The Race to 300mph: The five contenders gunning for the crown
The world's fastest production cars are now nudging 300mph, but who will get there first?
There's a saying that the first race happened when the second car was built. That's true to an extent, but there's a version of motorsport that goes back even further: the race against speed itself.
From the moment Karl Benz built his Patent Motorwagen, with nearly 0.7bhp and a top speed of around 7mph, we've been trying to build faster and faster cars.
It took almost 40 years before you could buy a car capable of 100mph. After that, more than 60 years elapsed before the first 200mph production car. Just 30 years on from that, we're talking about a 300mph car.
It took 100 years to go from the first car to the first 200mph cars.
Going really fast isn't as easy as you may think. It may not seem like it, but air is thick and unforgiving, and the faster you go the harder it is to get through it. It's not as simple as throwing more power at it, as doubling the power will only result in a 25% increase in speed. The Ferrari F40, often held as the first production 200mph car, could hit its top speed with less than 500bhp. The latest generation of 250mph+ cars are all well above 1000bhp, despite superior aerodynamics.
Then there's the tyres. Tyres expand slightly as speed increases as a result of the forces across the tyre. The faster you go, the larger the forces. Depending on how big the tyre is, it may experience 3000G at 250mph. At those speeds, if a person could stand on the edge of the tyre, they'd weigh as much as a Boeing 777. Unsurprisingly, this causes significant damage to the rubber and it may even tear itself apart.
Even so, there are a number of contenders for the title of the first production car to 300mph.
The Koenigsegg Agera RS holds the record for now, at 277mph.
At the moment, Koenigsegg is the champion of speed. Its Agera RS sports the right mix of power, weight and aerodynamics to be the world's fastest production car. And not just in the confines of a huge test track either - the Agera set its two-way average speed record of 277mph on a public highway in Nevada. It peaked at 284mph too, beating a 70-year record set in a streamlined racing car for the highest speed on a public road.
The Agera RS isn't the most powerful car Koenigsegg builds either. But despite packing almost 400bhp more, the 1800bhp Regera relies heavily on a hybrid powertrain and has a single fixed gear. It isn't suitable for very high speeds and Koenigsegg limits it to 'just' 255mph. Still, we doubt the Agera RS is going to be the peak of what the Swedish company offers for long.
The Chiron might reach 290mph, but the tyres won't!
If we could point a finger at anyone for this latest speed craze, it would be Bugatti. After several false starts which meant the brand hadn't made a car in 20 years, Bugatti came back with the 1000bhp, 253mph Veyron in 2005. Since then it's been a tale of incremental improvements, peaking with the 268mph Veyron Super Sport in 2010.
However, 2017's Chiron is slower, despite the additional power and improved aerodynamics. Bugatti limits the car to 261mph, even though - on paper at least - it should be capable of 288mph or so. This all comes down to the tyre issue. Although the custom Michelins can withstand 3800G, the monstrous weight of the Chiron, at nearly two tonnes, means that it gets too close to the limit too soon.
If Michelin can solve the problem, Bugatti may take its crown back from Sweden.
Hennessey's Venom F5 is purpose-built to hit 300mph.
Previously better known as a vehicle tuner, Hennessey Performance Engineering has a strong claim to the world's fastest production car.
Its Venom GT - essentially a significantly reworked Lotus Elise, packing more than 1200bhp - briefly took headlines in 2014 when it beat Bugatti's record. However, despite hitting 270mph at the Kennedy Space Center's massive shuttle landing runway, it was never made official. Why? Well, the good people of NASA wouldn't allow the car to do the reverse run required for the record.
Hennessey hasn't stopped there though. It's returning with the Venom F5 - named after the highest category of tornado, with wind speeds over 261mph - in order to hit that 300mph mark. This time it's a chassis of the company's own construction, paired to a 1600bhp V8 twin turbo engine. It plans to make 24 cars, starting next year.
Could an electric car become the world's first 300mph production car?
When Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Roadster recently, he suggested some crazy performance figures. For a start, the 0-60mph time is below two seconds, meaning that - when Tesla actually makes it - the Roadster will be the quickest production car ever made. And the top speed? All Musk would say is "above 250mph".
Of course it's quite a jump from 250mph to 300mph, and Tesla would face a number of issues getting there. Like the Chiron, Tesla's cars are rather heavy due to the batteries and motors required. There's also cooling to consider. Running the kind of power required to hit 300mph produces a lot of heat, and may lead to a reduction in the power available (known as derating) to preserve the battery.
The McLaren F1 took the record to new levels and held it for 12 years; could McLaren take it back again?
The McLaren F1 achieved the biggest jump in production car top speeds since the Second World War, when it hit 240mph in 1993 - and would have gone further had it not run out of gears. It still holds the record as the fastest production car not to use forced induction (turbo- or supercharging).
Today's McLaren Automotive may be a different company, but it hasn't forgotten its roots. It's working on a new 'Ultimate Series' car currently codenamed 'BP23'. It'll be the most powerful McLaren ever, and the three in its name signifies a three-seater, with a central driving position - sound familiar?
Time will tell if McLaren wants to take its record back from the upstarts.
With tyres, aerodynamics and powertrain development all needing nothing but perfection to accomplish the 300mph feat, it's safe to say that the next period of hypercar progression will make for some truly titanic engineering. And with a record like this only ever occurring once in the automotive history books, it must be a question that automaker CEOs across the world are asking of their engineers.
Who do you think will reach 300mph first? Is Bugatti the obvious favourite or can you see underdogs Hennessey sneaking in with its custom F5? Comment with your thoughts below!