Andy Wallace and three record-breaking Bugs: an hour very well spent
Time spent chatting to Andy Wallace, production car speed record holder, proved very interesting indeed
It’s Goodwood Festival of Speed week, and several days before the event begins in earnest, the air is filled with car-based joy. Wouldn’t it be great if the pervading mood of the wider nation could emulate the optimism and happy anticipation of this mighty Sussex event, 29 years old this year? Two decades ago, in these pages, we first began to suggest that Goodwood had assumed the role of formal, exhibition-based motor shows and the trend has continued nearly every year.
This week, an unprecedented number of us are attending pre-Goodwood events in London and the south-east, most staged by car makers keen to publicise new models or company developments in the Goodwood orbit, the most effective way they know. For a Covid-ravaged year or two, we wondered whether Goodwood’s progress might be abating. Thankfully, it isn’t.
My strike-affected struggle into central London yielded a brilliant result: I spent an hour shooting the breeze with Bugatti ambassador and masterdriver Andy Wallace, and taking a close look at three record-breaking Bugattis – two Veyrons and a Chiron – that Wallace and colleagues were to run at the weekend. As well as being a winning endurance racer, Wallace is Bugatti’s chief record breaker: in 2019, he achieved 304.773mph in a Bugatti Chiron on road tyres at the Volkswagen Group’s legendary 20km Ehra-Lessien track.
He’s impressively expert at the physics of it all. At 300mph, the Bug structure has to withstand two tonnes of downforce, balancing two tonnes of lift. Each tyre must cope with seven tonnes of rotational force trying to tear it off the rim. The car feels “pretty normal” up to 250-260mph, he says, but above that, massive forces change the tyres’ shape and negate the suspension geometry. Steering inputs become “weirder” and there’s no self-centring, so you have to go very, very carefully.
Under the circumstances, you might think no one’s likely to advance this record, but Wallace says the Chiron is still accelerating at the end of Ehra’s main straight. And I’ve just noticed that 310mph corresponds to a nice round 500kph. One more heave perhaps?
Bentley has just announced that it will build (and has already sold) a dozen Speed Six toolroom replicas, identical in detail to the racing-spec cars that won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930. The plan is a kind of redemption for company founder WO Bentley, who preferred bigger engines as a means of making cars go fast, rather than the supercharging espoused by Amherst Villiers and Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin for the famous Blower. The Blower was never a winner: it was the Speed Six that brought home the silverware.
My first instinct is to disapprove of such recreations, along with the C-Types, D-Types and XKSSs lately created by Jaguar. But I also wonder what purpose it serves to be po-faced about it. After all, I’d love a chance to drive any of them. And were I in the bracket, I’d own a ‘new’ Speed Six for sure. I’ll buy a sheaf of lottery tickets in good time for the next one…
My favourite Twitter stats account, Car Industry Analysis (@lovecarindustry), reveals the staggering news that the Tesla Model 3 was the world’s ninth-best-selling car last year, with a 508,000 total volume that puts it only about 10% behind the Ford F-150 pick-up. That particularly knocked my socks off, because the last time I Iooked around, the F-150 was the world’s biggest-selling vehicle, with sales of close to a million. And over the years, I’ve heard a succession of industry bigwigs say: “You don’t think we’re going to leave this EV market to Elon Musk, do you?” But so far, they’ve hardly dented him.
And another thing
Driving cars during rail strike days – as I’ve been forced to do a couple of times – has been grim, but I’ve been impressed by the polite resignation of fellow drivers. Chaos has not ensued, which gives you faith in human nature. Mind you, the smug expressions of the pedestrians overtaking us has been a bit wearing.