Andy Wallace would make a great secret agent. At 147 pounds and average height, the mild-mannered, fiftysomething Brit could have come straight from central casting for the term “nondescript.”

But he’s anything but normal: Wallace has driven and raced high-performance sports cars since 1988, and he’s won more than 25 international competitions, including all four of the big ones: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and Petite Le Mans 1,000-Mile race.

His day job now is the official test driver for Bugatti. And in September, he set a world record for speed by driving a Bugatti Chiron Longtail to 304.77 miles per hour on the Ehra-Lessien test track in Lower Saxony, Germany. Built during the Cold War, the track was located there because it was a no-fly zone west of the border between East and West Germany. That meant prototype cars built by German automakers could be tested on the track without the risk of spies. Today, Volkswagen AG uses it to test cars from its current stable of brands: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Porsche, among them.

After a year of preparations in secret, weeks at the test track, and an intensive four days at Ehra-Lessien touching 299 mph, but unable to break the 300 mph barrier, Wallace finally hit 304.77 mph on one last, record-setting lap. The 12-mile track is a three-sided layout that uses banked corners, so he got up to speed on one of the long, back straight stretches.

Bugatti showed the record-breaking car in a warehouse in Los Angeles on Nov. 19. Wallace was there, happy to talk about what driving 300-plus miles per hour does to your body and how he celebrated after his record-breaking run.

Here’s a condensed version of our conversation.

OK, Andy, be honest. We all think that we could drive 300 mph pretty easily if we had the right car. It’s just a matter of keeping your right foot on the gas, right?

[Wallace laughs.] Well, speed is a linear measurement, but it’s not somehow. For instance, no matter what country you live in, for most of us, even in Germany, 150 mph is a fast speed. And if you take that as a fast speed to 180 mph, although it’s only 20% more, it’s such a completely different world driving at 180 mph from 150 mph. If you then follow that all the way up, when you get to 300, it’s not double 150, it feels like four times or more.

So in terms of driving the car, if you jumped in the car and tried to do it there straightaway, I think you’d go crazy [trying to process the speed at which things fly by while also trying to maintain control of the car].

What’s the speed at which you start to notice this exponential change?

First « 1 2 3 4 » Next