The dream job: Bugatti’s test driver

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Mirrored sunglasses and a big grin: Andy Wallace is always in a good mood when he arrives at work in the morning. This former Le Mans winner tests Bugatti cars such as the Chiron and regularly drives prototypes. The British racer also recently set the world top speed record in the Chiron, becoming the first person to exceed 300mph in a production car.

When Andy Wallace gets into a new Chiron, he first adjusts the seat and steering wheel to fit, then he presses the start button on the steering wheel. The Chiron needs about five minutes to warm up properly, and even then the tyres only offer optimum traction when they reach 25°C.

“It’s the only way we can get full grip and transfer the 1,600Nm of torque to the road,” explains Wallace.

And he should know – Wallace has been testing Bugatti cars and taking customers to the limits of driving physics since 2011. He has covered over 100,000km in these luxury super sports cars from Molsheim, in north-east France, driving some 30 different Veyron, Chiron and Divo variants, as well as a variety of test mule vehicles and record-breaking cars. He knows all about these hyper sports cars, their nuances, their refinements, their peculiarities.

“I make sure the first drive in the car is absolutely safe, that customers feel comfortable right from the outset,” he says.

A thoroughbred professional

This 58-year-old test driver is a professional through and through. He spent more than 30 years as a racing driver and has competed in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona on 21 occasions, winning the endurance classic once and Daytona three times. He also drove the 12 Hours of Sebring 19 times, winning twice. As you can see, Wallace enjoys long-distance racing, which can require a delicate touch on the accelerator. He has been coaching other drivers in their own cars since 2006, passing on his knowledge and skills and supporting Bugatti developers in their work.

Wallace came into contact with Volkswagen in 1986, as the company was an engine manufacturer for the Formula 3 series. The relationship continued when he later drove Audi and Bentley racing cars at Le Mans and several other race circuits. When Bugatti Automobiles was looking for an official test driver back in 2011, its engineers, many of whom are former racers, remembered Andy Wallace, that reliable, reserved, precise driver.

“When my racing career ended I thought that would be the end of me sitting in powerful cars. But then Bugatti came up with an offer I couldn’t refuse,” recalls Wallace. Indeed the Chiron and Divo are in almost all respects faster and more powerful than the racing cars he used to drive.

As far as Wallace is concerned, it’s a privilege to drive Bugatti models regularly. “I’ve been mad about cars since I was five years old. I watched my first race at the age of eight, and then I drove in races for 33 years. And now I have the opportunity to drive such fantastic cars, with all that incomparable acceleration incorporated into a true luxury car. As a racing driver, it goes without saying that I love speed and lateral forces,” he says.

Andy Wallace in his early racing days

The beautiful production site in Molsheim and the great team are added bonuses. Wallace says that every day in Molsheim is a pleasure.

Wallace loves Bugatti’s hyper sports cars, which as well as being more powerful than his racing cars, are also very different. “The acceleration of a Chiron is completely unlike anything else. The Chiron accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in 2.4 seconds, to 200km/h in less than 6.1 seconds, and to 300km/h in just 13.1 seconds. There’s no lack of efficiency in the middle, which was a complete surprise,” says Wallace.

He often tests these remarkable acceleration figures on the runway at Colmar Airport near Molsheim, as well as at a high-speed oval in Ehra-Lessien in Lower Saxony, Germany, where he also broke the speed record.

Andy Wallace celebrating victory at Le Mans

Test drives and top speeds

No two weeks are alike at Bugatti. Wallace’s tasks include arranging test drives for customers, demonstrating the cars to them and taking them around beautiful routes through Alsace. If he is asked to demonstrate the performance of a hyper sports car, which has a top speed in excess of 420km/h, he charters a race track such as Le Castellet in France. Customers can really put their foot down there and reach speeds of up to 370km/h.

Wallace takes the Chiron for a high-speed run

“But Bugatti isn’t just about pure speed, even though we recently broke the speed record at 490.484km/h and were the first manufacturer to exceed 300mph. The Chiron is more than just a fast car. It’s not a racing car either: it’s a comfortable luxury super sports car that’s very, very fast,” says Wallace. He even enjoys travelling in the passenger seat.

Wallace and the Bugatti team after breaking the speed record at 490.484km/h

Many Bugatti customers also own other super sports cars. However, outputting 1,500PS, the Chiron is at the very pinnacle of performance. But that’s not all.

“As soon as they get in the car, customers notice that Bugatti manufactures luxury cars to perfection. When driving, most people are surprised to find that these models are easy and comfortable to handle,” says Wallace. “First you get the respect, the awe in the face of so much power. Then comes the pleasure of acceleration, the luxury, the workmanship, the quality of the car.”

“When you see a Bugatti for the first time, the first thing you notice is its design and quality. Only when you really get to grips with the cars do you see the superb parts, the engineering and the way the engine and transmission work in harmony,” he says.

In addition to the performance, he’s impressed by the luxurious and minimalist interior. “There are no unnecessary buttons, switches or displays to distract the driver – and yet all the important information is conveyed. It’s pure luxury,” he says.

The Chiron blends luxury with brutal yet accessible performance

Besides the performance and speed, Wallace is particularly impressed by the technology and innovations that go into Bugatti cars. “The Chiron and the Divo, with their 8.0-litre, 16-cylinder engines and four turbochargers, are unique in motoring history,” he says.

The Skyview option brings light into the Chiron cabin

But he also likes classic Bugattis such as the 1925 Type 35. “Back then, the Type 35 demonstrated that anything was technically possible. It’s a true masterpiece,” he says.

Compared to the Veyron (2005-2015), the Chiron – which has been in production since 2016 – offers not only significantly more power, but also more traction and assistance systems. “The Veyron was in a class of its own and is still a truly brilliant car. With the Chiron, the entire package has been improved still further,” he explains.

The Chiron’s stability control reacts more quickly, as the entire 1,600Nm of engine torque is transmitted to the road, even in first gear. “The Chiron’s downforce has been significantly increased, and the chassis quickly smooths out any bumps in the road. There’s virtually no roll, and braking is even more powerful. The Chiron is very easy to drive, and it never fails to amaze me,” he says.

Wallace adds that the luxury element is the biggest difference between a racing car and a Bugatti. Racing cars just have to be able to produce all that power on track, while a Bugatti has to be comfortable enough for everyday use as well.

“Every time I shut the door of the car, I think to myself, ‘what a brilliant job I have. I’m sitting in the best car in the world!’ How fantastic is that?”, he asks himself, before sliding his mirrored sunglasses up his nose and flooring the accelerator.

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About Author

Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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