Porsche’s Nardo Ring has been resurfaced
Talking about racetracks is a lot like discussing diamonds. Think bags and pots and vaults of money, birthplaces shrouded in ritual, the occasional shed blood. Both are born of obscene amounts of physical pressure, and everybody’s got a favorite shape.
While some debate the intricacies of twisty circuits with stomach-dropping elevations, the simplest shapes have the most mind-boggling physics. There’s the 31-degree banks of Daytona’s tri-oval (think triangle-with rounded-corners), the hallowed oval of Indianapolis, and one perfect circle in Italy that, if you hit the ideal speed, doesn’t require you to steer.
The 7.8-mile Nardo Ring in the heel of Italy’s boot can be dissected into four lanes, each at a different degree of the Ring’s steeply banked course. Because of the raked banks of the turns, up to a certain speed (near 150 mph at the outside rim of the track) the driver has minimal work to steer the car. The magic number for the Koenigsegg CCR, which held the production car world speed record before the Veyron showed up, was 30 degrees of steering wheel tilt, for a top speed of 242 mph.
This near-magical ring, resurfaced and re-ringed with updated guardrails, is being updated as part of a slew of renovations following the facility’s 25th anniversary. Opened on July 1, 1975, track was bought by Porsche in 2012, complete with the testing facilities inside its bounds. There’s a square “car dynamic platform”, or, in the tongue of the common man, “donut-making-zone,” the total area of which adds to a glorious 1,140,974.5 square feet.
If you don’t know any speed records from Nardo off the top of your head, it’s probably because we tend to quote 0–60 sprints or quarter-mile dashes, either of which can be diagnosed at a drag strip or airport. The beautiful thing about the Nardo Ring is exactly that—its geometric consistency. Manufacturers and teams are most likely to seek out this track for records of highest average speed or maximum distance, where variables must be controlled, data points be many, and testing time be generous.
The history at Nardo is not quite as evenly surfaced as the Ring itself.
Like the proverbial wheel of fate, the Nardo Ring has witnessed astronomical successes and gut-wrenching disasters. In 2002, a horde of Volkswagen engineers and a rotation of seven drivers put down 4,815 miles over 24 consecutive hours, averaging 200.6 mph. That same year (or possible the one following—the test was supposed to be secret), Bugatti’s test driver Loris Biocchi lost a tire, his visibility, and his brakes—in that order, at 247 mph, in a Veyron prototype. His instincts and over a mile of guardrail saved his life. Blind, he ground the bomb-on-wheels, against the rails until he could climb out, and Bugatti paid the bill (and, we must hope, an incredible bonus to this man).
Resurfacing the Ring, given the mind-numbing speeds it’s designed to handle, is more like rebuilding piano keys than layering on a coat of paint and sanding it a couple times. A complete resurfacing project requires demolition of the old course, surveying, grading, and priming before the new surface even touches the ground. Thousands of tons of machinery have to be balanced and pulled and braced at absurd angles to lay even swaths of asphalt while crawling along crazy gradients. (You don’t even want to think about the workers’ chiropractor bills.)
Racetrack asphalt must cope with massive amounts of horizontal loading, given the lateral forces of lapping race cars on tilting turns (in comparison to the asphalt that dump trucks might trundle over, which is formulated to resist literally dozens of tons of vertical loading). The softening points of the asphalt compounds used on racetracks are specially conditioned to withstand the accumulated heat from laps and laps of hot rubber and other heat transfer.
History has remade itself, however, and 35 million euros later (approximately $39.4M) the magic Nardo ring has been melted and forged anew, ready for the next pilgrimage of daredevils.