Doing 200mph for the first time...

Published: 01 August 2008

It’s funny how speed works. In a car designed and engineered for serious pace, anything up to 150mph feels pretty normal. Driving to Waitrose normal. Calm and controlled, as you lap the Millbrook bowl on the 155mph limiter. Pass that mark however, and everything goes into fast forward. You’re suddenly made aware that you are travelling very briskly indeed. The brisk that demands a crucial recalibration of your response times.

I was desperate to do 200mph. I don’t know why – a weird badge, some sort of masculine motoring rite, or just for sheering bragging rights perhaps, but certainly for no logical reason. But then when you’re sitting in a Koenigsegg CCX in the middle of the Dubai desert, flat out in fifth and about to snatch sixth, logic isn't high on the agenda.

Was I enjoying myself? No, to be blunt. I was driving someone else’s pride and joy, painfully aware than even if I sold every house my extended family possessed, I would still be a few quid short of the asking price for this roaring devil monster beneath me. I had that same sick feeling in my liquid belly I had when I walked into my legal finals at university knowing that I was doomed to an ignominious failure.

I knew that if something – anything – went wrong at this point, there was a good chance they’d be collecting small sand-covered bits of me from all over the Emirates. And someone would have to make that call to my wife… My mortality came into pin-sharp focus and I almost backed off at 185mph.

But I didn’t. I had to do 200mph. So I held on for what seemed like a month, watching that needle arc its way towards That Magical Must-Do Speed. And then I travelled at an indicated 210mph for a full ten seconds (210mph just to counter any speedometer optimism, you understand). I know it was ten seconds because I counted them slowly in my head, concentrating to hide my fear.

Despite sitting on an arrow-straight road with nothing on either side of me but endless rippling sand, the featureless landscape did little to diminish the impression of speed. The electrical pylons on either side of the road, pylons that seemed to whoosh by every minute at 150mph were suddenly fip-fip-fipping past. The road went from 30 foot wide to a tight six. The supercharged engine was shrieking painfully, a demonic soundtrack underscored by deafening tyre roar and the howling wind that threatened to rip out the car’s detachable roof. Concorde could have taken off next to me and I wouldn’t have heard it. Coming off the power and slowing to a silent stop three miles later was a pleasure.

So I did 200mph. I ticked that box, got the t-shirt, joined the club. And while it’s something that always seems to impress people that ask, the truth is I had far more fun in the new Mazda MX-5 that I drove back from the airport after the trip. I arrived late at night into Heathrow, bombed around an empty M25 and took the back roads off the A3 and through Petworth towards home. I probably never exceeded 100mph – half what I had been doing 12 hours earlier.

But there’s more to driving enjoyment than big speed. It’s what you drive, not how fast you drive it.

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By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars