That's all you experience when driving a Bugatti Chiron Sport on the Paul Ricard Circuit and its 1.6 km long straight line. Without baffle.
Never listen to those who say it is always nice in the south. Yes, that week the weather forecast announced six sunny days in Provence. But for the one where Bugatti invited us to try the Chiron at the same time as the Chiron Sport on the Paul Ricard and the surrounding roads, Météo France forecast 100% rain from morning to evening. Since its release in 2016, no one in the world has really tried the Chiron on the track. And so, just that day, we discover a dark sky like La Voiture Noire at dawn when we arrive in front of the Hôtel du Castellet to find two test Bugattis.
I ask Pierre-Henri Raphanel what will happen if the heavy rain announced falls as expected. "With tires like that unfortunately, it is impossible to exceed 130 km / h if the track is soaked in water, otherwise aquaplaning will occur ", replied the official Bugatti driver. 130 km / h on a Formula 1 circuit at the wheel of a 1500 horsepower sports car capable of traveling at 420 km / h. This day, awaited for three years, turns into a nightmare. "But according to my own weather information, we have a good chance of escaping the rain". says he. I had hoped for the same thing a year earlier in Molsheim, during a day with the Chiron on soggy Alsace roads. So now the worst-case scenario seems to be about to repeat itself.
It is 9 a.m., drops begin to fall on the two Bugattis
€ 6,180,000 on the road (without options)
When the white Chiron and the red Chiron Sport start in front of the Hôtel du Castellet a little before 9 a.m., the carbon bodies of the two Alsatian supercars begin to cover themselves with a few drops. Damn for damn, at least we don't waste time leaving the hotel to join the local roads. The agonizing weather – and the stress of not trying the machine in the best possible conditions during such a rare opportunity – prevent me from dwelling on this surreal vision of two new Bugattis released in the wild in convoy.
At the wheel of the white Chiron behind the red and black Chiron Sport, I realize that a small oversight in braking would cost almost seven million euros if the two machines were completely destroyed. I take my marks by finding this universe so cozy discovered during a previous grip in Molsheim, with an ease of driving worthy of an Audi R8 but also an interior finish of Rolls-Royce. I still do not know any supercar as relaxing as the Chiron to take on a hinterland path in uncertain conditions. Even under the Alsatian drizzle, it passed its colossal power (and its 1600 Nm of torque!) On the ground without the slightest damage.
Now is not the time to forget to brake
Here, while the tarmac remains dry for the moment, she lets her strange W16 quad-turbo speak freely. A van to overtake? Take a deep breath before stepping on the right pedal. The gigantic engine then begins to produce curious noises from the wind tunnel and machinery, then the van no longer appears in the central rear view mirror the next instant. "Handling" mode selected via the wheel on the steering wheel before increasing the pace further, the Chiron lowers automatically, the rear wing deploys and its ESP is released in the "Sport" position. Here is the big Alsatian GT set in its most sporty configuration, launched on the attack of Provencal roads rather recommendable in small GTI.
The beginning of an experience which, even after several trials by Veyron and Chiron, still delivers these same confusing sensations. Each big pressure of the right foot brings you instantly to the next turn, and when you have to crush the brake pedal to avoid orbiting Mars. Thanks to a big bump negotiated on a good rhythm, the lip of the front splitter rubs violently against the tarmac. Sitting next to it, Pierre-Henri Raphanel winced a little, but the compression did not disturb the progress of the machine in the least. How much does it cost, moreover, for a Chiron carbon fiber splitter lip?
The Bugatti Chiron "non Sport" has a double central exhaust outlet instead of the four Sport pots
After braking more and more late, my brain bubbles against the leather of the seat of the Chiron as I pass into the red Chiron Sport. There are always a few drops when I sit behind the wheel of the "extreme" variant of the Alsatian sports car. After a few moments spent observing the cabin – significantly less flamboyant in this sad black finish on black Alcantara – I hit the road. "Do you feel like the steering seems more sporty than that of the normal Chiron?", asks my co-driver Andy Wallace (the man who has just driven at 490 km / h in a Chiron Super Sport 300+ at Ehra Lessien). I answer mechanically in the affirmative while all my attention is focused in fact on the management of these frightening accelerations between the pines.
Terribly easy to whip in these conditions, the Bugatti just requires never forgetting the speeds reached in a few seconds on each straight line. And that we get to the next corner much faster than with a McLaren 720S or a Lamborghini Huracan Evo. Difficult to accurately describe these moments when your eyes register only a large green-brown stripe on each side of the gray road, before you can once again distinguish the detail of the trees as soon as the accelerator is released. It is like entering the hyperspace between each curve, after a short period of time where the four turbos of the W16 go up in pressure to prepare the padded catapult. Does the Chiron Sport seem more agile than the Chiron under these conditions? Perhaps, but honestly, I was far too distracted by the speed of the machine to appreciate the differences.
