Meet the unbeatables

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Some records are made to be broken, but others will stand forever

Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak 2018 winner

There are few sports that lend themselves to benchmarking as naturally as motor sport. Rich with statistics and often decided by fine margins, there’s always scope for somebody to be the first, go the fastest or even the furthest. Some records are there to be beaten, but history sometimes shifts a few so they can never be reached. Here we celebrate those eternal feats.


Summer. A time of long evenings, iced drinks and the clattering sound of breaking records. Some of the greatest and longest-standing motor sport records have fallen to a new generation of drivers and riders across the past month or two, reminding us that in racing nothing stays the same forever.

The first inkling that something was up came in June with the Isle of Man TT, where Peter Hickman (below) set a new absolute course record of 16min 42.778sec, lapping the road circuit on his BMW S1000 RR at a staggering average speed of 135.452mph. He wasn’t alone: Michael Dunlop broke the lap records in both the Supersport and Lightweight categories during the 2018 meeting; a new electric record was set and so were new Sidecar and Superbike records.

A few weeks later more records fell. This time it was in America at the world’s most famous hillclimb, Pikes Peak, where Sébastien Loeb’s 2013 run has remained unrivalled and apparently unassailable for five years. That record, set at the wheel of a bespoke Peugeot 208 T16, which completed the 12-mile climb in 8min 13.878sec was so fast that – as we reported in these pages last month – even the team’s engineers didn’t think it was possible. But last month Volkswagen obliterated it with a run of 7min 57.148sec in a – wait for it – battery powered car. “I’m happy with this, but we could have gone quicker,” said the man at the wheel, Romain Dumas, afterwards.

Mainstream motor sport wasn’t immune either: Sebastian Vettel won the British Grand Prix, but it was Lewis Hamilton who recorded a new track record with a qualifying lap of 1min 25.892sec.

There is a fascination for statistics in motor sport and that imbues records with a special significance. And this is hardly surprising: as a sport it is about pushing the boundaries of what is technically and humanly possible. Faster, lighter, longer… it doesn’t matter, someone wants to claim the record. And as soon as someone has claimed it the only certainty is that someone else will be plotting a route to beat it.

There are some records, however, that occupy a unique place. Those that will never be beaten. They remain marooned at the top, unobtainable not only because of the supreme effort to achieve them, but also through a quirk of history or circumstance. And it is those records that we celebrate over the following pages.

The tale of Stirling Moss and Motor Sport’s continental correspondent Denis Jenkinson winning the 1955 Mille Miglia for example will stand forever as the last word on that particular race. Nobody foresaw back then that the event had just two more years to run, but the consequences of 1957 – when the Ferrari 335 of Alfonso de Portago/Ed Nelson crashed into a ditch, killing both crew members and nine spectators – led to the race’s consignment to history. It meant that the of Moss and Jenks achievement will never be bettered. It is a similar story with the Targa Florio, which was dropped from the World Sports Car Championship beyond 1973, a year after perceptions of what was possible had been reset.

For many years, Stefan Bellof’s 6min 11.13sec lap of the Nordschleife, set aboard a Porsche 956 in 1983, was regarded as one of these ghost records. Partly this was because of the breathtaking time in itself, but partly it was a quirk of history. The venue had been abandoned by Formula 1 seven years earlier on safety grounds, and 1983 was to prove the final year that other major international series – including the World Sports Car Championship and European F2 – would visit, leaving Bellof’s superhuman lap unchallenged at the top, destined to be unbeaten.

Until last month, that is. But, as our feature on Porsche’s attempt at beating its own famous record reveals, some records simply aren’t meant to be beaten. Even if you can.

And if you think that mere records don’t matter, consider this.

At a Ferrari press event some years ago, it was revealed that one of the corners at Fiorano had been reprofiled at the insistence of Michael Schumacher. Officially, the given reason was that the revised layout was more suitable for certain elements of set-up analysis but there were some within Ferrari who pointed out that Schumacher had recently beaten the old Fiorano lap record. Changing the corner therefore was one way to make sure his time could never be beaten, giving him, in the world of records at least, immortality.