Back in the 1980s and 1990s before Robert Downey Jr was Iron Man he was prone to quite a bit of drug and alcohol consumption. His escapades and wayward behaviour are the stuff of legend — so too is his comeback it has to be said.
Another guy who you would think might have ‘had enough’ in his time is Andy Wallace.
Andy Wallace is a 4 time winner of Le Mans and for a period of time in the late 90s and well into the new century, was the fastest man on the planet in a production car (a car that you can [in theory] walk into a showroom and buy).
You see Andy was the guy who Gordon Murray asked to drive his phenomenal McLaren F1, “really fast”.
At the time the current speed record for a production car was 345km/h (213mph) held by a Ruf CTR which is just a highly modified Porsche 911.
Here’s a great video of Andy driving (and commentating) really, really fast in a McLaren F1 in 1998.
The officially recognised speed was 386.47km/h (240.14mph). Records are only official when an average of two runs are successfully completed (one in each direction to allow for wind and other atmospheric anomalies).
So, put down your glasses and may we have a round of applause, because that’s the job done there for Wallace.
However, speed is very addictive. Not reckless speed — that’s just foolish. I’m referring to real speed in a controlled and safe environment. That’s about as big a rush as you will ever get.
There aren’t too many environments left anymore where you can drive really fast — taking a vehicle to its mechanical and physical limits.
One such place is called Ehra-Lessien in northern Germany. It’s a test facility owned by Volkswagen that thanks to the brilliance of Google Maps is easily found in the forest about 20km north of the Volkswagen HQ and factory in Wolfsburg.
The most impressive facts about Ehra-Lessien are it’s twin 8.7km long straights that are connected via ‘tear-drop’ 180° banked turns at either end allowing vehicles to carry an incredible amount of speed onto the straights and make use of every one of the 8,700 metres ahead of them.
Other manufacturers and drivers have exceeded Andy’s 1998 record in the years since. James May from Top Gear had a shot at the title in 2010 reaching 417.9km/h (259.7mph) in a Bugatti.
So back to Wallace. He’s in his sixties now and you would think probably resting his weary bones after a stellar racing career and that amazing drive back in 1998.
Well Andy is showing no signs of slowing down at all. He’s currently the official test driver for Bugatti and Bugatti (owned by Volkswagen) make a car called the Chiron that is about as incredible a car as you will ever find.
During his Summer break last month Andy and a very impressive team from Bugatti took a super-sports version of the Chiron to Ehra-Lessien and did this:
490.48km/h. 304.77mph. 136.24m/second.
That’s a whole 100km/h more than the McLaren achieved 21 years ago.
We may never see that number exceeded. If we do, I hope Andy is behind the wheel.