. In terms of power, it used the same 6.0L V12 engine as the 599 but tuning ups the power from 612 hp to 720 hp. The finishing touch is an improved aerodynamics package which greatly improves downforce, helping keep the power on the ground and the car negotiating the bumps and curves of the track.
6 Porsche 918 Spyder (Weissach) – 6:57:00 (20,600 m)
If someone told you a hybrid was one of the fastest cars around the Nurburgring you might think they were lying. Enter the Porsche 918. This Porsche is a mid-engine performer getting 608 hp from its 4.6L V8. Then there’s the hybrid part. Two additional electric motors provide another 279 hp giving this beauty a total of 887 hp for its AWD system to put on the road. The Weissach package lightens the car by more than 90 lbs, giving that little bit extra to complete the track in under 7 minutes. Porsche claims it is the fastest street legal production car to lap the ring. Technically, they are right but there is a grey area there thanks to our next two entries.
5 Radical SR8 – 6:55:00 (20,600 m)
Beating the Porsche by two seconds on the test configuration of the Nordschleife is this entry by car builder Radical. The SR8 follows Radical’s philosophy of putting a powerful and responsive motor in an extremely light-weight chassis. The SR8 weighs just 1500 lbs, giving it a big advantage over other cars on this list. Inside, you’ll find a high-revving 363 hp V8 engine which basically turns the SR8 into an insane go-kart. Believe it or not, this car is classified as a street legal production car. This clearly irks the people at Porsche so much that they will be the first to point out that Radical’s car is not street legal in EVERY country.
4 Radical SR8LM – 6:48:00 (20,600 m)
Not done with the SR8, Radical went on to produce the even higher performance SR8LM. Michael Vergers, the driver who took the SR8 around the Nurburgring in 6:55:00 in 2005, piloted the LM version to an even faster 6:48:00 lap in 2009. How did they do it? Radical basically took the SR8 body and stuffed a larger motor into it. Now driving the lightweight car was a 2.8L V8 which put out around 455 hp and enabled the car to shave seven seconds off the previous time. Again, Porsche argued that the car wasn’t a real road legal car because it wasn’t road legal everywhere. McLaren even jumped into the debate arguing their new P1 was faster – although nobody has seen an official time for that car yet.
3 Pagani Zonda R – 6:47:50 (20,832 m)
You may think of the high-performance road-legal Italian car when you think of the exotic Zonda. However, this particular Pagani is a track-only car. The Zonda R was built to do battle on the track with the likes of McLaren and Ferrari. It may look like a ‘regular’ Zonda, but don’t be fooled. This car has a wider wheel base for stability and improved aerodynamics. The 6.0L V12 is built by AMG and puts out 740 hp. When it’s revved the Zonda sounds like it is the hive for millions of bees – angry bees that take steroids. Inside you won’t find much because this thing was built to race – not drive around town. In the end, it all paid off as demonstrated by the incredible lap time achieved on the full Nurburgring circuit.
2 March 832-BMW – 6:28:03 (20,832 m)
The fastest Formula 2 car on this list and runner-up for the fastest Nurburgring time goes to the 1983 March 832. The chassis of this car was developed by March Engineering and the 2.0L motor was from BMW. Piloting this car around the Nordshleife in April 1983 was German racer Christian Danner. Danner and the 832 not only secured pole for the race but also set the fastest lap during the event – a time which remains the third fastest lap of Nurburgring ever achieved. The first and second fastest lap belong to the man and car next on this list.
1 Porsche 956 – 6:11:13 (20,832 m)
Stefan Bellof was a legendary driver and must be considered one of the greatest masters of the Nurburgring. During May 28-29 1983, Bellof drove a Porsche 956 and set a time of 6:25:91 on race day. Even more impressive was his qualifying time the day before - an amazing 6:11:13. The car he drove, the Porsche 956, was built solely to race. Built with aluminium and weighing in at 1764 lbs, the car was powered by a 2.65L turbocharged flat-six cylinder engine which produced 635 hp. Sadly, Bellof and the 956 would both meet their end, not at the Nurburgring, but at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps when a collision sent the car straight into the barrier. Bellof was killed and the safety of the 956 was questioned, leading to the end of its use.