We Still Need Speed: Hope for a High-Speed Future
Instead of nitpicking things to death, we'd rather celebrate.
"As soon as the 450-kph [280-mph] milestone has been established as the new benchmark, 500 kph [311 mph] will be the next focus. That's the direction progress takes, like it or not. "—Wolfgang Dürheimer
When the news broke that a specially prepped Bugatti Chiron had reached 304.773 mph (490 kph) at the Ehra-Lessien track in Germany—coming tantalizingly close to eclipsing the mythical 500-kph barrier—I was reminded of Dürheimer's pronouncement, made to us during a Chiron shakedown drive back in 2016.
Although he's no longer Bugatti's head man (former Lamborghini chief Stephan Winkelmann has since assumed the role), Dürheimer was a driving force behind the Chiron's development. He knew it had to go faster than the Veyron it replaced. During that same shakedown drive in '16, he also made a point to highlight that the Chiron's speedometer had a 500-kph limit. It was clearer than fine crystal: They were going there.
Why? For bragging rights, of course, to say it built the world's fastest production car. And so all those 0.001-percenters would buy the new model. But it was Dürheimer's assertion about progress that struck me more than anything: Humans will continue pushing to go ever faster because that's what we do.
It's been that way since the advent of the automobile: Everyone has been chasing speed from the first crank of the engine. The truly addicted turned to racing each other to get an even bigger fix, and motorsport was born. There have since been uncountable triumphs and tragedies, technological breakthroughs, and trials by fire—all in the name of exploring the outer limits of performance.
Speed, of course, is measured in different ways, and one measurement can mean more to some than others. There's zero to 60 mph and the quarter-mile, quickest lap time, and terminal velocity. But no matter how you define it, there's something inherently exhilarating about the feeling you get when you go fast.
I'll never forget my first time ripping around a track. It was at a Mario Andretti-branded school at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an open-wheel car. I followed an instructor for a couple of hot laps and managed to exceed 150 mph. When it was over, I had a stupid grin on my face for hours afterward. I wanted to strap right back in and lap LVMS all night.
That feeling you get when you're ripping along on a circuit or attacking your favorite stretch of road is such a high that Ford, through its Ford Performance division, has started a campaign around it called Speed Therapy. Yes, it's part of a marketing shtick designed to showcase how cool go-fast Fords are, but when you watch the people after they hop out of the vehicle, there is genuine joy on their faces. I imagine that's probably what I looked like that long-ago night in Las Vegas. While I'm not exactly sure this Speed Therapy thing will actually take off (would the therapist ride shotgun?), the videos serve as a real-world example of how primal the feeling can be.
I imagine the team that toiled to achieve the Chiron's top speed run felt something similar when it learned the car crested 300 mph. The Chiron is already an incredibly impressive achievement in its own right. Yes, few of us will ever come near one, let alone drive it. And yes, the internet watercooler was ablaze with armchair engineers who pooh-poohed the tires used, claiming that it didn't do what it needed to do in order to set a proper production-car top-speed record, etc. But achievements like this should be celebrated. We should be standing up and applauding.
Because what the Chiron and Ford's Speed Therapy so aptly illustrate is that people still care deeply about going fast and cars that go faster. We argue over what the fastest car is, who the quickest race driver is. We were all once those newbie drivers like the folks who jumped out of those Fords after a few laps all wide-eyed, talking excitedly about the experience.
The good news is that as we move from the traditionally powered to the electrified vehicle, things don't appear to be slowing down. Case in point: the Chiron-fighting, 1,972-horsepower Lotus Evija. It's yet another low-volume, high-dollar hypercar we might never drive, but we'll marvel at its performance regardless. Even better, many of the EVs arriving on the scene now, like the Porsche Taycan and Jaguar I-Pace, are fast, fun performers that are attainable to a far broader range of buyers, and even more affordable options are on the way.
It's enough to make an automotive enthusiast think there's hope for a high-speed future. That reminds me, I need to call my therapist to see if he can meet me at the track next week.