Speed Kings

sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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Memorial Day Weekend; it's a feast for speed freaks. At Indy, Dario Franchitti splashed his way to an emotional win in the 500. Down NASCAR way, Casey Mears won the Coca-Cola 600 under Charlotte lights. And before most people on the West Coast had awakened, McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton obliterated the Formula 1 competition on the streets of Monaco, sweeping the top spots on the podium.

With all that action, who needed to get away from the TV?

We did; we had some fun of our own planned. On the 15,500-ft. north runway of the Naval Air Station Lemoore in California's San Joaquin Valley, with the assistance of the U.S. Navy, we staged another big performance contest — a test of unbridled acceleration from a standing start to 200 mph. Six supercars, with one simple mission: to hit 200 mph as quickly as possible. Call it the World's First Supercar Drag Race.

- Lamborghini Murciélago
- Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
- Ruf Rt 12
- Lingenfelter Corvette
- Bugatti Veyron 16.4
- Hennessey Venom 1000 Twin Turbo Viper

Some of you may recall the Standing Mile test we did at NAS Lemoore for our September 2005 issue. This test is different. No race cars or motorcycles this time, just six very potent cars — some stock, some heavily tuned, but all on DOT tires — each with a claimed top speed in excess of 200 mph. Each is a car you could conceivably see on the street. And one of them, to our giddy delight, is the almighty Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Just to see that technology-packed 1001-bhp supercar slingshot down the strip was reason enough to make the 250-mile drive to Lemoore.

But we also had five other impressive cars capable of hitting the double-century mark. Our Italian quota was satisfied by a beautiful pearlescent yellow Lamborghini Murciélago, on loan from James Chen, owner of Axis Wheels. From Germany, a Ruf Rt 12, painted Yellow Bird Yellow and — in the proper Ruf tradition — driven to the test by its owner, John Lotz. Although Ferrari and Lamborghini turned down our invitation to participate in the test, Mercedes-Benz gladly supplied us with an SLR McLaren. And on the tuner front, we were delighted to have an 880-bhp twin-turbo Lingenfelter C6 Corvette on hand, plus one of John Hennessey's Venom 1000 Twin Turbo Vipers, a coupe making 1100 peak horsepower at the rear wheels. To underscore the potency of our group, consider this: We had a Porsche 911 Turbo at our office at the time, but it wasn't welcome. Too slow; its top speed is only 193....

Also, bear in mind that it takes gobs of power to reach 200 mph. The air resistance grows with the square of speed. Stick your hand out the side window of your car at 60 mph and feel the resistance. At 180, that force will be nine times stronger, should you be foolish enough to give it a try. Don't. And at 200, it will have more than 11 times the force! What's more, because the power requirement of a car grows with the cube of speed, this means it will need 37 times more power to go 200 mph than to maintain 60. It boggles the mind.

Our test driver, as before, was Steve Millen, who's no stranger to life at 200. In fact, at Le Mans in 1990, the Americanized Kiwi recalls that his Nissan R90CK hit 200-plus mph four times per lap. Joining Steve and the rest of the R&T crew at Lemoore was Gary Ruede from Discount Tire, who made sure all the tires were in excellent shape, properly rated for the speeds and loads we'd see, and inflated to safe pressures.

Our instructions to Steve were simple: Launch the car as best you can, drive it like you own it, and take it to 200 mph as quickly as possible. If the car hits 200 before one mile, continue accelerating through the mile so we can get a standing-mile result. If the car doesn't reach 200 by one mile, continue accelerating until it hits that speed. At the 2-mile marker, however, Steve must slow, no matter the speed reached. Remember, at 200 mph, a car travels 293.3 feet per second, nearly the length of a football field. This way, we had plenty of cool-down room and no need for heavy braking.

