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France vs Italy
Duel In The Sun
In the desert heat of Qatar, the supercar superpowers face off.  
It’s Veyron vs Murcielago, power vs agility, France vs Italy. A World Cup showdown fit to grace any final.
Your commentator is Jethro Bovingdon

Photography greg pajo

It was only when I got back to the UK that I understood why Qatar might be the best place in the world to drive a Bugatti 16.4 Grand Sport and a Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4 SV. I was doing my expenses and stumbled upon two receipts. One was for eight cans of fizzy drink, some crisps and fruit, the other for Super Unleaded to feed the 8.0-litre W16 quad-turbo Bugatti engine. I checked and double checked but every time the same result: the fuel was virtually half the price of the Fanta and Quavers. How does Rs 10 per liter sound? Welcome to the weird world of Qatar. Welcome to our day with two of the most extraordinary cars I’ve ever driven.  
It’s 6am, the light is soft and the air cool. By 8am it’ll be about 35degC, the sun pouring heat down to the pavement until the place feels like one giant hotplate. But for now it seems like a good idea to take the Bugatti Grand Sport’s roof panel off and leave it at the Ritz Carlton, Bugatti’s base for their time in Doha. They’re here primarily as an opportunity to flog some more cars, but CAR tagged along to reacquaint ourselves with the Rs 10 crore 1015PS open-roofed Grand Sport and its second cousin once removed, the wonderful 670PS Murciélago SV, a bargain at Rs 1.5 crore. In the Supercar World Cup, surely these are the favourites…

Around here oil isn’t a dirty word. In fact thanks to vast oil reserves and even bigger natural gas stores (14% of the world’s total) Qatar has the highest per capita income on Earth. Somehow this leads you to expect Bugattis on every street corner, Ferraris used as taxis… it isn’t like that. There are signs that Qatar is a coming nation – the whole place is a sprawling building site, the new Pearl-Qatar resort, an island built on reclaimed land north of Doha, is dripping with opulent hotels and pretentious shops – but in the main it’s chaotic, grubby, barren and the largely immigrant population looks, well, not wealthy. It is, we decide after a few days, the armpit of the world.
For now though, where we are doesn’t matter. We have a Grand Sport and an SV, a fistful of notes that amount to very little money but lots and lots of fuel and a crumpled map of Qatar. We’ll head north first, tantalisingly close to the Losail race circuit (who wouldn’t entertain us unless we paid Rs 4.7 lakh. Spoilsports), in search of long quiet straights, then back through Doha and to the south of the country where the dunes rise up and flow all the way to Saudi. After the sun dips behind the soft mountains of sand and the only light is provided by the vast flames venting out of the nearby refinery towers, we have an appointment with the Qatar Racing Club dragstrip in Doha’s industrial area.
Bugatti’s Pilote Officiel, Pierre-Henri Raphanel, calmly runs me through the controls as we slide slowly out of the suffocating traffic of Doha. I’ve driven a Veyron before but I’m happy to be reminded, not least because swimming through the rapids of Doha’s teeming streets in a Grand Sport seems awfully intimidating. The car itself isn’t. In fact I’d forgotten how simple the Bugatti is – how refined, how intuitive, how conventional it can seem. The cabin is beautifully appointed but, um, plain. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, but there’s no fussy detailing or outlandish shapes and materials. It’s simply comfortable, effortless and quietly restrained.


Pierre-Henri is a bit of a legend. He’s raced F1 at Monaco, been on the podium at Le Mans in a long-tail McLaren F1… but more than anything he’s just a good bloke. And refreshingly honest: ‘The Grand Sport is for most people more interesting to drive than the Veyron. The noise is so much more and because the car is not so structurally stiff there is more interference with the steering. Less understeer too – you will feel how responsive it is at the front. The car also feels harder in ride, more connected, although it is actually softer.’ Why? ‘We tried the same settings as the Veyron but it didn’t work (As he says this he puts his hand up to mimic the car and then spins it violently). So we have new suspension and even a different tyre compound, which makes it more progressive at the limit.’ This we’ll have to take his word for because Qatar has one meaningful corner that we can find and the Veyron can take it in fourth. At 241km/h.
I drop into the Grand Sport’s slim seat. You sit really low, the side glass up at shoulder height. The steering wheel is small, the little metal paddles attached to the rear of its spokes have an incredibly light action when you consider the thunderous forces at work. Twist the key, push the Start button and a high-pitched starter motor squeal is replaced with a breathy, deep but unremarkable noise. The W16 sounds vast but doesn’t have that inertia-free feel that usually characterises a supercar. This is heavyweight engineering. And yet the pedals are so light, the throttle – oddly set lower than the brake – feels almost like it isn’t connected. I later discover it definitely is.
These first few moments in a Bugatti are to be savoured. You quickly get over the ‘I’m-driving-a-bloody-Veyron-who-shall-I-call’ euphoria, but only because the quality of the experience is, frankly, stunning. The steering is light and quick but also humming with detail, the gearbox seems to have had all the big metal cogs replaced with helium-filled parts that meld in total harmony. In fact this seven-speed twin-clutch transmission is the most incredible element of an incredible car. You hear the changes but you don’t feel them. Not even when that power dial is pinned at 1015PS. Amazing. Imagine how clunky and crude a manual ’box would feel with 1250Nm to transmit.
P-H R is right though, the ride does feel a few notches stiffer than I remember with the closed Veyron. And the noise, oh my, the noise. In the coupé the W16 feels like a power-making device with little charm other than the sheer stonk it produces, but in the Grand Sport, with nothing to separate you from the twin snorkel intakes slurping in fresh air, it feels like a living, breathing monster. Only an F40 sounds so conspicuously turbocharged and even the old Ferrari can’t match the sheer cubic volume of air that the Bugatti sucks up. Even at half speed you expect trees and shrubs to perish as you drive past them, people to keel over and die. Do you care? Nah.


You’ll get all this within 300ft. And then you’ll put all your weight into that throttle pedal and your brain will be scrambled. Forget 911 Turbos, GT-Rs or even Enzos, Paganis and the like, the Veyron makes them feel puny, highly-strung and a little bit pathetic. This is performance on a vast, soaring, vomit-inducing scale: instant, relentless, illicit, addictive and genuinely hilarious. Nail one, two, three gears and the way you think about acceleration is changed forever. In fact it crosses your mind that this level of insanity is not just sane, but essential. If mankind can make this thing, isn’t it only fair that we all have a piece of it? That we all become superheroes with one binding superpower: speed.   
Oh, there’s a white car in my mirrors. Quite close in my mirrors, actually. Ah, the Lamborghini: a car that usually warrants more attention than Jordan clubbing Kerry Katona to death with the severed head of Peter Andre. Not today, though. Today it’s the support act, the aftershock that has people tripping as if the pavement is crumbling beneath them. Still looks good, the SV. In fact, even when driving a Bugatti the sight of a Murciélago makes you feel slightly jealous. That may seem absurd, but there’s something about the Lambo that speaks to you on a primeval level. Is this what God created on the eighth day?
There’s such ceremony in driving a Murciélago. You approach it and poke your thumb into a little dimple on the top edge of the door, a handle flicks up and you grab it and heave upwards. The door arcs slowly, lethargically. Then you plonk your backside down into the seat, swing your legs under the steering wheel, reach up and grab the chunk of alcantara trim and pull down so hard you’re hoisted out of the seat, just to get the door shut. You’re in the belly of the beast.
It’s dark in here after the tan leather and open roof of the Bugatti. Everything is black, the side glass seems shallow and you feel like you’re at the pointy end of a large arrow, with acres of engine and body stretching out behind you. Everything is a little bit awkward. The seats are hard and uncomfortable and you have to grapple with a four-point harness before you dare twist the key. And once you’re strapped in the SV still feels determined to unsettle you – the seat is angled towards the offset pedals so your left arm has to reach further to grab the wheel than your right. Already you can feel how divergent these two cars really are.
Firing the 6.5-litre V12 seals the deal – a simple turn of the key, a shrill starter, then a cacophonous boom as it clears its throat. The whole car throbs and tingles to the bass of the engine. Flick the long paddle on the right and the e-gear ’box clunks into first and then you shudder away with a hop and a lurch. And with a huge smile on your face. The SV might have just 670PS and do only 341km/h but it feels so special, so bloody exciting. Besides, 670PS is quite a lot, especially when you consider it’s pushing 1565kg and not the 1968kg (dry!) of the Grand Sport.
We’re in Al Khor, a bustling fishing port that’s never seen anything like these two. The bosses shout and gesticulate at the others as they swarm around the cars. Clearly, they won’t be going back to work until we leave. So the SV rumbles out ahead of the Bugatti and we continue north. The SV is a notch firmer than the Bugatti, its steering doesn’t seem so clear or detailed and the Veyron’s snorts and sighs are replaced by the thrum of road noise and the hard, frenzied howl of 12 cylinders. There’s no lag to deal with (the Bugatti has little, but it is there when you’re ambling and then call for the big noise) but the engine likes to be running at over 4500rpm before finding its knock-out punch. It’s a peculiarity of the SV’s variable valve timing system and the search for over
01PS -per-litre from a V12 that has its roots in the ’60s. It’s worth the wait, though. This is one mighty engine. A match for the Grand Sport? We’re about to find out.


