There is no noise but the wind. Its thunder has shoved aside even the volcanic howl of the 7-liter, 1,200 hp LS V8 crouching behind your right shoulder. There is no sight but the fixed point ahead, the end of the runway. The braking zone. All else is lost in a linear smear, a blending of every shape and color. There is no feeling but joy. Fear, fatigue, and duty all vied for the front during the first 100 mph, but they’ve been crushed beneath the granite rollers of the real, human joy of discovering a new continent.
This is what I imagine it was like for test driver Brian Smith to take the Hennessey Venom GT up to 270.49 mph last month at the Kennedy Space Center, punching straight through the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport’s previous record of 269.86 mph. But they didn’t get the record.
As a brief primer, Bugatti started the modern top speed wars when its Veyron set a record of 253.81 mph back in 2005. Then California-based Shelby Super Cars came along with the Ultimate Aero, which took the record at 256.18 mph. Of course, Bugatti wouldn’t stand for that and released the Veyron SS, which steamrolled the record up to 267.8. Last year, Hennessey took the Venom GT up to 265.7, and though this was a one-way run and therefore ineligible for the record, they did draw attention to the fact that Bugatti speed-limits the SS to 258 mph so the tires don’t explode. Guinness responded, briefly stripping Bugatti of the record before reevaluating their rules and reinstating it.
Sometime after that, Bugatti set a new record of 269.86.
So Bugatti still held the record, but Hennessey went back again this year, again knowing they still couldn’t qualify, but did something incredible nonetheless.
It all went down on February 14th. Their venue of choice was the Kennedy Space Center, whose 2.84 mile runway is one of the longest in the world and used to land space shuttles, when that was still a thing. But Kennedy doesn’t let just anyone wander in off the street and take a few runs. You have to come with a scientific goal. So Hennessey partnered up with Pennzoil to test their new lubrication wizardry, which is made from natural gas.
They had beautiful weather, just a 3 mph crosswind, and did the deed, taking the Venom GT all the way up to 270.49 mph before running out of road. It was still gaining 1 mph per second when they had to cut the power and begin the braking process. That may not seem like much, but pushing through the air at that speed is no mean feat. Most of the car’s 1,200 hp is used after it gets up to 100 mph. At top speed, it’s burning around 2 gallons of gas per minute.
But they still have no record. There are a few reasons for this. Guinness, along with most other record authorities, say that a car must take the same run in both directions on the same day in order to offset the wind advantage. The average of the two runs is taken. This is how SSC and Bugatti and every other fastest car in the world since 1896 have gotten their records. But NASA has pretty strict rules, as you might imagine, and wouldn’t let Hennessey run in the opposite direction.
The other snag for Hennessey is production numbers. Guinness defines a “production” car as having at least 30 examples accessible to the public. Hennessey has only built 11 Venom GTs so far, though they plan 30 total.
Even without the record, the GT is an impossibly impressive machine. The run took the Venom from 20 to 120 mph in 7.71 seconds. The next 100 mph swept past in under 10 seconds. It doesn’t have the stereo, air conditioning, or premium leather of the Veyron. It’s a hard-bitten, purposeful thing. But the speed, the acceleration, the sheer madness are indomitable.
Hennessey is taking a different tack with their newfound personal best than they did last year. They’ve made no mention of the Veyron this time around, except to say, “They’re completely different cars. We aim not just to be the most powerful, but also the lightest. That thing [the Veyron] is a Bentley GT, a comfortable car.”
Audience reaction has been varied. Some throw parties, some spew acid. The chief gripe is the fact that the Venom, despite only sharing a few body panels with it, is registered as a Lotus, and is therefore a “tuner car,” rather than a production car. But it also shares an engine with a ZO6 Corvette, and nobody’s whining about that.
In the end, the Venom doesn’t hold any new records. But look within the shadowed chasms of your heart and ask yourself: isn’t it faster? It reached a verified top speed higher than the Veyron’s, and it did so in under 3 miles. The Veyron takes over 5 miles of runup to peg its speedometer. Guinness or no, the Venom GT is an earth-splitting achievement, and we hope to see more. Not just to bring the record back to America, but to see everyone try harder, push limits further, stretch the boundaries of all we thought possible. Discovery is, after all, the greatest joy.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.