Features

9ff GT9: Effing fast!

Bugatti’s Veyron can hit 200mph from a standstill in 24.2sec. Can the 987bhp 9ff GT9 do better? Time to find out…

One enormous leap in 1968 was all it took for Bob Beamon to effectively kill off long jumping. In the rarefied atmosphere of Mexico City he jumped so far beyond the existing world record that it became almost pointless for anyone else to try to have a crack at it. So extraordinary was his feat, the official optical measuring equipment was doubted and an old-fashioned tape measure had to be brought out. When the stadium announcer revealed the distance, Beamon himself collapsed to his knees in disbelief. Twenty-three years passed before his jump of 8.9m was eclipsed and even today it still stands as the Olympic record

The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 landed in 2005 like Beamon in the sandpit, smashing every performance record out of sight. Its top speed of 407kph (or 253mph) completely blitzed anything we’d seen before. McLaren had run the F1 up to 240mph, but had made a number of changes including raising the rev limit to achieve it. The Bugatti not only destroyed that figure, but did so with a completely stock, showroom-spec machine.

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It was a car of extraordinary numbers, some of the stats so otherworldly that it was difficult to take them in. One in particular stood out: Bugatti claimed the Veyron was so much quicker to 200mph than anything that had come before that it could take off from a standstill just as a fully lit McLaren scorched past at 100mph and it would still get to the double ton first.

Now, as extraordinary as that sounds, our aim today is to get there even quicker. We’re attempting to out-jump Bob.

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IF A CAR CAN LOOK LIKE it’s doing 200mph while standing still, the 9ff GT9 is it. We get our first view of this high-velocity bullet of a hypercar as it’s rolled carefully out of the unassuming trailer that has carried it all the way from the 9ff factory in Dortmund, Germany, to the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Leicestershire.

It’s reminiscent of a spoilerless version of the GT1 racer that won Le Mans in 1998, or perhaps a Carrera GT that has been smoothed like a well-used bar of soap. Apparently the carbon-Kevlar bodywork stretched over the spaceframe tubes was originally based on the 997 GT3, but you’d be hard pushed to tell. The wheelbase is a foot longer and the roofline has been dropped by some 12 centimetres. Despite this the GT9 still looks smaller than I had expected, compact even, with its beautiful form following its mighty function. In the world of chasing ultra high speeds, smooth and svelte lines are just as important as a thumping great engine, for our nemesis today will be air resistance. Rather than rising in a linear fashion, the intense force acting on the car squares with speed, so climbing from 70mph to 210mph requires a nine-fold power hike.

Power, though, is not something that any car emerging from the immaculate 9ff Fahrzeugtechnik GmbH workshops has ever been short of. Over the past six years the company set up and run by former Brabus engineer Jan Fatthauer has taken great pride in tuning Porsches to extraordinary levels of reliable performance and the GT9 represents the pinnacle of that development.

Peer through the perspex cover at the mid-mounted engine and the view is nothing short of dazzling. The air intake has been exquisitely fashioned from 24-carat gold to optimise heat reflection and it sits crown-like on top of the twin-turbo 4-litre flat-six that develops a whopping 987bhp at 7850rpm and 711lb ft of torque at 5970rpm. If engine tuning was a modern art form, this thing would walk away with the Turner Prize.

A huge amount of strengthening work has gone into the engine. The block has been reinforced and internally polished, the forged pistons have a strengthening structure at their bases and the conrods are titanium. The valve-train has extra beef, new camshafts and forged aluminium cylinder heads have been made in-house and the liquid-cooled turbochargers are fitted with the finest bearings known to man. All that colossal energetic force is then transmitted to the soon-to-be-tortured rear 325/30 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres via a GT2 gearbox (fitted upside down) with race-car internals and a limited-slip diff.

Fatthauer’s ultimate goal is to beat the Veyron’s top speed and he’s calculated that the GT9 should be good for 410-415kph (255-258mph) – something he intends to verify later in the year at the same 5.6-mile Ehra-Lessien track used by Bugatti. The two-mile runway at Bruntingthorpe is about the longest in the UK and while it’s not enough to top-out the GT9, it should be plenty to get us to 200mph and safely back down again, particularly as we’ve got lucky with the weather. At seven degrees it’s chilly, which is what you expect for the first week of February, but mercifully it’s sunny and not particularly windy – a rarity for Brunters.