The road ahead is wide and straight and runs to a vanishing point melting in heat haze. I’m in the SV in ‘Corsa’ mode to quicken the brutal gearshift when the Bugatti pulls level with one great gulp of hot air. My prediction for the next few moments is this: on the signal of ‘three’ we’ll give it the lot, by the count of ‘four’ the Grand Sport will be about five car lengths ahead and a moment later it will be nothing more than a disappearing silvery blob. So… one, two, three! The Veyron leaps ahead with sand and grit and hot spent gases raining down behind it, but it’s no more than three car lengths to the good. Into third and it’s still pulling away but, as the SV’s V12 hits its sweet spot it, unbelievably, starts to peg the Bugatti. The gap has stabilised and the mighty Bug can only pull further ahead inch-by-hard-fought-inch until we’re on the other side of 240km/h. Perhaps the high temperatures hurt the turbocharged W16 a little more than the naturally aspirated SV. Even so the SV has proven its credentials on the Bugatti’s home turf – a long, empty straight. Impressive.
But we’re still not satisfied, so we do it again. Over and over we simply drive as fast as we dare, often side-by-side. It’s childish but you know you’d do the same. We don’t see another car as we warp up and down this strip of tarmac that tears through a bleak Martian landscape, stripped of its sand by the wind whipping off the Persian Gulf. Up here it’s just rubble and rock and the odd ugly shrub. By now we’re hot and hungry and we’ve slurped through fuel at a world record rate. The cars are thirsty, too. We follow the sand south, back through Doha, and to the dunes.
Mesaieed is a whole new landscape. Vast dunes melt together and run on for miles further than the road allows us to travel. We’re surrounded by Land Cruisers and the hiss of air being let out of their plump tyres. Out of sight are hundreds of permanent campsites that are full to bursting at weekends. Each dune is dotted with quads and Land Cruisers, all at full throttle, all apparently on a collision course. There appear to be no rules and no police. Maybe Qatar isn’t so bad after all.
The road to Mesaieed could have been laid for these two cars. Well-sighted,
ell-surfaced and scary, scary fast. It sweeps left and right but in a normal car you’d barely register these direction changes. In a Grand Sport or an SV they’re corners. You approach them at aircraft speeds, gently apply lock to coax the nose into the apex, feel the grip and then feed the throttle in all the way to its stop. It’s a shamefully satisfying window into their ultimate capabilities. The Lambo gives you more feedback at these speeds and feels hungrier for direction changes, but also finds bumps and ruts that the Bugatti doesn’t notice and weaves under heavy braking. The Veyron is – as ever – more relaxing, more consistent. It is incredibly stable at even higher speeds and when braking from them. The air brake in particular is phenomenal. As a road car there’s not much to criticise. You get a sense of the weight you’re forcing to turn and accelerate and stop, but the way you can cover ground is nothing short of sensational. I can’t imagine ever tiring of its mix of engineering integrity, luxury and tongue-swallowing acceleration. I’d sell a kidney to own one.
We leave Mesaieed humbled by both of these cars, exhausted from a day of life-affirming highs, relentless heat, frustrating traffic hell in Doha and, just for me, some sort of weird suncream allergy that has made my eyes run like I’ve eaten some macho chilli. The sun is long gone, I can barely see through my tears and the road to the Qatar Racing Club feels endless. We get lost. Again. We end up on a rutted, narrow road that suddenly turns into a rocky unsealed track. Again. We have to pull a U-turn in the dark on a narrow track with suicidal truck drivers bearing down on us. Eventually we find it. And they give us drinks, turn on the lights that warm the cold night air and slowly reveal a pristine quarter-mile strip. Not a bad way to end the day. Bugatti and Lamborghini line up, launch-control modes selected. We get the signal, 1671PS thumps to 2.5m of expensive rubber… and I nearly spin the SV. The Bugatti lights up all four tyres, flicks sideways and lays four fat black lines that don’t fade for 300ft. It’s lethal. Sand blowing over a glassy surface makes for fear and wheelspin and the last straw. Time to go home. Thanks for the memories, Qatar. I’ll always try to forget you. The cars though, I’ll never forget the cars.

Swimming through the rapids of Doha’s teeming streets in a Grand Sport seems intimidating. The car itself isn’t

Qatar has
one meaningful corner that
e can find, and the Veyron
an take
t in fourth.
t 240km/h

Into third and the Veyron’s pulling away but, as the SV hits its sweet spot it, unbelievably, starts to peg the Bugatti

The Grand Sport lights up all four tyres, flicks sideways and lays four fat black lines that don’t fade for 300ft

bugatti veyron grand sport
Price I Rs 10 crore on sale I Now
f0Engine I 7993cc 64v quad-turbo W16, 1001PS @ 6000rpm, 1250Nm @ 2200-5500rpm transmission I Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive  suspension I Double wishbones front and rear  Weight/made from I 1968kg/carbonfibre/aluminium Length/width/height I 4462/1998/1204mm performance I 2.7sec 0-100km/h, 407km/h, 4.25kmpl
f0rating I 11111

lambo murcielago lp670-4
Price I Rs 1.5 crore on sale I Now
f0Engine I 6496cc 48v V12, 670PS @ 8000rpm, 660Nm @ 6500rpm transmission I Six-speed semi-auto, four-wheel drive  suspension I Double wishbones front and rear Weight/made from I 1565kg/carbon, steel Length/width/height I 4705/2240/1135mm performance I 3.2sec 0-100km/h, 341km/h, 7.30kmpl
rating I 11111

 

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