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Cars Porsche Published by J. Doe

Key factors for a heavenly lap in the “Green Hell”

Works driver Mathieu Jaminet has warmed the tyres of his Porsche 911 GT3 R up to the optimal temperature. He radios to the cockpit: “Push this lap!” Jaminet is only too happy to oblige.

When I hear those words come over the radio, I have to grin inside my helmet because every driver loves getting such a message. Then the time has come for complete concentration and to become one with the vehicle and the racetrack, says Jaminet, describing how he feels as he goes into “max-attack mode”. Around Hatzenbach, we kerb-hop as much as possible, then comes a long passage that I really like: we take Hocheichen, Quiddelbacher Höhe and Flugplatz right through to Schwedenkreuz flat out – almost like flying in a trance. The section from Pflanzgarten 1 over Sprunghügel and Stefan Bellof S to Schwalbenschwanz is just as exhilarating. We drivers only experience such a feeling on the Nordschleife.

Everything has to come together for the perfect lap

The rear wing of the Porsche 911 GT3 R can measure only 1,800 millimetres in width – ten centimetres less than the conventional version for circuit racing. When the vehicle is stationary, ground clearance must be at least 70 millimetres at all times. A double flic at the front of the GT3 racer from Weissach helps to stabilise the aerodynamic balance.

On conventional racetracks, the Porsche 911 GT3 R generates most of its downforce via the front splitter. However, the effect of this component greatly depends on the ground clearance – and that varies hugely on the Nordschleife with all its jumps and compressions, explains Patrick Arkenau. The experienced engineer from the Manthey-Racing team sits in the so-called Porsche “Battle Room” during the Nürburgring 24-hour race. This is where the data from all of the customers’ 911 GT3 R racers is collated.

It takes maximum downforce to reach the limit in the many fast and semi-fast corners for a perfect lap. “Because of the greater downforce and the subsequent higher drag, the driver loses a lot of time on the long straights such as Döttinger Höhe or Bergwerk to the so-called Mutkurve – the ‘courage curve’. They have to overcompensate for this in the corners with maximum downforce – for instance in Hatzenbach and around Hohe Acht, Wippermann, Brünnchen and Pflanzgarten. In several of these passages, drivers can cut over the kerbs more, but in many other places, the kerbs are a no-go zone – not even during a flying qualifying lap,” emphasises Arkenau.

Highly efficient aerodynamics plays a very important role

Highly efficient aerodynamics plays a very important role at this point because Galgenkopf leads onto the Döttinger Höhe. If you’re too close to the car in front in this corner, you’ll struggle with dirty air which affects the aerodynamics – and the car loses downforce. If the driver then has to slow down even slightly at Galgenkopf, the section from Döttinger Höhe to Tiergarten will be very tough. For about two kilometres it goes flat out, including a left-hand kink that is taken at almost 270 km/h, says Golz.

As strange as it may sound, it is often in precisely this section that cars from the less powerful classes come to the rescue: Thanks to their lower drag, they sometimes achieve higher top speeds along the Döttinger Höhe than the GT3 cars contesting the top SP9 class, even though their lap times are slower. If several cars push the air aside, it can make a massive difference: the higher top speed can give an eight or nine-tenths of a second advantage on the Döttinger Höhe alone, says Patrick Arkenau, estimating the effect of the slipstream on the Nordschleife’s longest straight.

Shortly after the Döttinger Höhe, the Antoniusbuche and Tiergarten passages comes the start-finish line – the line where the stopwatch shows the score. “The moment of truth,” Jaminet smiles.

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“We engineers are always amazed at what the drivers can achieve when they know that everything is at stake. What these guys do with the car is incredible,” says Patrick Arkenau, in admiration of the work these top racers do at the wheel. Do some drivers push too hard? Should the engineers sometimes protect the drivers from potential recklessness and overconfidence? “If you ask five people about these concerns, you’ll get five different answers,” Arkenau smiles. In my opinion, there’s no doubt that the drivers are the only ones who can truly assess what’s going on. So let them do it. From the outside, we have no idea what’s happening and how the car feels in each situation. Only those at the wheel know where the limit is in that moment.

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May 31, 2021 at 15:36

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