Speed, especially extremely high speeds, can get pretty abstract. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to wrap my head around anything faster than 150 mph, which is the speed most commercial airplanes reach when they take off. So when Bugatti announced today that its Chiron hypercar has smashed through the 300 mph barrier, my brain just found it difficult to accept that such a thing was possible.
Fortunately there’s video! Here’s Andy Wallace, Le Mans winner and Bugatti test driver, reaching a top speed of 304.773 mph (490.484 km/h) on August 2nd on the VW-owned test track at Ehra-Lessien in the German state of Lower Saxony.
To put it in more relatable terms, 300 mph is fast enough to cover the length of a football field — doesn’t matter which version of football you prefer — in less than a second. Of course it’s more about bragging rights than any real-world applications. You don’t ever need to go that fast, at least not outside the Fast and Furious cinematic universe. But it’s not just about what’s possible: there just aren’t enough straight lines in the world long enough to let a person hit such ludicrous speeds.
Still, breaking such a speed record raises important questions, such as “how did they do it without just completely flying apart?” According to Bugatti, Wallace worked his way up to the top speed from 300 km/h in 50 km/h increments “to make sure all the conditions were right and the Chiron was optimally balanced in terms of lift and downforce.” You see, when you start to approach airplane-takeoff speeds, you have to worry about things like, well, taking off into the air.
“At that kind of speed, normally airplanes are flying in the air,” said Stefan Ellrott, head of development at Bugatti. “You have to make sure the car stays on the ground.”
The news was reported exclusively by Top Gear, which notes that the velocity was verified by the TÜV – Germany’s Technical Inspection Association. That means Bugatti beat records previously set by SSC (256.18 mph, 2007), Hennessey (270.49 mph, 2013) and Koenigsegg (284.55 mph, 2017).
Wallace was driving a prototype version of the Chiron that is not yet available for you and your billionaire pals to scoop up — at least not yet. The original Chiron was introduced in 2016 with a rating of 0 to 100 km/h in less than 2.5 seconds, 16 cylinders with four turbochargers, a total power output of 1,500 horsepower, and a $3 million price tag. Last year, the French automaker released a Chiron Sport that weighed about 40 pounds less but cost $260,000 more than a normal Chiron.
Back in 2016, The Verge published an account of what it was like to drive 200 mph. “You’re basically in the death zone,” auto columnist Jason Harper wrote for us. Would that make 300 mph beyond death? At the very least Andy Wallace should be able to tell us what the future is like.