Our obsession with speed isn’t anything new.
Since the inception of motorised transport humans have chased down the dream of going as fast as possible on land, on water and in the air. The first officially-recorded land speed record was set in 1898, by France’s Jeantaud Duc at 39.24mph. It’s a number that is almost laughable by today’s standards, but at the time I’d imagine it was a terrifying pace.
If you were to retrospectively give the 20th Century a theme, then ‘speed’ would be a fitting one. The past 100+ years have been spent not only chasing down records set by any and all forms of transport, but have also brought with them the ethos that faster equals better. All around us, in our day-to-day lives, we’re surrounded by inventions that exist purely because they get the job done quicker.
Faster is more convenient because it gives us the gift of time.
But we aren’t Speedhunters because of the convenience; speed also equals thrills. If it didn’t, none of us would go fast – let’s face it, would you still risk your life, car, or driving license and/or job if the convenience of arriving quicker, or recording a slightly faster lap was the only reward? The last part is important if you’re seeking bragging rights, but a huge part of why we go fast is because the endorphins that are released when we do motivate us to do so.
If the progressions in automotive technology over the past century-and-a-bit have taught us anything, it’s that we can always go faster. In fact, in recent years I’d say we’ve become a bit numb to the leaps that are made. Barely a month or two goes by without a new Nürburgring lap record being set, under varying categories or guidelines, we’re used to the idea that 1,000hp is a fairly reasonable figure for a modern hypercar, or that your showroom-bought performance sedan can be tweaked to produce 800hp+ and hit over 200mph without breaking a sweat.
Those are all insane statements, but I doubt you’re surprised by any of them.
What did surprise me, was the most recent news that Andy Wallace had taken a Bugatti Chiron past the staggering 300mph mark, hitting 304.77mph on the 5.4-mile straight at Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien testing facility in Germany. This blows the previous hypercar record of 284mph set by the Koenigsegg Agera RS completely out of the water and ticks that vital 300mph barrier off the checklist.
The Chiron was modified significantly to reach this mark, being elongated and lowered with some very trick laser-controller suspension. Other tweaks to the bodywork, exhaust, interior and overall mass were needed, as well as specially-developed tyres and a somewhat-fettled W16 8-litre engine with four turbos strapped to it, producing over 1,500hp. Impressively, the OEM Chiron drivetrain was retained.
Bugatti have confirmed that their latest achievement sees them withdraw from the hypercar top speed race, having achieved what they set out to do. Unfortunately, their achievement (and one that we should celebrate) has been overshadowed this week after we saw the tragic passing of two figureheads in the world of speed. ‘The fastest woman on four wheels’, Jessi Combs, died in a terrible accident in Alvord Desert in Oregon while attempting to break her own land speed record of 398mph. She was gunning for 619mph.
Just a few days later race driver Anthoine Hubert perished at the infamous Eau Rouge at Spa following a horrific crash during the F2 race. Fellow driver Juan Manuel Correa was also involved in the accident, breaking both legs and suffering a spinal injury, but is said to be recovering.
As the pursuit of speed grows exponentially more successfully, the price we pay when it doesn’t go to plan increases significantly. It could be argued that Jessie and Anthoine died doing what they loved, which is as good as we can all hope for.But have we reached the point at which we’re just chasing numbers? And at what point is our addiction to speed, and hearing about the new heights we’ve reached no longer satisfying?
Where do we draw the line? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts below.