Remember the playground bully? The kid twice your size who repeated first grade just so he could be larger and stronger? In the automotive world, that bully's name is Bugatti, and I just saw him back down from a fight with something even more menacing.
I've had enough of Veyron this and the world's fastest car that. I'm over it. And so is John Hennessey. John has been shaking up the automotive playground since he first showed up years ago with his Hennessey Venom 1000 Twin Turbo, a 1,200-horsepower, V10 monster. Think 0-200 MPH in 20.2 seconds.
To call it a car was a serious understatement. It was a rocket meant to destroy automotive records. Those that have driven it still talk about it. The conversation starts with "You have no idea…"
Well that's how I described his new car, the Venom GT seen here in bright yellow, to my car friends. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. And it's pretty accurate. It's almost impossible to describe the Venom GT. The numbers provided by Hennessey help a little: 2,685 lbs. wet, 1,200 horsepower, and an even more insane 0-200 in 15.9 seconds. The last one needs to be repeated:
0-200 MPH in 15.9 seconds.
Check out the video of me riding in the car up the hill. That look in my eyes…it's not quite fear, it's more of a "How is this possible?" kind of feeling. Is this what racers feel the first time someone gives them a test in a Formula One car? I'm not sure, but the Hennessey Venom GT feels like the next fastest thing to a F1 car.
Actually, I haven't found one street legal car that can still turn corners and beat it. Not only is this thing fast, corners are its friend — not something to pass the time till the next straightaway. The car has tons of grip. Its rear suspension is super compliant which is impressive given how much power it has to put down.
And the really shocking part — I sat in the car while John did a three-point turn in a crazy crowded paddock with no stress. John Heinricy was having a conversation with me while doing it, barely worried about the clutch or all the people standing around the car. The car is that civilized.
I'm not sure what's in it, but somehow that clutch holds 1,200 angry horsepower and allows you drive it around like a little BMW 3-series manual.
You can raise the front of the car with the push of a button to clear unusual driveways, which is a good thing because if I owned this car I would drive it EVERYWHERE. In-N-Out. The movie theater. Even the grocery store. Who needs passengers when you have 1,200 horsepower on board?
So back to the speed. Ungodly speed. Watch the video again. I wake up in the middle of night thinking about the speed.
What it would be like to take something like this to the 24 Hours of Nurburgring and pay Porsche and BMW a little visit. It's just so fast. And our friends over at Bugatti must have been thinking the same thing.
So here we are at the largest automotive playground in the world. The Goodwood Festival of Speed. And the big boy in the sandbox is the Bugatti Veyron SS. So what did we do? We lined up right behind the Bugatti on the start line for the hill climb with John Heinricy at the wheel. Four professional driver championships, 11 SCCA national championships, a trio of FIA World Speed Records (what a cool thing to have on your resume), and the reason why so many of GM's cars are crazy fast on a racetrack –- he tuned them at General Motors.
If you're curious, here's Heinricy starting from the back of an SCCA T1 race.
Was it fair? I think so. John Heinricy is a regular guy that grew up in South Dakota and happens to be fast, really fast. John Hennessey is another regular guy from Missouri that knows how to build fast cars, well actually, a lot of fast cars. Almost everything from his his company appears to be available with 1,000 horsepower. You simply check the 1,000hp box on the order form like a GPS navigation option.
But he's been at this for a while and is really good at what he does. On the other hand, this is Bugatti we lined up behind. They have been racing since before any of our parents were born (in 1909, a Bugatti finished second in the French Grand Prix; over 100 years of automotive evolution through racing). You think they could handle a little car from the United States built by a tiny Texas town known as the birthplace of a mattress company. So what happened? Did we catch the Bugatti running up the hill with a nearly 30 second starting interval?
We never found out.
The Bugatti bitched out on the starting line and simply pulled over to wave us by. WTF! Really? WOW! We just stood up to the biggest bully on the playground, and they walked away from the confrontation. I'm willing to bet some of the guys at Bugatti have been paying attention to Hennessey and knew exactly what had just lined up behind them.
They knew they were in trouble. Better to admit defeat than to have most of the UK automotive world watch it go down first hand. I'm sure Bugatti will say they are gentlemen and don't engage in street fights, but this wasn't a street. This was a hillclimb showcasing some of the finest automotive supercars on the planet. Don't worry Bugatti, Hennessey will come find you, or at least one of your cars for a proper match in the near future.
So what was the Venom GT like on the hillclimb? Cool, fast, but also extremely normal. I probably could have driven it nearly as fast on my first time out. The power comes on smooth and seems easy to manage from the passenger's seat. It's possible that Heinricy is that good, but it's more than that. Hennessey built an amazing car.
A quick look at the super-wide, A-arm rear suspension lets you know this car is packing a ton of power. I stared at it for a long, long time. I couldn't understand how the car could put down so much power and not have that wheel hopping, traction kick thing that seems to occur with jacked-up street cars.
I know the difference is that the Venom GT was built to handle this kind of power, but it comes out of the wheels so smoothly. I could feel the tires starting to break loose, but Heinricy just feathered the throttle a little and we kept accelerating.
The other thing that's hard to believe is how quiet it is inside the car. Sure, I could hear the cars being started across the parking lot, but I could also hear Heinricy through his helmet while we were accelerating up the hill. It was built for the street.
Oh, I forgot to mention. There's a computer on the dash that lets you change the boost settings. We were only using 1,000 horsepower. There's another 200hp just sitting there, waiting for you when you're ready. Just push the button and it's yours, much like ordering the car from Hennessey's website. Well sort of, it's kind of expensive. But that's a good thing. If I thought I could afford it, I would sell everything I own to drive it.
Photo Credit: p_c_w, Elan Newman