Before attending our test via these pages — or by checking out the fantastic videos on our website — close your eyes for a moment and envision these cars thrusting off the line, leaving small wispy piles of black tire dust on the concrete. As the cars streak down the Lemoore runway, they're reduced to tiny dots on the horizon by about a mile, then they soon disappear. Is it the curvature of the earth causing this? Or the shimmering heat waves? We're not sure, but you'll still be hearing the engines at full song as the cars streak to 200, their tires slapping out an ever-quickening tempo on the runway's sectional concrete surface. The image is surreal, not unlike the otherworldly acceleration of these supercars. Now the cars, in ascending order of performance, based on 0–200-mph times.
 

sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: GO HOME!

This sleek Italian beauty, a 2002 model, had the advantage of running first in the coolest morning air. And according to our May 2002 road test, this is a 205-mph car. But not today, as the big Lambo struggles in its attempt to hit 200. The all-wheel-drive exotic gets out of the hole very well, hitting 60 mph as quickly as the Ruf Rt 12. But after three runs at different times of the day, Millen finally gives up, stating that it's only getting warmer and that the mid-engine Lamborghini simply won't go much past 190. Our VBOX GPS data concur, showing that the Murciélago tops out at 190.1 mph, right at the 2-mile mark.

"It definitely pulls extremely strong, this car," says Steve after his first run. "It went through the mile at about 175 but it just didn't seem to have much after that."

Steve's right. The Lambo, at the 1-mile mark, is already sailing along at 171.6 mph. But in the next full mile, it gains only 18.5 mph, peaking at 190.1 mph.

What gives?

We can't say for sure. The car has nearly 15,000 miles on its clock and may not be in optimal tune, but it runs well. And although Steve says he doesn't particularly like the car's classic metal shift gate — which doesn't help the speed of his shifting — that shouldn't really affect the car's top speed.

Here's what we suspect: Chen put aftermarket wheels and tires on his Lambo, replacing the stock front 235/35ZR-18s with 235/35ZR-19s and the stock 335/30ZR-18 rears with 345/25ZR-20s. While this makes the car look sharp, the net effect is a car that rides about a half-inch higher front and rear, effectively making for taller gearing and also compromising the car's aerodynamics.

Nevertheless, the Lambo puts in a strong performance, and although we would have rather tested a new 6.5-liter 640-bhp LP640, we very much appreciate Chen making his 580-bhp 6.2-liter Murciélago available to us, and we like the way he uses it as a daily driver. A 190-mph daily driver, that is.
 

sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: GO HOME!



In grade school math, weren't we taught to always round up anything .5 and above to the nearest whole number? Thought so. Therefore, the SLR McLaren, which reaches 199.5 mph at our 2-mile limit, qualifies as a 200-mph car in this test.

Sorry, we're more exact than that. On four separate runs, the supercharged carbon-chassis SLR blows past the 2-mile marker at a speed topping 199 mph. That's impressive consistency, if not quite the velocity we hoped to see. The sleek Mercedes with the hand-built supercharged V-8 launches quietly and with minimal wheelspin (Mercedes says it's best to leave the traction control on), but it's just not quite able to reach 200 in 2 miles, even though the SLR has a claimed top speed of 207 mph.

After two nearly identical runs (one letting the car shift automatically, the other using the shift buttons on the back of the steering wheel), Steve pulls back into the paddock. "The peak speed at 2 miles was about identical in each of those runs. My launch didn't seem like the best, but I don't think it makes much difference in overall speed. This car seems to get to 180 pretty quickly, then it takes another mile to reach 199."

Again, Steve is right. Our data show that at 1 mile, the SLR is traveling at 181.2 mph. Over the next mile — in a performance much like the Lambo's — the car gains only 18.6 mph. What's more, Steve complains that "at around 185 mph, the SLR starts to wander a wee bit. It gets your attention. It feels like it's packing air under its nose."

He may be on to something. The Mercedes folks had fitted this SLR with 18-in. winter wheels thought to create less drag than the stock 19-in. ones, which have special blade-shape spokes that work as fans to extract air from under the car for added downforce. The 18s, they presumed, would have less drag because the car wouldn't be getting sucked closer to the ground. However, this means the nose of the car on 18s is likely higher, creating that feeling Steve noticed of air getting stuffed under the nose of the car.

