x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

At a neck-snapping 431kph, Bugatti once again raises the bar

The Veyron Super Sport breaks the speed record for a production car on Volkswagen's top secret test facility in Wolfsburg.

The Bugatti Veyron on the test track in Germany.
The Bugatti Veyron on the test track in Germany.

June 26; it's a clear, bright and warm Saturday near Wolfsburg in Germany and, while almost every man in the cosmos is deliberating the World Cup, a team of dedicated perfectionists is busy at Volkswagen's top-secret test facility at Ehra-Lessien. This is a place built during the Cold War, deliberately within a no-fly zone near the East German border to keep away prying eyes. There are signs everywhere telling you that anything you might be thinking of doing is verboten. It has more than 95km of private track, including a straight section that's 8.8km long - so long, in fact, that you can't see the end of it because it follows the curvature of the earth.

This team is here preparing a car for a run. Made from carbon fibre, it has been painted with a clear lacquer while the wheels and other parts of its expensive bodywork are bright orange. At 2pm local time, driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel will enter it into the history books, when it sets an independently verified world speed record, averaging 431kph. World records, like rules, are meant to be broken. And when the Bugatti Veyron tore onto the scene back in 2005, it grabbed headlines the world over because it achieved one thing: it was officially the fastest production car on earth. Suddenly the 386kph McLaren F1 had been trumped and the new kid on the block (after a long, difficult and protracted birth) ruled. Human nature being what it is, though, it was obvious that, sooner or later, other manufacturers would try to steal the Veyron's crown.

The problem with the Veyron's record was that the term "production car" was - and still is - a vague one. Recently, there have been a number of claims to the title of world's fastest car from the likes of German tuners such as Ruf, 9ff and others, but in reality their efforts are nothing more than interesting one-offs. And, in all honesty, even if these cars could outperform a standard Veyron in a straight line, would you be brave enough to attempt a flat-out run in one? Or would the might of the Volkswagen empire instil a level of confidence in you - secure in the knowledge that untold millions had been spent to make the Bugatti safe and reliable?

The Veyron is all about numbers. 1,001 horsepower, 16 cylinders, four turbochargers, 10 radiators, seven speeds, four driven wheels and, of course, a 407kph top speed. And those numbers have just been given a shot of adrenaline, because this new Bugatti Veyron - the Super Sport - has raised the bar once again. We've seen special, limited edition Veyrons before, but they've been cosmetic overhauls more than anything else. A year ago, Bugatti was saying that the then-new Grand Sport, with its removable roof panel, was the final hurrah for the Veyron and that, apart from a new sports exhaust system, there wouldn't be any further development of the range. So no mention whatsoever that there was another, more powerful Veyron waiting in the wings.

For some people, the standard Veyron's 1,001hp was obviously not enough and Bugatti does have previous form when it comes to satisfying customer demands for more extreme performance. Decades ago, the founder, Ettore Bugatti, was often asked to squeeze more power from a car by customers, particularly if that model had been a success on the race track. And so it was today that customers started requesting a more powerful Veyron. They got one.

This isn't some minor upgrade - it's a comprehensive overhaul. It now produces 1,200hp (that's a 20 per cent increase) and 1,500Nm of torque from its gargantuan W16 engine, thanks to its four turbos and intercoolers being larger than before. The chassis has been extensively redesigned to cope with this extra power, with new dampers and spring rates. And there are external modifications, too, in aid of aerodynamic stability. The Super Sport's engine gulps in the fresh air via two NACA cooling ducts set within the roof, rather than through the normal scoops. The front air intakes have been reshaped and expanded, while at the rear there's a double diffuser and a new, central exhaust system.

Inside the Super Sport, it's carbon fibre central - an effect you either love or hate, and there's contrasting orange stitching on the black leather upholstery to match the paint colour scheme. Again, this might be a bit much for your palate but, when you're spending this much on a car, you can have it pretty much however you want. During its testing, the Super Sport reaches a top speed of 427.9kph in one direction, then 431kph on the way back. The officials from the Guinness Book of World Records and Germany's transport department recorded these figures as a 431kph average and, suddenly, there's a new yardstick for the world to measure a car's performance by.

The production version (five have already been sold) will have an electronically limited top speed of 415kph. This is because, frankly, tyre technology hasn't caught up yet. In fact, it's been widely known that the one thing no Veyron has ever proved is just how fast it could go without its limiter, given enough space and the right tyres. What we do know, beyond any doubt, is that the world's fastest production car is, once again, the Bugatti Veyron - even with a limiter in place. How long that record will last is anyone's guess. motoring@thenational.ae