To Top Out the Bugatti Chiron, You Need NASA’s Help

A former space shuttle runway recently became a venue for top-speed hypercar hijinks

June 5, 2023 5:03 pm
Car speeding fast down road.
The Bugatti Chiron is a 1,578-horsepower coupe that can top out at 240 miles per hour.

It’s one thing to be able to buy a multi-million dollar hypercar, but figuring out what to do with it is another matter. Such is the case with owners of the Bugatti Chiron, a 1,578-horsepower coupe with the ability to top out at 240 miles per hour, a speed that’s simply unachievable on any public road or readily accessible race track. To find a solution, Bugatti had to reach for the stars. 

The French hypercar producer recently held a customer experience event at Kennedy Space Center in central Florida to make use of the Launch and Landing Facility, a former NASA Space Shuttle landing strip. 

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It may be difficult to relate to anyone with the scratch to buy a Bugatti Chiron let alone empathize with their inability to find a place to play with their million-dollar toys, but as car fans, we can take some solace that these automotive marvels are at least being put to use and not languishing in a collector’s garage. What we can at least appreciate is when a sports car manufacturer offers up programs like the Ferrari Corso Pilota driving school or Lamborghini’s driving experiences. These not only give owners a safe venue to put their mighty machines to the test, but they’re also given instructions on how to use them properly and keep them from learning their limits the hard way, often on public roads.

Stretching over three miles and meant to catch NASA’s orbiter vehicle as it glided back to earth after plummeting from space, the runway for Bugatti’s customer experience event is one of the few terrestrial places where the $3,300,000 Chiron can hit its max speed of 400 kmh (or roughly 248 mph). 

Suitability goes beyond length. Bugatti itself tests its vehicles at parent company Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien test track, a 6.2-mile course in Lower Saxony, Germany. Though ideal for testing, the Launch and Landing Facility’s runway is much wider and more open than the tree-lined test track, and thus a relatively safer venue for non-professional test drivers. 

Even with this at hand, there’s more to just stomping on the pedal to fully unleash the Chiron. First off, Bugatti’s own driving instructors, the Bugatti Pilote Officiel, had to prime each owner with instructions on how to handle the car at such high speeds and what to expect when they got there. After all, when the Bugatti tops out, it will be covering a distance of 1.25 football fields every second. There are also other factors as how the G-force load at 248 mph affects the body, what drivers need to focus on, and even how the haze of heat dissipating off the runway could disorient them as they sail toward the horizon at nearly a third of the speed of sound. 

As the space shuttles once did before leaving terra firma, the Chiron needs to go through a number of sequences before it can launch. The car’s “top speed mode” is unlocked using a separate key, specially coded to unlock the Bugatti’s full potential. Once inserted, the Chiron goes through a number of systems checks to make sure everything is optimized for a top-speed run. If so, the Bugatti slumps into a low drag position and the driver can then engage the Chiron’s launch control. When the car finds the optimal rev range, its four tires bite the tarmac and take off. 

Each owner left the experience with a helmet inscribed with their top speed as a memento of the occasion, among other personalized mementos. It’s unclear at this stage if Bugatti will repeat the event or have similar ones in the future, but we’ll be counting our pennies in the meantime. How much would you be willing to spend for a chance to drive at 248 mph?

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