Ever wondered what it'd be like to take one of the world's fastest supercars around a track? Sure you have.
Anyone who's ever played a racing video game, picked up a copy of Car & Driver or simply spotted a Lamborghini on the street has had that dream.
Unfortunately, few of us ever get the chance to indulge our ultimate automotive fantasies. Most of us will never have the money to afford a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. And the world's ultimate supercars, like the McLaren F1 or the Bugatti Veyron, are so rare that very few of us will ever even see one in person.
So when I was offered the chance to not only see, but also drive, the newest supercar available on the U.S. market, it was a chance I couldn't pass up. And while the experience demonstrated my obvious limitations as a driver, it was something I won't forget for a long, long time.
The Swedish-made Koenigsegg CCX is an engineering marvel goes 0-60 mph in a blistering 3.1 seconds with an estimated top speed of almost 260 mph. The 806-horsepower, 2,200-pound carbon fibre Super Car runs the standing quarter mile in just nine seconds at 146 mph.
The powerful engine housed in the U.S. Koenigsegg CCX retains the incredible power and performance of the European CCR engine, which once held the Guinness Book of World Records title as the world's fastest production car ever.
A $695,000 'Bargain'
The Koenigsegg CCX is brand new to the American market. The first 30 or so will be shipped to their buyers over the course of 2007.
The owner of Exotic Cars in Las Vegas, Koenigsegg's exclusive U.S. dealer, assures me that at $695,000, it's a bargain. He points out that a Veyron, probably the CCX's closest competition in the supercar world, will run you around $1.2 million.
To help convince potential buyers of the car's value, a demo was unveiled earlier this week in Las Vegas. The manufacturer is billing it as "the fastest production car in the world," although its estimated top speed of around 258 m.p.h. has yet to be confirmed.
There happen to be only two places in the world where a car can be clocked at reaching that speed, and Volkswagen, which owns the competing Bugatti brand, owns one of them.
Koenigsegg's earlier iteration of the CCX - the CCR - earned a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest production car ever. Bugatti's Veyron took that honor, and perhaps soon we'll see if the new car can win it back.
For those multi-millionaires who worry about the price of gas, the CCX gets 17 miles-per-gallon on the highway, 10 in the city, and presumably a lot less on the racetrack.
The statistics, however, are almost unnecessary. The car's beautiful carbon-fiber body screams "speed."
As I drove onto the grounds of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for my test drive, I noticed some of America's finest fighter jets taking off and landing at the nearby Nellis Air Force base. It was quite a sight to behold, until I was distracted by the sight of the CCX winding its way through the Speedway's road course - providing just as dramatic an image of grace, power and speed.
That sight was also my first indication of what was really in store for me. When I'd been invited to drive the car, I'd been expecting a large oval track where I'd be able to open it up and see what pushing 200 m.p.h. feels like.
The folks who invited me, however, were looking to show off the CCX's handling, which meant the road course: a collection of hairpin turns that reverses direction on itself no fewer than four times in its short 1.8-mile span. This ride was going to be even wilder than I expected.
Professional driver Justin Bell apparently agreed. After introducing himself to me, he laid out what was in store.
Zero to 60 in 3.1 Seconds ... Then It Gets Scary
"I'm going to take you around the track for a lap, to show you what the car can do," Bell said, smiling. "Then you'll take me around the track a few times, which is the part I really hate."
He'd already been doing this for two days when I arrived, and apparently a few of the amateur drivers had overestimated their ability to control this monster. I assured him he didn't have to worry about that with me.
Before stepping inside the car's cockpit, I took a long walk around it, admiring it in the way I'd take in a Picasso in a museum. Seeing it up close, it was easy to understand why some people wait in line at car shows or car museums simply to view exotic autos. But I was here to do more than admire Koenigsegg's artwork.
As I tried to get into the passenger side, it took me a few minutes to find the button that opens the door. Once I found it and pressed it, however, the door rotated out and upwards simultaneously in a graceful arc, finally coming to rest at a 90-degree angle to the body. Stepping into the low machine was a bit awkward, but once inside I was amazed by the amount of room it offers.
I didn't have long to admire the interior, however. Bell quickly began the ride, apparently anxious to prove that he could easily reach 60 miles per hour in the 3.1 seconds I'd read about.
Then, before I could see it coming, we hit our first turn, which I now know was a little over 90 degrees to the right. At the time, all I knew was that I was just a few inches above the ground, hugging a tight corner at breakneck speeds in the most incredible machine I was ever likely to encounter first-hand.
The 'Hard Left, Hard Right' of Automotive Politics
The rest of the ride is just a blur.
Bell opened it up on every straightaway to a deafening roar, and then went into the curves with a whining whistle of quick deceleration. This low to the ground, on a track where turns are marked only by slightly inclined painted corners on the borders of the course, I don't think I saw a single turn approaching until we were less than a second away - making it far more exciting than any predictable old roller coaster.
It wasn't until the lap was over, and it was my turn to pilot the CCX, that I realized just how serious this undertaking would be, and made my professional passenger assure me he'd give me a heads-up on approaching turns.
The first bit of acceleration, running the car from first through third gears, was unbelievable.
But when the first turn snuck up on me just as I was trying to take it into fourth, I felt the day's first sense of true panic, and slowed everything down for a couple of turns.
Then came the straightaway, where I once again decided to push this thing to the limit - until I saw another turn approaching, with no idea whether it was a hard left or a hard right.
I believe my two laps continued something like that. I'd speed up a bit, reveling in the car's power, and even take a couple of hard fast turns. Then suddenly I'd realize I had no idea where I was going next, knowing too well that I would be there very, very soon.
Then I'd hit a straightaway, and all of that would fade away while I simply enjoyed the sensation of pushing the accelerator toward the floor.
In minutes, my two laps were over, and I realized I'd never had a split second to glance at the speedometer.
"So how fast do you think we hit?" I asked Bell.
"I think on the long straightaway, I hit about 150, which is about as fast as you're going to get on this track," the seasoned pro replied casually.
"And what about me?" I asked sheepishly, only to learn that I probably hadn't pushed it much past 100 miles per hour (a speed I've been known to exceed in my four-cylinder Mercedes C-Class on the long stretch of Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and Los Angles). Bell tried to reassure me that it wasn't that bad for someone who didn't know the course or the car.
I didn't believe him. I have no doubt that my wife, the speed-demon of the family, would have torn up that course. But I'm not complaining; those few minutes in the CCX were the ride of a lifetime. And if anyone out there has a McLaren they'd like to loan me, I think I've proven I can be trusted.
It's hard to remember details. My brain was spinning, trying to process everything: the thrill of driving this awesome machine; the panic of not knowing the course; the fear of embarrassing myself by driving like a little old lady; and the knowledge that my modest car insurance policy probably wouldn't cover the cost of a blown tire on the CCX, let alone a rollover.
With the Las Vegas strip occasionally appearing off in the distance, I couldn't help thinking of the many times I'd taken my cyber-car off the road on "Crusin' USA"'s Las Vegas track, and wondering how long I'd be paying for any similar miscalculation in the real world.