Say what you will about Nürburgring lap records – some call them pointless marketing ploys, others refer to them as contests of one-upmanship of epic proportions – but automakers still think highly enough of them to chase after new ones.
For Audi’s performance sub-brand, there’s a particular importance to proving its vehicles on the 20.8-km Nordschleife, though setting new records there isn’t a requirement. In order to slap the vaunted RS badge on one of its vehicles, Audi Sport first spends countless hours at the punishing circuit putting them through their paces. With an incredible array of elevation and weather changes, not to mention an astonishing 154 corners, the ’Ring is a test like no other. Withstand what’s thrown its way at the massive track and a vehicle is fit to join the select few that have come before it in the RS lineup.
During development of the 2021 Audi RS Q8, the entire team at Audi Sport knew they had something particularly special on their hands. That’s according to Audi Sport factory development driver and pro racer Frank Stippler, who said he was impressed with the new top dog in the RS lineup from the moment he climbed behind the wheel. So they set out to prove it.
Of course, Audi is far from the only automaker to conduct testing at the Nürburgring, and to take over the track for an official record attempt takes plenty of planning. Finding a four-hour slot during a manufacturers’ testing day was just part of the complex scheduling for this attempt in particular, with Stippler set to compete in a German GT race that same weekend.
To clear this hurdle, Stippler and Audi Sport first had to get the blessing of his team boss, followed by finding a way to travel from the Hockenheimring to the Nürburgring following Friday practice to make the record attempt. So arrangements were made to fly the driver via helicopter to make it in time for the 2 pm time slot.
Suffice to say the pressure was quickly starting to build for Stippler.
“If something went wrong during the race weekend the team boss wouldn’t have been amused, and the lap record attempt would have been the [cause],” he said while hustling the RS Q8 down a mountain road in the Canary Islands during the media drive event.
If that wasn’t bad enough, in the minutes before Stippler and crew were set to take to the track the rain began to fall. Turns out Murphy’s Law applies in German jurisdictions too. It began to look like an expensive outing that was all for nought.
“There was a pretty good chance we’d compromise both projects,” Stippler said of the threat of the weather ruining both the record attempt and, by virtue, his GT race weekend in Hockenheim.
Graciously, with just half an hour to go the rain cleared and the track dried enough for Stippler to make an attempt at an official record. According to the driver, he held back a bit as he traversed the track but was still able to lay down an impressive lap: 7:42.2 seconds. That was good enough to dethrone the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S as the fastest SUV around the Nürburgring, putting it in the same territory as cars like the Porsche Taycan EV and the previous-generation Porsche Cayman GT4.
That’s impressive company for the RS Q8 to keep – especially considering the record-setting unit in question was basically stock, save for the requisite roll cage and data-recording equipment.
Better still, the two-race weekend at the Hockenheimring saw Stippler and co-driver Filip Salaquarda pilot their Team ISR Audi R8 LMS to seventh- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, keeping his team boss happy too.
For Stippler, he’s comfortable in the knowledge that the lap time will eventually be topped by another SUV. After all, records are made to be broken – no matter how pointless some people may think they are.