Great Drive: 2010 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport

Ingo Barenschee

After the motorway turnoff toward Pescara, the landscape opens up. Time to hit the Sport button, which triggers the kind of acceleration only F1 drivers are familiar with. With the throttle floored, 0 to 124 mph is a 7.3-second affair. A mere fourteen seconds later, the car can break through the 200-mph barrier. At 137 mph, handling mode engages, which means a lower ride height, open front diffuser flaps, and a fully raised rear wing. We now carry 772 pounds of downforce, which gradually decreases to 88 pounds at top speed. The flap angle varies between 2 degrees at 253 mph and 55 degrees in the air-brake position. When the aero deceleration aid stands tall, the drag coefficient almost doubles, from 0.39 to 0.68. Do you ever need it? You bet you do. The mighty tail wing will not only dispose of surplus energy with aplomb, it also enhances high-speed directional stability.

Just before we reach the coast, it starts raining. At first, it's only a drizzle, but then thunder and lightning announce a proper downpour. Since the chase car is miles behind, we seek shelter at a service station. Officially, the part-time umbrella roof will go flying at 100 mph, but according to Raphanel, the canvas cap is actually safe up to 155 mph, when a speed limiter prevents the device from deploying as a parachute. By the time we manage to push the parasol's six stubborn spider legs into place, the sun is shining again.

Although the other car's crew didn't get soaked, there was occasionally enough standing water on the road to turn their Veyron into a Jet Ski. In these conditions, the 265-section-width front tires hydroplaned at only 70 mph, and the 365-section rear tires also experienced grip and traction problems. Why? Bugatti has opted for extreme tire sizes, and it chose PAX run-flat Michelin Pilot Sport rubber with semislick treads. The tailor-made tires - which cost about $25,000 per set of four, including the requisite PAX-specific new wheels - have a mere 5/32-inch of tread depth to minimize flexing at high velocities. To ensure that the Veyron's heavy tail remains securely in line, the Grand Sport exhibits slow turn-in response and early understeer.

At lunchtime, our Bugatti convoy reaches Pescara. On the narrow roads high above the city, the Veyron feels like a shark in a goldfish bowl - overpowered, too wide, not sufficiently maneuverable. Despite four-wheel drive, it isn't easy to lay down 922 lb-ft of torque when the glassy tarmac is coated with a treacherous mix of rubber, sand, and diesel residue. In this terrain, the two differentials struggle to sort the handling balance, cope with the massive first- and second-gear thrust, and reduce wind-up and shock. The complex suspension geometry and the tight wheelhouse packaging fight each other for space, which is why the turning circle is more than forty feet.

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