At speeds above 400km/h, phenomenal forces are exerted on every area of a car and the human body must learn to quickly adapt to a velocity at which it was never designed to be subjected.
The tyres alone must withstand around five tons of outward pressure, with a 44g sensor weighing the equivalent of 132 kg. It is, in every sense, an engineering marvel and a once-in-a-lifetime experience being made possible by Bugatti for a few close customers.
While Bugatti was performing Straight Line Aerodynamic Testing with JBPG at Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility, located in Kennedy Space Center, Florida, this selection of Bugatti drivers were given a thrilling opportunity.
A batch of Bugatti Chiron Super Sport1 hypercars were specially prepared to take to a 4.8km stretch of historic tarmac, once used as the landing facility for the Space Shuttle. Markers on the ground to this day reveal exactly where each of the Shuttle missions stopped on its return. There’s a palpable sense of history and achievement here, and each of the drivers is keen to write his own page in this decades-long story.
The experience was inspired by the vision of Ferdinand Piëch for the original Bugatti Veyron, who challenged engineers to build a car that could drive 400km/h in the morning and accompany its owner to the opera in the evening.
Christophe Piochon, President of Bugatti Automobiles, who attended the 400 Drive, said: “Just a few years ago achieving 400km/h required months of careful preparation, the very best motorsport drivers and the most favorable conditions. For a very long time no production car could get anywhere near that speed, even for a moment.
“But today, in the world of our meticulously engineered and designed Bugatti hyper sports cars, we opened up this performance to our customers in absolute safety and allow them something that very few people will ever have, and most of them even had a chance to experience this with their own car. This kind of moment is part of the incomparable magic of Bugatti.”
Before their first runs, drivers underwent an intensive information session with a Bugatti Pilote Officiel, to prepare for both the physical and mental strains they will go through.
At 400km/h you cover the distance of 1.25 football fields every second, and your body will experience over 1G of longitudinal force during full-throttle acceleration, while your eyes will struggle to pinpoint the braking boards among the heat haze rising from the runway.
But, with a background in elite motorsport, the Pilote Officiel offered them valuable guidance on staying focused, and on the unusual feeling of allowing the car to wander at high speeds rather than try to steer it at roughly a third of the speed of sound.
With the drivers rearing to go, the cars’ Top Speed Keys were activated. This can only be used if the car’s automatic systems detect conditions are safe. The Top Speed Key moves the car into low-drag position, with the ride height and the rear wing lowered, and front-axle downforce reduced through the repositioning of two hydraulically-actuated flaps ahead of the front wheels.
What’s it like to drive a Bugatti at 400km/h?
With the driver’s left foot on the brake and the accelerator pressed all the way to the floor, Chiron Super Sport’s 1 177kW, W16 quad-turbo engine automatically finds the ideal revs for the optimal launch.
Pinned back into the seat, the driver must hold tightly on to the steering wheel as the four huge tyres transfer the car’s power to the tarmac. The Chiron Super Sport climbs through the gears of its bespoke seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and just 11 seconds later it’s travelling at 300km/h.
The howling wind begins to envelop the cabin, as the Chiron’s aerodynamically honed body pierces through the air but the driver’s focus remains straight ahead watching the horizon as it accelerates towards them.
And yet the Chiron continues to gain speed, holding on to sixth gear right past the 400km/h mark and only finding its final ratio at 403km/h.
With the driver’s heart beating fast, eyes wide as the scenery flashes by, the accelerator remains pinned to the floor. Although the Super Sport has more to give, the 3 mile runway is fast running out, and the driver hits the brake pedal to call the large carbon ceramic brakes into action, pressed hard against the seatbelt.
The roar of tires on asphalt, the howl of the wind and the noise of the mighty W16 all begin to fade away, and breathing hard the driver’s perception of speed has forever changed.
With that, a once historic milestone is broken with ease.
Evan Cygler, Brand Manager of Bugatti Greenwich, said: “To travel at 400km/h and above you need absolute confidence in the car. It’s an intense and exhilarating experience that depends on you and the car being in peak condition and fortunate enough to have the perfect environmental conditions; not too windy, nor too hot, not too wet.“
Leaving Space Florida’s Launch and Landing Facility, each of the experience’s participants was given a tailored Bugatti race suit, embroidered with their name, and a unique Bugatti race helmet inscribed with the top speed they achieved. These are the souvenirs that will remind them of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, carried along with the memories of a day that will never fade.