It’s no secret that the automotive world is changing. Depending on who you talk to, the story is of grudging compliance or wide-eyed eco-ferver, with a hundred stops in between, but the industry-wide consensus is that electrification is unavoidable in the long term.
To those less willing to throw their arms wide and welcome this paradigm shift, hybrids have been, at best, no better than a petrol-powered equivalent and, at worst, a fundamental betrayal of the freedoms the car originally stood for. Slow, undesirable and uninspiring are the accusations from the ‘no thanks’ camp.
Until recently the lap record for the world’s most famous ex-grand prix circuit was held by a petrol car; a certain Porsche 956 C driven to within an inch of its life by the supremely, wildly talented Stefan Bellof. It was a record that had stood for so long that many people had begun to doubt that anyone would even try to beat it.
Only Porsche itself has had the guts – and the finances – to have a go at besting its own benchmark. The 919 Evo, a product of top-level motorsport but with no rules to restrict its performance, had been devouring lap times all over the place as part of a post-WEC hangover that turned performance records into the equivalent of the cold pizza at the back of the fridge.
With WEC dominated and all Porsche’s team goals achieved, the question was what came next. Stuttgart’s world-beating hybrid drivetrain couldn’t be allowed to fade into the background, so an anonymous PR genius at Porsche decided that the programme needed to go a little more… social.
There are plenty of car enthusiasts out there who never really followed the WEC during Porsche’s winning streak from 2015-2017, but who know all about the famous Green Hell, the legend of Bellof and about his 956 C. What better way to reach them; to post the new Porsche brand values in front of all the Internet-connected world, than to set a time so ridiculous that its creation would become an instant milestone in a million memories?
The attempt on the ‘Ring record may have been inevitable after such impressive displays at the likes of Spa-Francorchamps, where it beat Lewis Hamilton’s track record. But the manner in which it was executed was brutal. It dragged Bellof’s 35-year-old record outside and shot it. Make no mistake, Porsche has made a very deliberate statement about its technology and about where it sees the future.
With such a barbaric destruction of a legendary lap record Porsche has finally killed the independent combustion engine. Already, its engineers are working on ways to electrify every one of its model lines in ways that boost performance, add value and ace the tougher new emissions tests in Europe. Hybrid is no longer that drab, restrictive, sluggish weapon of the anti-fun police. It’s a beast that can turn a turbocharged four-cylinder race car into the fastest thing around any major circuit in the world.
A whole new audience will now start to see petrol power as archaic; big V8s and V12s as unnecessary and backwards-thinking. Hybrid is now the king, whether it’s boxing to Queensberry rules in approved motorsport, or bare-knuckle brawling in the streets outside official competition.
From now on, kids who are feeding their new-found hunger for poster cars, looking at the fastest cars around the most dangerous circuit in the world, won’t see a legendary petrol car. They’ll see a legendary hybrid. The game has changed: hybrids will be even more desirable to future car buyers. Maybe it won’t feel like it to everyone yet, but the future has just taken a big step closer.