After a couple more tries — this time shifting manually, with traction control off and switching from the Sport to Comfort suspension mode for added grip at the start — the SLR comes back each time at essentially the same speed. Lending further credence to Millen's belief, it's interesting to note that Mercedes fits the latest SLR, the 722, with a deeper carbon-fiber front splitter that increases front downforce by 128 percent at top speed. That new spoiler, we're fairly confident, would put this production SLR, a 2-year-old test car with 4000 miles, well above the 200-mph mark.
 

sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: 35.5 seconds



Before Millen goes out in the 650-bhp awd Rt 12, Ruf's 12th version of a turbocharged Porsche, we expected Ruf technician Andreas Wetzer to offer specific instructions on how to get the best performance out of the car. But like his boss, Alois Ruf, Herr Wetzer is a man of few words.

All he says to Steve: "Everything is fine. This car is easier to drive than Yellow Bird [the famous Ruf that won our 1987 World's Fastest Cars test and did so well at our 2005 Standing Mile at Lemoore]." Steve no doubt agrees. With wastegates chirping at each 7000-rpm upshift, the Porsche 911-based Ruf takes less than a mile and a half of real estate to reach the magical 200-mph mark, and no car in our test, with the possible exception of the Bugatti, reaches that speed with anything approaching the calm and composure of the Rt 12.

Says Millen: "It's just effortless, this car. There's no turbo lag. It has a nice broad powerband. It's just really nice. It doesn't even feel that you're really going that fast."

Steve does two runs back to back, and finds that there's not a lot of grip on the Lemoore concrete. Even so, the car — which is powered by a dry-sump twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-6 — puts in a 0–60-mph run of 3.8 sec. and a quarter-mile blast of 11.6 sec. at 127.2 mph. And when he comes back, he's still happy: 
"I hit about 185 at the mile marker. This 
really is a super car. It's so stable. It's comfortable. Up around 200 mph, which is at about 
a mile and a half, the car just tracks perfectly down the middle of the runway, so there's 
absolutely nothing to be concerned about."

Of note, once past the 5280-ft. mile marker, where the beautifully built Rt 12 hits 187.5 mph in 28.1 sec., the car takes an additional 7.4 sec. and 2104 ft. to reach 200. While that may seem like a long distance to gain only 12.5 mph, be aware of this: At 187.5 mph, the Ruf is gobbling up lots of real estate at the rate of 275 ft. every second. So yes, this composed everyday driver is a quick car.

In fact, owner John Lotz, who drove the Ruf from his home in Southern California, picked up the Rt 12 from Ruf in Germany last year and enjoyed it on a European vacation with his wife, even spending some time in the Alps. Says Lotz: "The reason I have a Ruf, and the reason my car is Yellow Bird Yellow, is because of Road & Track." We must renew this man's subscription....
 
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sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: 26.5 seconds



For their size, Corvettes are light. And when you fit one of Chevrolet's 3290-lb. sports cars with an especially powerful engine — say, a twin-turbo Lingenfelter Performance Engineering 7.0-liter V-8 with 880 bhp — these cars fly. And that's exactly what this Lingenfelter C6 Corvette does, blasting to 200 mph in 26.5 sec. at a distance of 4894 ft., nearly 2500 ft. less than the Ruf.

With the second-best power-to-weight ratio in the group, the Lingenfelter Corvette, a customer-owned car that has been fitted with LPE's Mini Tub Kit to accommodate the wide 345/30ZR-19 rear tires, doesn't surprise us with its speed. But unfortunately, we know it can go faster. On its first run — when it's fair to state that Millen was still getting used to launching this incredibly powerful car, and the LPE folks had yet to fit the car with their DOT-legal BFGoodrich drag slicks — the Corvette shoots past our ambulance crew and photographers at a wicked-quick pace, but trailing wisps of white smoke.

