In June of 2018, just one week after his daughter was born, Timo Bernhard donned his fireproof overalls and helmet, strapped into the bleeding-edge Porsche 919 Hybrid Evo, and lined it up on the starting line at the most dangerous racetrack in the world: the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
The previous Nordschliefe lap record stood for 35 years. It was set by a Belgian racer named Stefan Bellof in 1983, at the wheel of a Porsche 956.
Nobody had come close to breaking his record, despite the fact automotive technology had advanced so far. As the years went by, his time felt untouchable, set by a supernatural talent driving beyond the limit. There’s no margin for error on the narrow 20.8-kilometre circuit that snakes through Germany’s Eifel forest. Maybe the record could technically be broken, but who would be brave or crazy enough to try?
Timo Bernhard was born in Homburg. He did his first lap of the Nordschleife when he was five, in the passenger seat of his dad’s Volkswagen.
“I just remember as we went up the hill after Bergwerk, we had to shift down even as we were accelerating — the VW was probably only going 100 km/h — because the hill was so steep. We were running out of power. In the 919, I sped up the hill at 348 km/h,” said Bernhard on the phone from Germany.
“[It was] like flying a jet in the living room; it’s a bit insane.”
The 919 Hybrid is the car that won Le Mans for Porsche. The “Evo” version Bernhard drove at the ’Ring was even faster. Freed from all regulations, its hybrid motors made 1,160 horsepower. It tipped the scales at 849 kilograms, or about half the weight of a road-going 911 Turbo.
Driving it at the Nürburgring is “like flying a jet in the living room; it’s a bit insane,” said Bernhard. Watching the on-board footage, you’d swear it was in fast-forward.
“That’s how it felt,” he said. “It felt like fast-forward…By the last lap everything slowed down a bit. I remember my body was kind of getting used to this speed, re-calibrating.”
When Bernhard pulled back into the pit lane after four laps, he hadn’t just broken Bellof’s record; he had smashed it by nearly a full minute: 5:19.55.
It’s a record we expect will stand for a long time, but maybe — hopefully — not 35 years. Bernhard will show the video to his new daughter when she’s older. “If it’s still cool in five or 10 years, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll say ‘Oh, that’s slow.’ ”