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Photographer Dave Smith gets busy capturing static and detail shots, while the ever relaxed, modest and laconic Fatthauer runs me through the car. Three GT9s have been sold already, although those owners (living in Singapore, Kuwait and Dubai) will have to wait a while yet – production won’t begin until the big top-speed numbers have been achieved. Fatthauer also mentions, straight-faced, that there will subsequently be an Evo version, packing an extra 150-200bhp, wings, a larger front diffuser and vents above the front wheels. In effect it’ll be the trackday GT9. ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ he says, ‘and I’m never satisfied. Whatever time we achieve today, I’ll still be thinking of things we can improve. I’m always thinking of what we can do next, and that’s why there will be an Evo version.’ I tell him I can’t wait.

Mind you, I haven’t driven this one yet. Even climbing in is not straight-forward. A bar cuts diagonally across the bottom of the door aperture, meaning there’s not quite enough room to comfortably squeeze your legs past the steering wheel and into the footwell. The best way, I discover, is to go in backside first, freefall onto the seat and worry about legs afterwards. Once in, though, the seat is comfortable and secure. Its position is fixed, but it’s about right for me, and despite the lowered roof and cage there’s plenty of room for my helmeted head. Ahead is a two-spoke Momo wheel and a single dial that displays revs, boost and temperatures. The effect is very workmanlike but also classy and the overall fit and finish are first rate.

Twist the standard Porsche key and the GT9 wakes and settles to a smooth idle, sounding little different to a 997 Turbo. Blip the throttle and the revs flare instantly, the turbos spooling just behind your ears imparting a deep sensation of being very close to the action. Moving away is another revelation. Rather than being a challenge, the twin-plate clutch is light and easy to modulate. Better still, the first runs for the camera reveal great steering, with pretty much perfect weight and feel – it’s at least as good as anything that has emerged from Zuffenhausen, the 48:52 front-to-rear weight distribution undoubtedly helping out.

I’m easy with the throttle at first, squeezing it a little harder in third and fourth gears on each trip up and down the runway. The first time I pin it to the floor is in fourth at low revs and to start with the speed picks up at little more than regular 911 pace. But then at just over 4000rpm the turbos begin to blow ferociously, emitting a fearsome howl at an almost unbearable volume. It’s as though someone has installed a pair of Marshall amps inches from the back of your head and whacked the volume dial all the way to the right. There’s no time to worry about my ears bleeding, though, because the world outside has gone all blurry as I’m fired down the runway like I’ve set off a couple Sidewinder missiles back there. If the Veyron’s rate of fourth-gear acceleration is insane, then this thing needs straightjacket incarceration. It’s incomparable to anything this magazine has ever tested before.

What I need now are a strong set of anchors and the GT9 has them in the form of huge ceramic discs – 380mm up front and 350mm at the rear – grabbed by six-piston monoblock calipers wearing race pads and modulated by the ABS system from the Carrera Cup race car. However, they don’t feel as strong as I’d hoped, being slightly mushy underfoot and with travel that’s a little longer than ideal too. It’s a cooling issue – they start smoking after half-a-dozen hard stops – but 9ff knows this, having sacrificed some of the braking performance for reduced drag. I now know why the GT9 Evo will be fitted with vents on the front wings.

Former deputy ed Bovingdon arrives just as I pull up. He’s brought the VBOX timing gear with him and nervously agrees to sit in the passenger seat for our speed trial. The 0-200mph time we’ll be chasing is that set in a Veyron last year by America’s Road & Track magazine. Their run at the Lemoore naval base in California was without a passenger, but we’ve always recorded our times two-up, so it’s fair to say we’ll be at a slight disadvantage as we attempt to better their 24.2sec record.

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THIS IS IT THEN. After a lap of the perimeter road to try to get some heat into the tyres, we line up at the top of the straight and prepare ourselves. To say that getting 987bhp off the line is going to be tricky is a masterpiece of understatement. The Veyron has a massive advantage here: four-wheel drive, an electronical launch control system and an ultra-efficient DSG gearbox mean all a Bugatti driver has to do is pin the throttle to the floor and let the car do the rest. In the Road & Track test the jump to 60mph was almost instantaneous, taking just 2.8sec.

I snick the GT9 into first and dial in 3500rpm, hoping to get the car moving by hitting the sweet-spot between bogging down and monumental wheelspin as the colossal boost comes on tap and slams the needle into the limiter. The broken concrete surface of Bruntingthorpe won’t make my task any easier.

