Ollie Kew 9 years agoMotorsport
Why Seat’s Hot Hatch Nürburgring Record Is Cooler Than Porsche’s
All lap records are about willy-waving, but the front-wheel drive one really matters. Here's why
What does the £27,240 Seat Leon Cupra have in common with the £651,072 Porsche 918 Spyder? Yup, they’re both lap record holders around the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife. The 875bhp hybrid Porsche is the fastest road car ever to have gone round the Green Hell (6min 57sec), making it the first street car ever to duck under seven minutes. The 276bhp turbocharged Seat Leon Cupra 280 follows up a minute later, in 7min 58sec. That makes it the first front-wheel drive car ever to lap the ’Ring in less than eight minutes, and the fastest front-wheel drive contender ever. Nürburgring lap records have taken a lot of stick since the Nissan GT-R and Radical SR8 reignited the race to be fastest around the lap a few years ago. Everyone from James May to your insurance provider has said the idea of being very fast around a notoriously bumpy and unsafe toll road is futile at best, and irresponsible at worst. The other side argues it’s a great place to develop cars, and proves the ultimate test of a vehichle's endurance, as it hammers along at maximum attack for three to four times the distance of a standard F1 circuit. With zero room for error. There’s a crucial difference between Porsche and Seat’s bragging rights though – the reason that Porsche’s is just a (cool) number and Seat’s is actually important to most real-world car-folk. Watch Mark Lieb wrestling the 918 around the ’Ring here. He’s completely on the limit, fighting the weight of all those batteries and second-guessing the car as it shuffles its massive power between both axles. And all the time, he’s trying not to stuff a car worth almost three-quarters of a million quid into the Armco.
Now the Seat on the other hand is nowhere near as quick, but it looks almost manageable. It’s still being handled by a racing driver, but this sub-£30k hot hatch just looks a little less terrifying. Almost as if a mere mortal could take it around a racetrack and dare to have some fun in it. You can imagine ex-WTCC driver Jordi Gené grinning beneath that helmet, like a youth flinging a hatch down a B-road.
Lap records are either the pinnacle of automotive achievement, or pointless top trumps. Just like the top speed of a Hennessey Venom GT or Koenigsegg One:1, in fact. But while a supercar’s personal best around the world’s scariest track is just a tick in the box for its development programme, Seat’s is a little moment of history for cars we can all aspire to afford, drive, and have a laugh in. Of all the lap records out there, the Cupra’s is the one that should leave us all with a warm glow about the future of fast, fun cars.