This is finally the big moment of truth about the Bugatti Chiron Sport
And now a great Ricard
Miraculously, the storm still does not rumble when we return to the Circuit Paul Ricard. The wiper of the white Chiron sweeps from time to time the fine droplets that form on the windshield when taking to the track. From the first straight line, these rare droplets trickle in accelerated as on the glass of an airplane in flight. Unless the dreaded torrential rain finally falls in the minutes to come, I will finally know what the Chiron is worth on the circuit after years of questioning. The heart rate increases but curiously, the gigantism of the Paul Ricard and the absolute linearity of the accelerations make the evolutions in Bugatti less impressive than on the road: even if the counter scrolls vertiginously, the speeds up are much less fearful than between the pines in the Provencal hinterland (especially after a Formula 1 test on the same route). We are talking about a machine that sticks almost three seconds to a McLaren 720S on a 0 to 200 km / h. But in most supercars, the steering wheel starts to vibrate above 300 km / h, the steering becomes lighter, the air noises intensify a lot and the mechanics howls. In the Chiron, on the other hand, I realize that the speedometer already displays nearly 350 km / h while my sensory sensors, comfortably isolated from the outside, still believed themselves to be 250 km / h!
These sensory sensors recalibrate immediately when you jump on the brakes at the end of the straight line of the Mistral devoid of its usual baffles (1.6 km). After a solid crushing of the left pedal, a copious deceleration of 180 km / h with perfect stability then a badly aimed rope, I find myself in overspeed sliding slightly from the four wheels when approaching the Signs curve. There, immediately, the Paul Ricard in Bugatti becomes more memorable. And the Chiron reveals an interesting characteristic in the next turn (the long double right of the Beausset): in the Handling world, it shows itself frankly lively from the rear axle to the foot lift. After the feelings of agility on the road, this is another big behavioral change compared to the old Veyron. On this same circuit six years ago, I remember a Veyron Grand Sport Vitesses (1,200 horsepower) which underwatered abundantly without ever showing the slightest ounce of mobility. While the on-board computer indicates a top speed at 355 km / h before Signes, I return to the stand to change my mount.
And hop, 355 km / h without forcing
And indeed, the Chiron Sport still seems a little more agile and sharp on the track when you leave the normal Chiron. On the technical sheet we read only 18 kg less compared to the Chiron "tout court", mainly thanks to lightened rims and a carbon fiber wiper. A very small cure billed € 180,000 more than the basic model, all the same. But subtle changes in dynamic settings (10% firmer suspensions and recalibrated steering in Handling mode, torque vectoring review management) make it more pleasant to whip … up to a point only: the Chiron Sport (like the normal Chiron) remains a very neutral machine on the circuit and nicely understeer to the limit. Once you have registered for a turn, the ESP (though degraded in Sport) modulates a lot of power during re-acceleration and any excess results simply in understeer.
This understeer arrives much slower than on the previous Veyron, and the new Bugatti is very lively in the entry phases into the curve (where it pivots happily on request). But it is clear that the extraordinary versatility of this machine, which is so reassuring on the road, does not allow it to be made into an authentic circuit car. The factory drivers admit to us in a word that the car displays a more volcanic behavior once the button "ESP off" pressed, but we will unfortunately not have the possibility to check that (the price of the tires is without doubt for something). I also notice that there is a lack of a real manual mode in this gearbox with double clutch, fast and smoothly but not sufficiently permissive to downshift (it also automatically shifts the higher gear when approaching the red zone to preserve mechanics so complex). In feeling, this box works a bit like that of a Golf R or an Audi S3.
And a little more km / h in Chiron Sport!
Once the Chiron Sport is brought back into the pit lane on the tarmac, which is still very dry, I think back to everything that has just happened. The on-board computer this time indicates a maximum speed of 356 km / h during the session. I reached this figure a few seconds after my phone fell from my pocket into the main straight line of the Mistral. I could calmly pick it up by holding the steering wheel with one hand when I had just exceeded 300 km / h. This is precisely where the magic of this pachydermic supercar given for 1995 kg dry, able to absorb braking at more than 350 km / h on the circuit without the slightest tremor, to wrap yourself in a refined cocoon permanently and you travel like a real luxury GT. On a slightly oily asphalt, with only a few laps, I drove at 1 km / h from the absolute speed record of the Circuit Paul Ricard (a Kawasaki Ninja H2R not homologated road) without even looking for performance.
Pierre-Henri Raphanel also holds the new unofficial speed record for the Var route with a peak at 363 km / h achieved the day before. For comparison, the LMP1 Le Mans only reached 340 km / h when they tested themselves on this same track a few years ago. And the current F1 cars are only approaching 350 km / h (but with the chicane). The Bugatti almost inadvertently breaks records, distracted by its ease and drowned in the opulence of its interior. The latest Koenigsegg can roll even harder in a straight line (when power passes to the ground) and future electric supercars from Tesla and Rimac promise even higher theoretical performance. But will we ever see another machine on Earth capable of achieving such a huge gap between performance, luxury and ease of use?
We now know what a Bugatti Chiron Sport is worth on the track
The two quad-turbo W16s turned off for long minutes, the rain finally begins to fall on the Paul Ricard. The pressure drops and my anxiety subsides. But as I leave the circuit in my modest personal vehicle 22 times less powerful, I still have two questions. What would a 1500 horsepower Chiron Sport look like with the driver aids completely disabled? And how far will the future version of the Chiron specially designed for the circuit compare to the latter? One thing is certain: even putting aside its performance in a straight line, the Bugatti evolves in a different world from that of other supercars. Whether it's raining or not.