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 now tests Bugatti cars, such as the Chiron and regularly drives prototypes. British racer Wallace also recently set the world top speed record in the Chiron, becoming the first person to exceed 300 miles per hour in a production car.
When Andy Wallace gets into a new Chiron, he first adjusts the seat and steering wheel to fit him, then he presses the start button on the steering wheel. The Chiron needs about five minutes to warm up properly. The tyres only offer optimum traction when they reach 25 degrees. “It’s the only way we can get full grip and transfer the 1,600 newton metres of torque to the road.”
And Wallace should know – he’s been testing Bugatti cars and taking customers to the limits of driving physics since 2011. He has covered over 100,000 kilometres in these luxury super sports cars from Molsheim, driving some 30 different Veyron, Chiron and Divo cars and a variety of 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. He 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 drove the 12 Hours of Sebring 19 times, winning twice. Wallace is a long-distance man – with a delicate touch on the accelerator. He’s been coaching other drivers in their own cars since 2006, passing on his knowledge and skills and supporting Bugatti developers in their work.
He came into contact with engine manufacturer Volkswagen in Formula 3 back in 1986 and later drove Audi and Bentley racing cars at Le Mans and on other race circuits. When Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. was looking for an official test driver back in 2011, former race engineers remembered Wallace, that reliable, reserved, precise driver. “Actually, 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,” smiles Wallace. That’s because the Chiron and Divo are in almost all respects faster and more powerful than the racing cars he used to drive.
As far as he’s 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 myself 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. The beautiful production site in Molsheim and the great team are added bonuses. Every day in Molsheim is a pleasure for him.
Wallace loves these hyper sports cars – they have more power than his racing cars, but they’re still so different. “The acceleration of a Chiron is completely unlike anything else. The Chiron accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.4 seconds, to 200 km/h in less than 6.1 seconds and to 300 km/h in just 13.1 seconds. There’s no lack of efficiency in the middle, which was a complete surprise,” says Wallace. He tests acceleration on the runway at Colmar Airport near Molsheim, or on a high-speed oval in Ehra-Lessien in Lower Saxony. That’s also where he also broke the speed record.