Though many believed Stefan Bellof’s famous ‘Ring record would never be bested, it’s been done — and by the marque that help set the former record 35 years ago. With three hints at the potential of the unrestricted version in the 919 racer, dubbed the 919 Hybrid Evo, we all suspected that Porsche would continue their charge towards rewriting some illustrious records across the European continent.
First came the 919 Hybrid Evo, in the hands of Neel Jani, setting a searing record lap at Spa, dethroning Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes F1 last year by some 0.8 seconds. Later this year, we were teased with a commemorative lap around the ‘Ring; the 919 Evo Hybrid running door-to-door with the original 956 that Bellof used back at the peak of his brief but stellar career. Prior to Le Mans, the 919 Hybrid Evo had been seen thumping around the ‘Ring at an impressive pace. Clearly, something serious was afoot.
On the back of their GTE Pro and GTE Am wins at Le Mans, Porsche took the Evo to the Nürburgring where, in the hands of Timo Bernhard, they snagged a 5:19.546 lap. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 52 seconds quicker than Bellof’s lap. However, it needs to be noted that Bellof set his time on a shorter, 12.9-mile configuration of the course cut for Group C cars, whereas Bernhard drove the full 14.2-mile lap.
This is remarkable for two reasons: 1) Bellof was a risk-taker, and one willing to put it on the line in a way that few drivers still do and, 2) Safety standards at the Nürburgring might not have suited the immensely quick car. Clearly, Porsche and the Nürburgring were willing to allow the risk.
In a sense or two, it served as a commemoration to Bellof’s legacy. Bernhard had a special lid painted specifically for the challenge in Bellof’s black, red, and yellow. “For me, Stefan Bellof is, and remains, a giant,” Bernhard stresses.
The Porsche 956 wasn’t exactly the most potent of its peers during the Group C heyday, but its durability gave it the speed and consistency to dominate. In an era when mechanical attrition was still even more of a decisive factor among these highly-strung sports car thoroughbreds, the 956 was the one most likely to cross the finish line.
Still, Bellof’s 956 produced 620 horsepower and weighed some 1,850 pounds. With massive venturi tunnels, the car had great high speed grip, and the spool at the rear helped administer all that power without wheelspin. 35 years ago, the 956 was at the leading edge of aerodynamic development, but it looks almost archaic compared to the techno powerhouse that took its title.
Freed from some restrictions hitherto determined by the regulations, the 919 Hybrid Evo’s powertrain develops grunt that makes the Group C car appear almost meek. The Evo’s combustion engine, a V4 turbo, benefited from the lack of restrictions and a tune of the Bosch MS5 ECU to make 720 horsepower. The electric recovery systems received a power bump as well, making some 440 horsepower — 40 more than the car in WEC-spec trim — to produce a grand total of 1,160 horsepower.
That absurd level of power — bordering on that of ’80s F1 Turbo cars — was only complemented by an extended front diffuser, modified tunnels, fixed-height side skirts, and a larger rear wing. Underneath the Evo, the turning vanes and floor were optimized. Smoother front fenders sans headlights, closed air ducts, and a DRS-like system made the car slippery enough to hit 229.5 mph at the Nürburgring. With these revised additions, the car possessed 53% more downforce and 66% aero efficiency than the WEC-spec car ever had. Quite the list of improvements.
In fact, one of the few things the highly complex Evo has in common with its forebear, the 956, is its weight. Thanks to removal of the air-conditioning, windscreen wiper, several sensors, electronic devices from race control, light systems and the pneumatic jack system, the tech-heavy Evo tips the scales at just 1,870 pounds. That only adds to the agility at slow speeds, which is obvious from the footage below:
The attempt at the Nordschleife closes the chapter of chasing records with Evo, but it will still tour promotionally. The most athletic LMP-style machine in history will make several more appearances:
• July 6 and 7: VW Fun Cup Spa-Francorchamps (BE)
• July 12-15: Goodwood Festival of Speed (GB)
• September 2: Festival of Porsche Brands Hatch (GB)
• September 26-29: Porsche Rennsport Reunion Laguna Seca (California, USA)