Today, former Le Mans racer Andy Wallace hit 304.77 mph in a Bugatti Chiron, not only breaking the record for the fastest production car, but also being the first to reach 300 mph.
How did the Chiron go so much faster than its official 261 mph top speed? Well, like the Veyron before it, the Chiron’s top speed was electronically limited because the tyres couldn’t go any faster without tearing themselves apart with the centrifugal forces. But now Michelin were able to build a special one-off set of Pilot Sport tyres, so they were able to remove the limiter. For good measure the engine was given a mild remap, giving it 1579 hp, 100 hp more than standard. It also has a subtle bodykit produced by Dallara for improved aerodynamics, and a roll cage- not that it would do much to protect you at 300 mph. This modified Chiron will go on sale without the roll cage at some point in the future, possible badged as the SuperSport.
As you can imagine, this wasn’t an easy achievement. The bodykit by Dallara reduced downforce to zero in order to reduce drag, which meant that only the static weight of the car was holding it to the ground- if any panel gaps were too large, not only would it look bad, but air would get trapped inside the bodywork- and at 304 mph, that could cause bodywork to come loose and generate lift, which would be deadly at such speeds.
Also, the centrifugal forces in the tyres that aren’t even noticeable at 200 mph became evident at 300 mph, causing the steering wheel to shake. Have you ever had a tyre become unbalanced while diving at highway speeds? Now imagine the steering wheel shaking like that at 304 mph, more than a third of the speed of sound.
Another difficulty faced by Andy Wallace was the track at Ehra-Lessien, Germany. Specifically, the fact that part of it was re-paved. At normal highway speeds, there’s bump so small that it wouldn’t wake a sleeping baby. But the Chiron hit this part of the track at 277 mph, causing the car to catch some air. If that doesn’t sound terrifying enough, get this: it took several attempts to reach 304 mph- in all the attempts, the Chiron became unsettled by crosswinds while in the air.
After four days, Wallace was able to hit 299 mph, but was determined to reach 300 mph. So he went for one last go. In this last attempt, there was less crosswinds at the “jump,” allowing him to keep his right foot down, instead of having to settle the car. It was this attempt that he hit 304 mph. Wallace knew he hit his target before the rest of the Bugatti team. Turns out that 304 mph is too fast for the speed traps to process in real time.
Could the Chiron have gone faster? Yes. At 5.4 miles, the straight at Ehra-Lessien is the longest of any track in the world but according to Wallace, it was the limiting factor.
So will VW be extending the straight section of the Ehra-Lessien track? Not of you believe Bugatti. Now that they’re going down in history has the first car manufacturer to reach 300 mph, they are no longer going to pursue top speed records.
Let’s see how long that will last.