Nürburgring race track: Lars Kern on the perfect lap
The Porsche tester on pushing our cars to the absolute limit
Close-up of Lars Kern Porsche test driver in helmet
Lars Kern is one of the fastest people to lap the Nürburgring race track in a production car. Now the Porsche test driver has added to his growing collection with the record for fastest SUV in the new Cayenne Turbo Coupé
There are 73 turns on the 20.832km (12.9 mile) Nordschleife at the Nürburgring race track. As the official test driver for Porsche, there are few who know them better than Lars Kern. If there is a Porsche production car or even class lap record, then the chances are that Lars holds it or has held it in recent years. His time of 6min 40.3sec in 2018 behind the wheel of the Porsche GT2 RS MR was, at the time, the fastest ever by a road-legal vehicle. Best times for a four-door sedan in the Panamera Turbo and for four-door, all-electric sports cars in a Taycan have followed. And now, driving a new Cayenne ahead of its launch, Lars has secured a record time in the SUV, off-road vehicle, van and pick-up category of 7min 38.925sec. We spoke to one of the fastest men to have ever driven at the Nürburgring about what's it really like to drive the legendary Nordschleife. How does it feel being a multiple record holder at the Nürburgring race track, Lars? That’s a pretty special achievement.For me it doesn’t mean so much at the end of the day. Having these records just proves how good our cars are. I’m so happy that we focus on this. We don’t just make good cars, we also look at the lap times. Every time I go to the Nürburgring, I don’t arrive thinking "I’m the record holder." I go there and do my work. Which is not always going as quickly as you can. It’s a normal working environment but from time to time I break records as well [laughs]. Our job is to make every car feel and drive like a Porsche. You don’t have to use all the abilities of the car, but you know you always can.
New black Porsche Cayenne corners at the Nürburgring
On track for a record: Lars Kern pilots the new Cayenne to success at the Nürburgring
The Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany is described as the world’s most demanding race track. How do you overcome any fear?It’s always dangerous and I try to minimise laps. Every lap you do at the Nürburgring race track is risky. I tell the engineers, please make everything perfect. Low fuel, new tyres, so I can do a perfect lap and not too many. Most of the time we have targets. Whether it’s possible or not, you have this time in your head and you know that’s the time to beat. You try to push harder and come closer. The pressure is intense.How do you know where the limit is?By doing laps and guessing [laughs]. I know how quickly you can go through certain corners based on how much grip and downforce we have. This helps raise the limit a little bit. But then it’s just a matter of feeling. You need time. It’s something you have to get used to. On this one quick lap it’s about taking a bit more risk, going more to the edge and accepting a bit more oversteer just to feel the limit even more, but most of the confidence you get is by doing laps in the car. Over the first few metres of the Nordschleife in this Cayenne, you’re tempted to turn around to make sure that you’re really sitting in a spacious SUV. It changed direction at lightning speed in the fast curves such as between Hohe Acht and Eiskurve, with no wobble and no tendency to understeer. Even in this technical stretch, the Cayenne is a real driver’s car that’s easy to control.
Rear view of new black Cayenne on track at Nürburgring
Lars' record-breaking SUV is based on the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupé
Do you go into a different zone when you close the door and start the engine?What we try to do is be there for two to three days before a record attempt at the Nürburgring race track. To get used to the car and do some attempts, not real attempts, but still drive fast to get a feeling for the car and where it is grip wise. This takes a lot of pressure off because you know what you’re going to get when you leave the pit lane and push as hard as you can. It’s important that the first two or three corners are like you expect them, and then it’s just happening. You know what the job is.
After two or three laps I’m mentally exhausted
Lars Kern | Porsche test driver
A full lap of the Nürburgring is almost 21 kilometres. How do you keep your focus for so long? Does your mind wander?There is one straight part of the track where you have 40 seconds or so to think. It’s easy to lose focus here because it’s the only section where you really start thinking about what you’re doing. In the GT2 RS I was wondering whether I could take the kink at the end of the straight flat. I’d never done it before. So, I said to myself “I’ve got to do it.” I’m not sure I’d do it again. It was pretty sketchy. Everywhere else, it’s corner after corner, brake, turn in, accelerate. There’s no time to think about what you’re doing. You have to carry as much speed as you can.
Red and black Porsche 911 GT2 RS breaking Nürburgring record
In 2018, Lars smashed the record for a road-legal vehicle at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in this 911 GT2 RS MR
Where does your speed come from? Did you train as a racing driver?I started at Porsche as an engineer and they somehow found out I wasn’t too bad behind the wheel [laughs]. Doing these record attempts somehow came by accident. I did a little bit of racing when I was younger but not with the intention of being a professional. I’m not a racing driver. Racing drivers race racing cars, but I ‘race’ street cars. This made it a little bit special. You could send professional drivers out with three wheels and they’d still be quick. When I started at Porsche, I was at the Nürburgring race track for 15 weeks a year, always driving Monday to Thursday. If I’m comfortable and quick with the car, this shows it is really, really good. We build these cars for customers and not racing drivers.When you’re in the car, are you thinking like an engineer or a racing driver?For the preparation of a record lap or setting up a car it's important to work as a sensor and have the engineering background. It's important to know what systems we have and how they work. But on the day, when it's about setting a record, the focus is only on driving as quickly as possible. So I guess on those days I'm more of a racing driver.
Porsche test driver Lars Kern close-up without race helmet
Porsche test driver Lars Kern has racked up countless lap records at the Nürburgring
How physically and mentally demanding is it?Physically it’s nothing special. The g-forces you have with a street tyre and limited downforce is not that tough on the body. But mentally it’s way worse compared to being in a race car on the Nürburgring race track. There you can see your competitors driving around and can see how far behind you are. If you’re going for a lap record you push every corner, every straight, every braking point to the limit, but you’ve no idea if it’s going to be enough. If you make a big mistake at the beginning of the lap, it’s normally over. After two or three laps I’m mentally exhausted.
Lars Kern displays SUV lap record time next to Cayenne
No sweat: Lars Kern – with the Cayenne – proudly displays his SUV lap record time at the Nürburgring
How did the Cayenne perform on track?The wheels normally leave the ground at both the Pflanzgarten I and II crests, but these sections felt smooth and quiet in this Cayenne. There is a lot of wheel travel, and the body stays solid and controlled. The drivetrain makes a really strong impression. It delivers power in every situation as well as perfect gear changes.How does it feel after such an achievement?It feels great. We have a little party in the evening after leaving the Nürburgring race track, but then the next morning life goes back to normal. And everything starts from zero again because there are new cars to be developed and new projects. For me that job is done.
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