Four things we learned chatting to Porsche test driver Lars Kern | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear

Four things we learned chatting to Porsche test driver Lars Kern

TG talks YouTube trolls and Ring times with the Panamera Turbo lap setter

  • You’d like Lars Kern. The German is a Porsche test driver – the very test driver who took a Panamera Turbo around the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 38 seconds last year. So yep, he knows his way around a steering wheel. But he’s also a real petrolhead – as fascinated and frustrated with lap times and manufacturer one-upmanship as we all are. Here’s a few nuggets from chatting to Lars before he scrambled my brain lapping the Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-hybrid around Nardo.

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  • 1. The record-setting Panamera Turbo was the worst possible spec

    The Panamera Turbo Lars used to set a then-record for four-door cars around the Nordschleife ran standard tyres and a standard engine. In fact, it was set to be completely factory-fresh, but Lars, mindful of the fact the car would be touching speeds in excess of 180mph around the lap while mere feet from Armco and thousands of trees, insisted a proper race seat and roll cage was fitted to protect him. Fair enough, you’ll agree. Of course, the roll cage added about 50kg of weight to the car, so you’d imagine that Porsche would cunningly have fitted it into a lightly-specced Panamera to minimise the weight penalty. Nope.

    In fact, the Panamera used for the record attempt was properly kitted out. Okay, it had ceramic brakes, which save a few kilos, but Lars remembers it was also fitted with the upgraded Burmester stereo, heated and cooled massage seats, thicker noise-arresting glass and more. In fact, it was pretty much as heavy as a Panamera can possibly get. Which makes the fact he hustled it round in less time than a Ferrari 430 Scuderia (7 mins 39) or a Bugatti Veyron (7mins 40) all the more astounding.

  • 2. He let us in on a 'Ring lap time-saving secret

    Want to shave seconds off your next assault on the green hell? Attack the Karussell. Lars says most drivers can’t help but trickle around the infamous banked left-hander because the surface is so bumpy, and true enough, it’s an uncomfortable ride. However, the rough concrete surface apparently offers stellar grip, and the centrifugal force of cornering banked over generates massive traction, so it’s one of the few corners on Earth that you can actually accelerate into. Just remember to unplug any sense of mechanical sympathy first. 

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  • 3. YouTube trolls had a pop at his driving skills

    As the two-tonne Panamera wound its way around the 'Ring, it put its tyres through a brutal test, meaning towards the end of the lap, the car started to understeer. “Then I go on YouTube and I see all these people saying ‘you lost time on that corner, I am quicker on my PlayStation’", Lars laughs, head in hands. Bless the internet.

  • 4. He’s a proper 'Ring lap time geek

    Porsche, like all car manufacturers invested in Nürburgring lap times, takes a healthy dollop of notice what its rivals are up to. So Lars doesn’t hide he’s gutted that the Alfa Romero Giulia Guadrifolgio set a new four-door record in 7 minutes 32 seconds in September 2016 (bring on the rematch against the Turbo S e-hybrid). We’re both fascinated over the McLaren P1 enigma – why did McLaren never release a time to compare with the 918 Spyder’s 6 mins 57 record, despite spending weeks testing? Lars is as absorbed by the possible answers as us. 

    Oh, and he’s aware that while rivals might like to spend several days testing at the Ring, using tyre-warmers and a whole race team to get the best from their car, his Panamera Turbo record was a slightly more ad hoc affair. He set eight laps, all between 7mins 38 and 7mins 41. Super-consistent, for a track as fiendish as the Nordschleife. The Porsche guys brought some spare tyres, but that was it so far as a pit crew went, and had the car not been fitted with a roll cage, it could have been used for the commute to and from the circuit.

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