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Can the 1,340bhp Nio EP9 steal McLaren’s 'Ring lap record?
TG chats to NextEV's Ring lap driver Peter Dumbreck about one-upping the P1 LM
It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that the Nürburgring production car lap record battle has gone utterly insane in 2017. After Lamborghini stunned us all with a 6min 52.01sec lap in March, we assumed it’d go quiet, but Chinese start-up NextEV’s Nio EP9 managed to beat its 7min 5sec personal best with a 6min 45.9sec run last month, only to have its title snatched away by Kenny Brack’s 6min 43.2sec effort in the McLaren P1 LM. Where will it end?
Amidst the furor of times, tyres, and what exactly constitutes a ‘production car’, TG.com spoke to NextEV hotshoe, former Le Mans and DTM racer and extremely modest and good egg Peter Dumbreck about his ‘Ring exploits. Could the electric newcomer fight back? Oh yes, as it turns out…
TopGear.com: Peter, how the merry flip did you take an already blistering 7min 5sec lap down to a 6min 45sec record? Has the latest Nio EP9 got new motors? More power?
Peter Dumbreck: “The motors are the same [as the ones used when the Nio EP9 did a 7min 5sec lap], but I wasn’t getting one megawatt of power (1,340bhp) for the full lap. We have to think about how long the lap is, how long the battery will last, and what my top speed will be. A combustion engine burns a lot of fuel at top speed, likewise, it ‘burns’ a lot of batteries pushing a car through the air. So they can’t let me have full power, because it’d burn the batteries out so quickly.
“They optimise the power I get for the full lap, and how quickly the batteries will heat up. Once we reach a certain temperature, we’re doing damage to the batteries. I was getting somewhere around 700bhp. We’re on specific NextEV tyres to withstand the weight and G-force, but aerodynamically, the car is the same as it was before.”
TG: So same car, same driver, same track – why twenty seconds quicker?
PD: “One of the big things was I had more time in the car. When you’ve got an electric car and that kind of power, we do one lap on one charge. Seven minutes in the car. You can’t run lap after lap after lap getting quicker and quicker. I start around the corner, having gone the wrong way down the track, line the car up, then say, ‘get ready here I come’. I have to push right from the start. I’ve still only done eight laps of the Nürburgring in this car, across three separate days. And the second day I only got one lap because it was soaking wet.
“If you look at the Porsche 918 [6min 57sec], they ran day after day after day, whittling the time down, but we had to get it right [straight away]. The homework was done at the factory, we did two days testing in good weather, and the pressure was on. I was thinking ‘I’ll do what I can’, but it quickly became apparent that the outright record was on. On lap one I took four seconds off my previous record, after lap two I took another seven seconds off it, and then I took nine seconds off it, and that was me giving it everything, throwing caution to the wind.
“You can never drive the Nordschleife at 100 per cent because if you make one small mistake, you’re in the barrier. The car’s very stiff – that’s why there’s so much steering wheel movement in the on-board – so you’ve got to push it beyond comfort-level to get the lap time. And I’m really happy and proud that I got the time after all the team were relying on me…”
TG: How does driving an electric car with no transmission or engine revs affect your driving?
PD: “The basics are the same – racing line and what have you, but I have to adapt my style. In some places it’s way faster than a GT3 car, but in others it’s so stiff I can’t carry the same sort of speed out of corners. The strangest thing is having no engine braking or downshifting – it’s all done with my right foot. I hammer into corners, slam on the brakes, and it locks up a little bit – we’re not running ABS and traction control – so I’m basically driving as you would a bog-standard racecar. As of the latest update we do have regen on the brakes. It was a bit abrupt and strange, but by the end of the session it wasn’t an issue for me.”
TG: How did you end up working with NextEV?
PD: “I’m not blowing my own trumpet or saying I’m the fastest man there is, but I’m one of the most experienced drivers at the Nordschleife, and have no other commitments to manufacturers! So I got the call from the British team working on the car and I said ‘yes I’m interested’. Why wouldn’t I be?”
TG: Right, you’re a Ring specialist, you’ve barely had any practice in the Nio, it’s only running half of the car’s full power…. surely you can go even faster?
PD: “I think that there’s talk of us going back. It’s a moving target, y’know? The car will be optimised more. The car isn’t even running full power. If they could optimise the batteries to give me 1,300bhp all the way around the ‘Ring, imagine that! I can keep pushing on in the corners, but on the straights, you win free time if you’ve got more power. That’s the next step – another 400 horsepower. I actually don’t want to think about it – I’m still recovering from the last lap!
“If you watch the on-board closely you can see me give a long blink as I come onto the final straight, and that’s me thinking ‘bloody hell that was intense, but keep going, you’ve got one more section to make it through.’
“I’m sure I could’ve gained a couple of tenths on the final section, but I knew it was a good lap, so I’m just going on feeling. I’m thinking ‘just keep it together – get though quickly but don’t throw it away.’
“They’ll work on the chassis too, because the car’s fantastic on a smooth GP circuit but was never really designed for the ‘Ring, which is unlike any other circuit. For sure, there’s more time in that car exactly as it is. I could knock another couple of seconds off…”