I side-step the clutch pedal and the GT9 judders forwards, hits boost and flares. Second is snatched as fast as possible. Same again and into third. Only now can I stretch the revs up to the 7800rpm optimum shift point. A glance at the VBOX display shows we hit 60mph in 5.2sec meaning we’re already 2.4sec down on the Veyron. It’s surely too much to make up but I press on. The rear moves out of line as we shift into fourth, the intense noise and unbelievable thrust building again as boost and grip reach their peak. The VBOX shows 100mph was dispatched in 8.5sec – the Veyron got there in a barely credible 6.2. We’ve only clawed back a tenth. I reckon we’ve no chance, yet the speed piles on at a rate that my head, eyes and reactions can scarcely hang on to. No road car has any right to be this fast. Jethro gives me the thumbs-up and whoops with delight as we pass 200mph. We’ve used less than half the runway – just 1312 metres (0.82 miles).

Like Beamon in Mexico there’s a delay before we get the results – the VBOX isn’t set up to give instantaneous 0-200mph times – so we head back to the top of the runway where Bov downloads the results to his laptop. After what seems an age he cheers, punches the air and gives me a congratulatory handshake. ‘24.04 seconds! The Veyron’s history!’

OK, so maybe we’re getting a bit carried away, but I still can’t quite believe what’s just happened. The GT9 has accelerated from 100mph to 200mph in just 15.5sec. It took the Bugatti 18. I didn’t need to see figures to know that we have just been part of something very special, but it’s good to have it in black and white.

I reckon there could still be more to come, so we attempt several more runs, each with a slightly different mix of revs and gearshift points in the first few gears, but we never quite match that first effort. On the last run we decide to go on to 220mph and the GT9 blasts its way there with the same ease with which it had reached 200 (the extra 20mph increment takes just 6.3sec). I brake at 221.9mph as the force acting on the front spoiler is now pushing the suspension down onto its bump-stops so hard that I can hear the spoiler kissing the ground as we slap over the sectional concrete surface. We could easily have gone on to 225 and still had plenty of room to stop. With a rolling start I reckon 235mph would be possible within the two-mile straight.

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It dawns on me that it’s unlikely anyone has driven a road car faster in the UK. But is the GT9 a genuinely usable road car, or just a dragster in disguise? I get the chance to find out immediately after that top speed run when, perhaps unsurprisingly, the fuel light blinks into life. The 20-mile round trip to Lutterworth to replenish the tank is mainly narrow B-roads, so it should reveal all.

Slow-speed manoeuvrability is, as I’ve already discovered, on a par with any 911, and the GT9 is equally happy and benign tootling through the sleepy Leicestershire villages. The oil and water temperatures remain the same as they have been all day, which is just as impressive as the driveability of the engine. Throttle travel is quite long and boost builds steadily rather than hitting you with an uncontrollable thump, enabling all that grunt to be exploited without fear of disappearing into the nearest ditch in a fog of uncontrollable wheelspin.

Ear defenders would probably be a wise investment, though, for when you do give it full beans the turbo shriek is so intense you’ll be reaching for the Nurofen after just a short drive, and backing off releases the excess pressure, sending fizzing whistles back and forth across the engine bay and round your frazzled brain. It’s an incredible, all-encompassing cinematic surround-sound experience.

Ride, grip and handling are similar to that of a GT3. In fact the GT9’s compliance and usability come as a real surprise. I reckon it would perform very well on one of our Car of the Year tests: it really is that good. It’s also around half the price of a Veyron, and after what I’ve just witnessed I’ve no doubts about it eclipsing the Bugatti’s top speed, too. That, in my book, makes it something of a bargain.

Extra Info

Performance 9fF GT9

Quarter mile sec 12.3 speed 140

Maximum speedmph 221.9

Specifications

EngineFlat-six, twin-turbo
LocationMid, longitudinal
Displacement4000cc
Max power987bhp @ 7850rpm
Max torque711lb ft @ 5970rpm
TransmissionSix-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Fuel and ignitionElectronic engine management, multipoint fuel injection
Front suspensionMacPherson struts, coil springs, electronically adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspensionPushrod system, coil springs, electronically adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
BrakesCeramic composite discs, 380mm front, 350mm rear, six-piston calipers, ABS
Wheels8.5 x 19in front, 11.5 x 19in rear, three-piece, forged aluminium alloy
Tyres235/35 ZR19 front, 325/30 ZR19 rear, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
Weight(kerb) 1450kg
Power-to-weight691bhp/ton
0-60mph5.2sec
Max speed255mph+ (est)
Price500,000 euros plus local taxes (approx. £435,400)
On saleNow
evo rating5/5
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