The Danger Zone: Even with 600 hp, hitting 200 mph is difficult.
What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven? On this subject, there’s always a good story involved – some combination of an empty road, a fast car, and possibly nudity and/or police involvement. When one friend of mine pegged his personal best at 135 mph, I asked him what he was driving. “Your car,” he said, referring to my 1991 Saab 9000 Turbo. “You were asleep in the back.” Like I say, you should always pick a designated driver who’ll keep it under 140.
Anecdotally, most people’s high speeds seem to be about 125 mph. Unless you go to Bonneville or enter the Silver State Classic, there’s no way to explore the potential of a powerful car without risking jail time. That’s where World Class Driving’s 200-mph Club comes in. WCD gives you the tools to hit 200 – fast cars and a long runway – and it’s up to you to do it.
The WCD events are held around the country, but I fly to Florida to make my attempts on the 10,499-foot runway of the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport. According to the facility’s bitter-sounding Web site, the “limited revenue-generating capabilities, the adverse environmental impact to the Everglades, man-made factors, and community relations each restrict the future growth of this airport.” In other words, this is going to be a great place to drive cool cars for the foreseeable future.
And WCD’s cars, I must say, are the cream of the crop. Glimmering in the morning sunlight, we’ve got a Ferrari 599GTB and an F430, two Lamborghini Gallardos (one LP560-4 and one Superleggera), a Maserati GranTurismo, and a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Bentley also showed up with a Continental Supersports, which isn’t officially part of the roster but is available for runway shenanigans. In addition, I’ve brought a Mercedes S400 Hybrid. Because, why not?
We spend the morning getting a feel for the cars, and after lunch the main event begins. Since my personal record – an indicated 206 mph, in a country that I should probably avoid from now on – occurred in an SLR McLaren 722, I choose the SLR for my first run. With an instructor riding alongside, I hit 198 mph. Almost there.
But as the sun beats down and the cars heat up, 200 mph proves elusive. You’d think that a two-mile runway and mega horsepower would make 200 mph a given, but that’s not the case. To nail a pass, you have to hit the runway at speed, clipping the apex of the corner off the taxiway. Then you have to stay off the rev limiter. Finally, you’ve got to wait until the last possible moment to execute a 200-mph panic stop. The timing is crucial when you’re traveling at nearly a football field per second – especially since there’s not an extra football field’s worth of runway. Which is how one of the participants briefly turns the 599 into the world’s fanciest Everglades swamp buggy. And it still doesn’t hit 200.
Just when it seems that nobody’s going to break the magic number, a fellow named Ted steps triumphantly out of the LP560-4 as the instructor flashes “two” with his fingers – two hundred. Despite the Gallardo’s horsepower deficit, its mid-engine layout helps it carry more speed onto the runway and brake later than the front-engine SLR and 599. To my surprise, this is the car to have.
I climb into the Lambo and buckle up next to the craziest instructor of the bunch – twenty-three-year-old French Indy-car racer Nelson Phillipe. Phillipe, as opposed to some of the other coaches, views the braking cones as more of a suggestion than a mandate. If this is gonna happen, it’s gonna happen now.
I hit the corner onto the runway tidily enough, keeping the car below the threshold of stability-control intervention. By 195 mph, the braking zone is blurring toward us but the speedometer is approaching 200 like a nerd asking the prom queen for a dance. But I’m not settling for 199, which is what we’re at when I reach the braking zone. Phillippe yells encouragement to keep my foot down for a split-second more, and the speedometer kisses 200 just before I stand on the brakes and pour a furnace kiln of kinetic energy into the Gallardo’s rotors. I’m a member of WCD’s 200-mph Club.
World Class Driving plans to keep running the $4995 program until 200 people hit 200 mph, and there are still about eighty spots left. For my part, I didn’t break my own personal best, but I did set a new record in an entirely different category. How fast have you gone in a hybrid? I did 130.
Written by: Ezra Dyer
Illustration by: Tim Marrs