Today’s supercars are faster lighter, safer, cleaner and more efficient than ever before, as they push physics to the limit to deliver the ultimate thrill behind the wheel. The first car in the world to hit 322 kilometres (200 miles) per hour was a purpose-built land speed machine driven by Sir Henry Seagrave at Daytona Beach in 1927.
Now supercars reach that figure with ease, and some go way above that. The Bugatti Veyron set the tone some eight years ago, when it was (for a time) the fastest production car on Earth with a hefty 736 kilowatts (1,000 brake horsepower) helping to produce a Jaw- dropping top speed of 408 kilometres (335 miles) per hour.
Not only are these top-end road machines reaching unprecedented speeds, they’re also reaching them in less time too. In early-2013, the Hennessey Venom GT broke the record for the quickest dash to 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour, taking just 13.63 seconds to do so.
A glut of ultra-lightweight chassis and body panels are now used to help keep the overall weight of these cars at large to a minimum, greatly increasing a car’s power-to-weight ratio – essential for extracting maximum power.
For supercars to reach these unworldly speeds, it’s not all about sheer power and weight ratios though. Hyper cars need to be low to the ground for maximum traction, as poor grip makes for bad handling and, more importantly, no acceleration. They also need to be very aerodynamic with as little drag on the body as possible, to enable the car to slip through the air with minimal resistance.
For this reason most supercars now use active aerodynamics to reach such crazy figures, with the bodywork and even chassis automatically adjusting to best manage the flow of air and pressures on the car when travelling at certain speeds.
Mechanical efficiency has also vastly improved in the quest for high speed, with some engines now enjoying much higher rev limits in which to exert their power, while dual-clutch gearboxes pre-select the next gear to ensure only a minuscule amount of acceleration time is lost to gear changing.
However, there are still obstacles to overcome. Great evolutions in technology, such as Porsche’s active rear wheel steering (which changes the direction of the rear axle by a few millimetres to allow corners to be taken more directly and at greater speed) only provide tiny improvements to 0-60 times and top speeds.
Similarly, while cars are being stripped of every non-essential element, with all remaining parts made from extremely light composites, car scientists are already having to ‘weigh up’ just how much they can take away without being detrimental to performance. Indeed, finding that next step to go even faster may take a new technology altogether, rather than tweaks to current components.
Another important obstacle is an environmental one. Our planet will run dry of a car enthusiast’s favourite liquid in the not-too-distant future, and with hyper cars famed for guzzling up gallons of precious fuel on every journey, the lifestyle needs to change.
Already, three 322-kilometre (200-mile)-per-hour cars released this year now deploy hybrid engines to bring down their fuel consumption and carbon footprint, and even Formula One cars will have hybrid engines from next year where the electric motor will be fully engaged the moment the car enters the pit lane. It’s certainly a good start, but when fuel does run out, we’ll need supercars that run on zero fuel, or all the technology to date will go to waste.
The world of the supercar then has never been more advanced, and here’s how some of the market’s leading supercar companies are doing all they can to go that extra mile…