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The race to 300 mph: Will Hennessey or Koenigsegg set new speed records in 2024?

Updated: Feb 23


Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph

Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph
Hennessey Venom F5 - projected top speed 328 mph
Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph
Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut - projected top speed 330 mph

The speed barrier is waiting to be broken. Two of the world’s fastest manufacturers are readying their cars for attempts at officially being crowned the fastest production car in the world. Ken Pearson takes a look at the contenders.


It’s getting serious, and this time it will be official. The two names involved are no strangers to big power figures, hilarious straight-line speeds and holding records themselves. Hennessey Special Vehicles have announced that this year, they will take the Venom F5 hypercar beyond the 271.6 mph that they achieved in testing a few years ago.


The announcement comes 10 years after Hennessey sent the Lotus Exige-based Venom GT along the 2.84-mile-long runway at Kennedy Space Centre's Shuttle Landing Facility and recorded a GPS-verified top speed of 270.49 mph. Whilst this run surpassed the 268.86 mph set by the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in 2010, there was no return run for an average top speed and thus an official record to be set.


The reason? NASA was testing the Morpheus lander at the other end of the runway. Given that large rocks designed to test the lander’s autonomous guidance and terrain avoidance systems were so close to the strip, it may have been a good idea not to send a car heading towards them at a higher speed than the Space Shuttle landed at.


In the decade since, Hennessey replaced the Venom GT with the all-new Venom F5 - named after the highest rating on the Fujita scale which ranks the speed and ferocity of tornadoes. The F5 is one of those cars that looks fast when it’s sitting still. It is low, wide and purposeful in its design without looking overly aggressive; the curves and edges are gentle and elegant to my eyes. Yes, it has huge vents for cooling, feeding air to the engine, an enormous rear diffuser which would make an F1 car jealous and four high-level exhaust pipes, but it looks like it would gently tell someone that it has a (theoretical) top speed of 328 mph after an hour of chatting rather than making it the first thing it mentions.



Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph

Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph


Powering the F5 is a 6.6 litre twin-turbocharged V8 that Hennessey calls Fury. The pushrod valve engine is a heavily modified Chevrolet LS motor but with significant alterations to allow it to deliver 1,817 bhp and 1,617 Newton metres (1,193 lb-ft) to the rear wheels through a 7-speed semi-automatic single clutch gearbox. For context, that is 6.9 times more power and 2.6 times more torque than the V6 diesel in my own car which I used to think was reasonably peppy. The two turbos each have a 76 mm compressor that sends air at 23 psi to the eight cylinders via two throttle bodies, an aluminium intake manifold and a water-cooled intercooler.


The power output is impressive on its own, but the power-to-weight ratio is incredible too. With a kerb weight of 1,360 kg, that works out as 1,336 bhp per tonne…I’m not going to bother comparing that to my 1.6-tonne C-Class. Hennessey engineers estimate that the top speed of the Venom F5 is 328 mph but that the focus for the record is exceeding 300 mph in both directions. The goal has been set and the team has been bolstered with Brian Jones, former chief engineer for the Mercedes-AMG ONE F1-powered hypercar and Pikes Peak hill climb racer David Donohue joining the project. In a video posted recently, company boss John Hennessey spoke very highly of the obvious challengers for the title of first to break a 300 mph average speed and mentioned another manufacturer who recently set out their goals of doing just that: Koenigsegg.



Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph
Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut

Earlier this year, Christian von Koenigsegg revealed that breaking the 300 mph barrier is well and truly on the agenda for 2024, using the Jesko Absolut. The Jesko is the replacement for the Agera which is the current holder of the title of the world’s fastest production car. In 2017, a customer-owned Agera RS took to a closed highway in Nevada and recorded an average speed of 277.9 mph - with a peak of 284.55 mph, comfortably beating the Veyron’s average speed and setting four more records in the process. The 0-248 mph-0 record was shattered and three road-set figures that had been unchallenged since the 1930s were also decimated. The flying mile and flying kilometre were completed at 276.9 mph and 276.36 mph respectively, whilst the outright top speed on a public road of 284.55 mph completed a hat-trick of records taken from the 1938 Mercedes-Benz W125 Rekordwagen which had an 8.0 litre, twin-supercharged V12 and a good stretch of closed Autobahn to play with.


As far as tough acts to follow go, the Jesko has quite a job on its hands. There are two versions of the car available with the brilliantly named Attack model going for a high-downforce setup with low circuit times in mind. This features active aerodynamics at the front and rear which is dominated by the dynamic boomerang-shaped wing. The Jesko Attack is claimed to be able to generate a maximum of 1,400 kg downforce at its top speed, but high downforce cars aren’t the fastest in a straight line.


That’s where the Jesko Absolut comes in with its cleaner profile, smoother surfaces and reduced drag. Being a lover of wingless, long-tail shapes like the Pagani Huayra, Nissan R390 GT1, Peugeot 9X8 and the Jesko’s predecessors like the CC8S, the design of the Absolut is my preferred one. Narrow headlights and a near full-width lower air intake define the nose styling whilst the shoulder line starts just behind the front wheels and rises to make way for the enormous side air intakes and the rear wheel arches before meeting the narrow tail lights. The rear of the Absolut is 85 mm longer than that of the Attack and is home to the huge rear diffuser, air outlets and the trademark single exhaust. It looks utterly astounding, don’t you think?



Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph


The removal of the rear wing reduces downforce but more importantly, reduces drag; the coefficient of 0.278 beats the 0.39 Cd of the Venom F5, although the Koenigsegg is noticeably down on power. Relatively speaking, of course. Running on petrol, the 5.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 produces “just” 1,200 bhp and 1,500 nm (1,106 lb-ft) from its in-house 5.0-litre twin-turbocharged, dual overhead cam, flat-plane crank V8.


However, when running on E85 biofuel, the engine output jumps up to 1,600 hp. The two ceramic ball-bearing turbos can compress the air to 31.9 psi before sending it to be ignited via a carbon fibre inlet manifold. Power is then sent to the aerodynamically optimised carbon fibre dish wheels through a 9-speed, 7-clutch gearbox which Koenigsegg calls the Light Speed Transmission, or LST.


We all know how quickly a DSG can go from 4th to 5th, or 7th to 6th but it takes a little longer to drop through multiple gears. The LST uses what I can only describe as mechanical witchcraft to have every possible gearshift option ready for when the driver pulls the two-stage paddles. Pulling a paddle to its first position will prompt a sequential shift, but pulling it to its second position can get the LST to jump from 9th to 4th or 3rd with nearly no interruption to the acceleration. Once a hyper-speed overtake has been completed, it can hop straight from 5th to 8th or 9th and get back to low-rpm cruising quicker than you can say “It will take me a long time to fully understand how gearboxes work.”



Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph


Although the hardware, design and engineering of the Jesko is fabulously impressive, my favourite bit of Jesko trivia surrounds its name: Jesko is the name of company founder Christian’s father, Jesko von Koenigsegg. He has backed and believed in his son’s project from the start, investing considerable time and money into the business and getting it through its formative years. Having officially retired from the company in 2008, Jesko never really left and would always attend the Geneva Motor Show suited and booted to man the Koenigsegg stand.


Before the car’s debut in Switzerland, Jesko wanted to know everything possible about the Agera replacement, including what the model would be called. Christian had fake press releases made up addressing the car by a different name, so it was a genuine surprise to Jesko that the car would carry his name. Try watching the live reveal video on YouTube with dry eyes, I dare you.


Names aside, the car has some serious hardware that is begging to be unleashed and prove that it can get close to its simulated top speed of 330 mph. The remaining questions for both Koenigsegg and Hennessey are how and where will they reach 300+ mph?


Let’s address the how part because this is the point that a certain W16 car from France comes in: the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+, so-called owing to its top speed run in 2019 which saw the car hit 304.77 mph with two-time Le Mans winner Andy Wallace at the wheel at the Ehra-Lessien test track where the Veyron had previously set its record. Reaching that speed and being the first road car to reach a speed of over 300 mph is a technical and driving marvel, and an achievement not to be sniffed at.



Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut v Hennessey Venom F5 - the race to 300 mph


However, to set an official Guinness World Record like the Koenigsegg Agera RS did, two runs must be completed in opposing directions for an average speed to be taken. Bugatti did not do this with the Chiron, and the car was said to have modifications that did not make it to production versions.


Both Hennessey and Koenigsegg have stated that they will complete two-way runs to ensure that there is no doubting the solidity of the record. How is assured, so where on earth are they going to do these runs? Both camps have said that they are on the lookout for a suitable runway or road to use for their attempts. In 2017, Koenigsegg used 11 miles of closed highway but has already ruled out returning to the same stretch of road.


John Hennessy seems to have a good relationship with the local law enforcement who have let him take cars on yet-to-open toll roads to stretch their legs - my money would be on another public road being the stage for the record to be broken. Preparations are underway and some very clever minds are no doubt analysing roads and test tracks across the globe to find the right spot to cement the names of their creations into the history books.


Will the Swedish streamliner keep hold of the record? How close can the Venom F5 get to its theoretical top speed? Are we going to see a record being set by one marque to be immediately broken by the other? Only time will tell, but it is guaranteed that this fight to be the fastest will be fascinating to watch and witness unfold.


 

Specifications: Hennessey Venom F5

Engine: 6.6 litre Fury twin turbocharged V8

Max power: 1,817 bhp at 8,000 rpm

Max torque: 1,617 nm (1,193 lb-ft) at 5,500 rpm

Transmission: 7-speed single-clutch semi-automatic

Drivetrain: mid-engine, rear wheel drive

Kerb weight: 1,360 kg

Power to weight ratio: 1,336 bhp per tonne

Drag coefficient: 0.39 Cd

0 - 62 mph: 2.6 seconds

Top speed: 328 mph (to be confirmed)


 

Specifications: Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut

Engine: 5.0 litre twin turbocharged V8

Max power: 1,600 bhp (using E85 biofuel)

Max torque: 1,500 nm (1,106 lb-ft) at 5,100 rpm

Transmission: 9-speed, 7-clutch Light Speed Transmission

Drivetrain: mid-engine, rear wheel drive

Kerb weight: 1,390 kg

Power to weight ratio: 1,151 bhp per tonne

Drag coefficient: 0.278 Cd

0 - 62 mph: not quoted

Top speed: 330 mph (to be confirmed)


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