Seemingly worse, when the Corvette — the loudest car in our group by far, and the most like a race car — pulls back into our temporary paddock, it leaves a small but ominous pool of oil on the runway. Not good, and when the LPE folks can't pinpoint the leak, they decide — for safety and to avoid risking any mechanical trouble — to retire the car, which was running about 17 lb. of boost during its run.

Millen is nevertheless impressed: "It's amazing. This thing has so much torque. So much power. A lot more pull than I expected. I went through the mile marker at about 201. The biggest problem is getting traction, trying to get it hooked up. Even in 3rd and 4th gears, it just wants to break the wheels free. And it wasn't until halfway through 3rd gear that I could actually go flat. It just has that much torque and power."

Upon further inspection back at the shop in Decatur, Indiana, LPE learns more about the oil leak: An O-ring valve cover gasket on one of the engine's LS7 heads had come askew, letting out a surprisingly large amount of oil. This was the first time anybody from LPE had seen this happen, and although we're frustrated that it likely could have been fixed at Lemoore that day, we're happy it wasn't more serious. All the more reason for Lingenfelter to come back to Lemoore again, we say, and perhaps challenge the two cars you'll read about next.
 
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sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: 24.2 seconds



Are you surprised that the 1001-bhp Bugatti Veyron 16.4 wasn't quickest to 200? We are too, especially given that this all-wheel-drive exotic is the fastest production car we've ever tested (February 2007). And it's pretty well known that one of Molsheim's missiles hit 253 mph at Volks-wagen's Ehra-Lessien track in Germany.

Although Lemoore doesn't have the room for an absolute top-speed test in the Bugatti, the Veyron still puts on a great show. Sounding as if it's powered by a whirring jet engine, the Veyron launches with such authority that Millen says he can actually feel the skin tighten on his face. What's more, for an instant on the first launch, the force is so strong that he momentarily loses visual acuity. That's scary quick.

After experimenting with power-braking the takeoff and ensuring that Launch Control and Top Speed mode are both properly engaged (the latter via a separate key on the driver's-side doorsill), Millen makes some good runs. With brake and throttle depressed simultaneously, the engine builds boost as it revs to about 4700 rpm. At that point Millen releases the brake and keeps the Veyron's throttle floored for the remainder of the run, letting the 7-speed DSG gearbox upshift as needed and the traction control manage grip at all four massive contact patches.

It's an impressive blast, and Millen comes back smiling. "This thing is just so rock solid," he says, who really likes the way the Bugatti leaves the line with a minimum of fuss and wheelspin. "The car goes dead straight. At 200 mph, you can take your hands off the wheel, and the car will keep going straight down the runway. It's very stable. But don't try this at home, kids."

So why does the Veyron take second place in our race to 200 mph? It all boils down to this: It simply does not have 1100 bhp at its wheels, as the Hennessey Viper does, and it weighs half a ton more. But in the race to 1 mile, the Bugatti is quickest, beating the Hennessey by a tenth of a second. It streaks through the mile in 25.9 sec. at 204.4 mph, whereas the Hennessey does it in 26 flat, at 220.9 mph. So in initial acceleration, the awd Veyron still has no peers, beating the Hennessey Viper by 1.1 sec. to both 100 mph and the quarter mile, only to lose out soon thereafter when boost and grip simultaneously peak for the Hennessey's high-speed benefit.

For an idea of just how insanely quickly the Bugatti takes off, consider this: You can give a stock Corvette (September 2005, Standing Mile Story) a 6.8-sec. head start, and still catch it by the mile marker. Count that off (one thousand one, one thousand two...) and you'll understand why we think the Bugatti must feel like one of Lemoore's F/A-18s catapulted off a carrier. And last, a special note of thanks to our Bugatti owner friend who liked to see his thoroughbred get some proper exercise.
 
