Flat-out for 40 years: happy birthday to the Nardo test track

Published: 01 July 2015

► Italy’s Nardo test circuit turns 40 today
► High-speed bowl is the world’s fastest
► Porsche has owned the centre since 2012

As secretive industry test circuits go, Nardo is one of the scarier ones. Partway up the stiletto bit of southern Italy’s heel, right next to the Ionian sea, it’s a circular bowl measuring eight miles across and built for one thing: speed.

No circuit in the world is faster. It’s here that Martin Brundle wound a Jaguar XJ220 (missing its catalytic converters) up to 217mph, making it the world’s fastest production car until Jonathan Palmer spoiled the party by barrelling McLaren’s F1 around at 231mph in 1993.

Today the Nardo centre celebrates its 40th anniversary. Founded on 1 July 1975 by Fiat, it’s now owned by Porsche, which took control in 2012. Apart from its spyshot-foiling remoteness, one of the reasons Porsche was so keen to acquire the centre is because it’s possible to test there all year round – you don’t get much frost in southern Italy.

Nardo’s not just about the infamous high-speed bowl, of course. It also crams a further 20 test circuits into its 700 hectares, including a 3.8-mile layout replicating choice corners from the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and many less enthralling stretches dedicated to tedious durability testing. Incidentally, experts calculate around 3% of a car’s top speed is lost in tyre scrub on the Nardo banking. More recent production car speed records have been set on the flat, at the likes of VW’s Ehra-Lessien proving ground.

Nardo’s set to continue to grow, as Porsche plans ‘extensive expansion and modernisation plans to meet the development requirements of the future’ – so here’s to another 40 years of top-secret top speed.

Click here to read CAR’s original coverage of Porsche’s Nardo purchase.

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer