It started out as a “what if” conversation among a group of Koenigsegg owners. It turned into a grand pursuit of a world speed record on an 11-mile stretch of closed Nevada public road in one of Christian von Koenigsegg’s Swedish hypermegacars— the Agera RS. Nothing about the runs was easy, but the results were better than anyone imagined.
EVERYONE WORRIES ABOUT the wind. They cast their glances out the open garage doors and into the early morning black toward the sound as it whips its way across the Nevada desert, a thin moon and a scattering of stars the only light to be seen. It’s quiet inside. Christian von Koenigsegg, owner, founder, and CEO of Koenigsegg, pries his eyes from those dark gusts and gets back to conferring with his driver, Niklas Lilja. The two aim to put their mark on history at dawn by claiming a record that’s stood for nearly 80 years: the fastest speed over a flying kilometer on a public road.
It’s easy to dismiss hypercars as elements of obscene fantasy, machines that exist entirely in the theoretical, their capabilities relegated to spreadsheets and simulations. Rare is the moment when they make that breach into reality.
“It’s something we’ve been dreaming of doing for many years,” von Koenigsegg says, “but we’ve just not found a venue long enough to stretch our legs. We basically gave up two years ago.”
That was when the Agera RS made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The car borrowed heavily from the company’s One:1, a track-focused model with a ludicrous 1:1 powerto-weight ratio courtesy of an in-house twin-turbo 5.0-liter V-8 good for 1,341 horsepower and 1,011 lb-ft of torque. Koenigsegg only built seven examples of the One:1, all sold by the time the car made its debut. The company wanted to offer buyers a softer, more approachable version. The result was the RS.
“It’s an everyday kind of hypermegacar,” von Koenigsegg says.
The standard engine produces 1,160 horsepower, though an optional package upgrades that to One:1 spec. With less downforce and the same muscle, von Koenigsegg realized the Agera RS was likely the fastest car the company had ever built. It could be the fastest production vehicle in the world.
The scene inside the garage at Spring Mountain Motor Resort in Pahrump is dizzying. There are only 25 Agera RS models in the world, each with a price tag in excess of $2 million, and four of them sit here under fluorescent lights. These cars are timepieces. They are detailed in ways that would make a Ferrari 488 GTB seem common by comparison. The wheels are hand-laid carbon fiber, their spokes and hub hollow to save weight. The doors hinge upward in a ludicrous and perfect salute, revealing wide carbon-fiber sills. It’s hard to comprehend just how tidy these things are until you’re standing next to one with the roof at hip height.
Of all the cars here, only one will make the sprint, and it isn’t some company prototype. Agera RS 143 belongs to Mark Stidham, and he saw it for the first time yesterday. He’s soft-spoken and quick to smile, with white hair and a goatee to match. He’s more approachable than you’d guess for someone who’s about to gamble $2 million on a maybe. He says the idea to ante his car began like so many other perfect notions.
“It started as one of those late-night conversations: ‘You know what would be cool?’” he reveals. “That was probably a year ago, and now here we are.”
Stidham makes it sound easy. It wasn’t. Those conversations spurred a blizzard of activity from a coalition of supporters and the strong Southern California Koenigsegg owner contingent. Of the nine Agera RS examples headed to the U.S., seven call the Golden State home. First, they had to find a venue. The Bonneville Salt Flats is a logical location, but von Koenigsegg knew the car would have required too many modifications to safely run on the dry lake bed.
“A rear-wheel-drive car with 345 [tire width], basically at 250 mph you spin around,” he says. “So, OK, you can put on narrow tires, you can put weight in the front, but that is not the car [we make].”
The solution came in the form of a stretch of Nevada’s State Route 160. Just outside of Pahrump, the four-lane pours out onto the plain between the Nopah Range across the California border to the southwest and the hills around Charleston Peak to the northeast. For 16 miles, the pavement does nothing but run dead straight—if not perfectly flat.