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sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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0–200: 20.3 seconds



In this awesomely powerful Viper's first run, Millen is instructed by John Hennessey to launch the Viper at 3300 rpm and upshift at 6000 rpm. Millen does this, and at 203 mph in 5th gear, with the thoroughly tweaked 8.5-liter V-10 singing at 6000 rpm well before the mile, he drops it into 6th gear. When Hennessey learns of this later, he tells Steve to keep the car in 5th during the next run and let the engine rev past 6000 for better performance as the car streaks to 200 and on through the mile.

Well, an hour or so later, after the Hennessey crew cools the car's intake tract with ice and wet towels and warms the rear tires with electric blankets, that's just what Millen does. Not surprisingly, he posts the best time of the day, a 0–200-mph blast of 20.3 sec., in only 3488 ft. That's 472 ft. less than three quarters of a mile! And with a peak speed of 220.3 mph in the mile, the Viper sets a new R&T record.

Steve describes it best: "Holy Hell! This is a wild ride. It just wants to go sideways in every gear. When you're taking off, you've got to be so careful with the throttle. In 2nd, you've still got to be careful. It'll take a bit more throttle in 3rd. When you put it in 4th, you can go flat, but I had it snap loose with wheelspin. It's not until the middle of 4th gear that the Viper is really hooking up, producing lots of horsepower and torque."

Power is clearly not the issue with the Hennessey Viper. Grip is. Steve says this makes each run a series of constant minor steering corrections to counter the loss of traction from wheelspin. To that end, Hennessey fits the Venom 1000 with a trick programmable speed-related boost controller that helps ration the power. From launch to 60, there's 8 lb. of boost, which helps the bored and stroked V-10 to produce 800 bhp at the rear wheels. From 60 to 90 mph, boost is raised to 10 lb. for 900 bhp. From 90 to 120 mph, it's 14 lb. for a nice even 1000 bhp. And at 120 plus, 16 lb. of boost endows the big pushrod aluminum powerplant with 1100 bhp, 99 more than the claimed output of the Veyron (although Volkswagen engineers have hinted their official statistics are conservative).

The Hennessey's increasing power at speed — and the sheer difficulty of launching a rear-drive car with 800–1100 bhp — is reflected in our test results: From 100 to 200 mph, in that rarefied arena where precious few cars can play, the Viper absolutely devours the competition, taking only 13.0 sec. and 2956 ft. to accomplish this feat. The next closest car, by no means a slouch, is the Bugatti Veyron, which needs 18.0 sec. and 4229 ft. for its blast from 100 to 200.

Hennessey, who builds 24 Venom Twin Turbo Vipers for each model year at his Houston shop, says he wants to give his customers 1000 bhp, but feels a need to give it to them progressively. "Most of our clients don't get the full 1000 bhp until about 100 mph," says John. "A little bit of wheelspin is fun; a lot is counterproductive to going fast."
 

sakuraguy

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sakuraguy

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Going fast, that was the focus of this test. And at day's end, we had another command performance from a Hennessey Twin Turbo Venom 1000. This time, his Viper proved its mettle by upsetting the seemingly invincible Bugatti Veyron in the sprint to 200. And with that kind of power comes an exclusive clientele, one that includes NFL football player Mario Williams of the Houston Texans, who was on hand at Lemoore for our test.



So how does John Hennessey manage to have so much success? It boils down to excellent preparation and some killer Vipers. They simply work, as proven by Millen that day, who did a fantastic job driving these wildly diverse cars with little practice in each. Sums up Steve: "I'd say the Hennessey Viper is by far the most spectacular car I've driven today, but the Veyron is the most impressive, from a technological point of view."

In this, our second trip to NAS Lemoore, we can look back with satisfaction and state that we had four cars hit the magical 200-mph mark — and one, the SLR, come painfully close. That's impressive, proving once again just how much power is needed to push all that air aside at that speed. Even at the Indy 500, the cars need to do two warm-up laps, a distance of 5 miles, to reach their qualifying speeds of around 220 mph.

Makes us think we should head back to Lemoore next year for another memorable Memorial Day.