Jeffrey Cheng was the first Koenigsegg owner in California, and he has been a Spring Mountain member for almost eight years. “It’s always been one of those things where I thought it’d be great to take one of these cars to top speed on this road,” he offers. “It’s always
“WE PUT A LOT OF HOURS IN TO FIND THE BEST SETUP TO PUNCH THROUGH THE AIR. IT’S NOT ABOUT HORSEPOWER, IT’S NOT ABOUT WEIGHT. … IT’S ABOUT PUSHING THROUGH THE AIR. THAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THE CAR.”
been in the back of my mind. … Obviously, we could try to go bootleg it at 5:30 or 6 on a Sunday morning, but it would be cooler if we could officially have the blessing of the necessary parties.”
There was a mountain of paperwork and plans to submit. Permits from a half dozen Nevada regulatory and lawenforcement agencies including the Nevada Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management, the state’s Division of Forestry, and the Nevada Highway Patrol. It took months of wading through meetings and letters volleyed between attorneys, but along the way the idea gained the support of the governor’s office. That helped, and when it was done, Stidham, Cheng, and their friends had legal access to 11 miles of public pavement.
Meanwhile, as the owners battled America’s unique form of bureaucracy, von Koenigsegg and Lilja focused on readying the car for its run. “We put a lot of hours into simulators, tweaking everything to find the best
setup to punch through the air,” Lilja says. “It’s not about horsepower, it’s not about weight. … It’s about pushing through the air. That’s the most difficult part of the car.”
The company kept the changes minimal, including an optional louver on the rear lid borrowed from the One:1. “It’s creating downforce, but we also see that we get more clean air in the rear of the car, and we’re not filling up the engine bay with a lot of air,” Lilja explains. “It’s something we’ve seen driving the car over 370 kph.” There’s an optional, bolt-in safety cage inside, along with a different driver’s seat that accommodates a race harness. Otherwise, the car’s the same as the other Agera RS examples roaming the globe.
But for all the simulations, Lilja and the car face an ocean of variables. There’s that damned wind, for one. And the fact Route 160 runs into a bowl, gaining or losing some 300 feet in elevation over 11 miles depending on your direction. There’s the road surface, too. It’s not some ironflat test track. It’s run-of-the-mill American tarmac. When we ask Lilja what he’s worried about, he doesn’t hesitate.
“I’m most worried about the tires,” he says, “because they are the most critical part of the car. It’s the only thing connecting you to the road.”
He says that at top speed, the tire-pressure monitoring sensor in each wheel experiences 30,000 g. The force causes the 30- to 35-gram part to weigh the equivalent of 150 kilograms, or 330 pounds. “Everything,” he says, “is pushed to the extreme.”
He’s right to worry. The Agera RS wears Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, 265/35R-19s up front and 345/30R-20s in the rear. They’re off-the-shelf consumer rubber, the same ones
you can order online from the comfort of your desk chair. This set has been to 250 mph a few times already, but it’s a wide gulf from 250 to the record of 268 mph and beyond.
“Anything beyond that is brand-new territory,” Stidham says as Lilja fires the Agera RS and rolls out of the garage. “Man wasn’t meant to go 276 mph. We’re built to run. The idea that we have this much influence over our environment is kind of cool to me. That’s what drives me. What can we do when we apply our intellect and our resources? This is the result of that. To me, it’s a thing of beauty.”
The car sounds unlike anything you’ve heard as it moves through the paddock and onto the Spring Mountain road course. Lilja takes a few laps in the darkness, shaking the thing out, dusting himself off for later. The exhaust snaps and snarls, lighting the asphalt with brief flashes of offthrottle fire, the sound of so much air getting sucked through those exotic lungs echoing off the buildings behind us.
The temperature hangs in the lower 50s by the time we make our way to Tecopa Road, the staging area for Lilja’s run. The sun is barely up, lighting the swirled stone hills to our northeast. There’s nothing out here, just sand and scrub and telephone poles like gallows strung straight for miles.
Traffic’s been rerouted onto the northbound lane, but the highway patrol stops drivers on both ends while Lilja makes his attempts. Street sweepers have scoured the pavement since daybreak, attempting to clean the surface as best they can. Lilja and Stidham take a recon run, heading south while the cameramen clean their lenses and check their batteries.