How One Engineer Landed a Dream Job of Developing Cars for Bugatti

From Autoweek

Meet Sven Bohnhorst, the luckiest man in the world. Why, you ask? Because he gets paid to drive Bugattis around racetracks. Afterwards, he makes changes to the Bugatti and drives it again to see whether he likes it or not. Bohnhorst is a chassis setup engineer at Bugatti, and he does things like tune the steering on cars like the upcoming Chiron Pur Sport. The car that Bugatti limited sales to 60 at a price of 3,000,000 euros, which is about $3,400,000, is his development mule.

Intrigued and curious how Bohnhorst managed to get this position, we asked him how he got the job, what makes the Pur Sport stand out from the standard Chiron and much more.

Photo credit: Bugatti

Autoweek: How did you become an engineer at Bugatti?

Sven Bohnhorst: I started at Bugatti as a trainee, then continued as a working student and finally wrote my master thesis at Bugatti. At this time, the development of the Chiron began and Bugatti was looking for someone to tune the new electric steering system. They asked me. I was really lucky—I was at the right place, at the right time.

AW: Did you have any other positions at any of the VW brands (i.e., Porsche, Audi, VW, Lamborghini, Bentley, etc.) first?

SB: No. I started directly at Bugatti. However, while working at Bugatti, I have had the opportunity to take a closer look at other brands in the Volkswagen Group to learn different approaches and broaden my experience in automotive development.

AW: Do you have a racing background?

SB: Yes, I do. My grandfather raced Formula 3 and some other cars on the famous Jägermeister Racing Team, and my father competed in the Sidecar World Championship, along with some touring car races. I was always interested in racing. I had my first racing experiences with my dad. We were racing classic sidecars together and I was passenger. Now, when I have time, I take part in some amateur races with my race car in Germany.

AW: How did your role come to include development driving?

SB: I was always interested in driving dynamics and did my master thesis on this topic. When I was a trainee, I always asked to go on rides with the guys in the cars to learn as much as possible. Because of that, along with my racing background, my colleagues realized quite quickly that I would put a lot of effort into my work and asked me to calibrate the steering, as I mentioned earlier. Through the years, I received a lot of positive feedback, which enabled me to have more and more driving/tuning opportunities within the company.

AW: You must have access to precious few test vehicles, seeing that the building process is much slower than most cars. Does that effect the way you perform in car tests?

SB: Development time according to the standard of Volkswagen Group is close to large series production vehicles. Still, in line with the Bugatti DNA, every vehicle has to be recognizable as a Bugatti—not just from the outside, or the material used, but also from the driving experience. To give our customers maximum safety, it’s our job to find any issues before the cars are delivered. To respect the fact that there are very few test cars, all test drivers have to pass a high level driving class to ensure the car is handled properly. That being said, we still drive the cars under severe test conditions to ensure the highest quality vehicles for our customers.

AW: Do you have to share the test car with several other engineering disciplines? Powertrain, for example?

SB: Yes, that’s normal business. The cross-divisional cooperation is very important, in my point of view. There are always people with different driving styles, doing things differently than you would do, which may result in an outcome you didn’t expect. It’s always good to have a wide range of opinions.

Photo credit: Bugatti

AW: Budgets usually play a huge role in product development. Is that any different at Bugatti? Is it a cost-of-components-are-no-object kind of a place?

SB: Bugatti is a little different. The cost of components definitely plays a role in the development, as we are a company, like any other, that needs to earn money in the end. But our business case is a bit different: Our customers expect to have a car that is at the very pinnacle of the automotive industry, and this is what we have to deliver. As an engineer, this situation is great because it gives you a lot of room to play with and create something unique.

AW: From your perspective, what is different about the ride and handling dynamics between the Chiron and the Pur Sport?

SB: The Chiron is an all-rounder with a huge range of usability, whereas the Chiron Pur Sport is streamlined for agility and cornering speed. This results in more camber, higher damping levels, stiffer springs, as well as stiffer and more precise steering. Overall a huge increase of lateral and longitudinal acceleration due to the new tires and the shorter gear ratio. The new mechanical balance of the car results in less understeer and, together with the new drive mode ESC sport plus, it gives experienced drivers the possibility to play a lot more with the car, while still having the safety of the new tuned ESC sport plus. Due to the split in the driving modes, you can not only enjoy the Pur Sport on the track, but also on public roads in day-to-day driving.

AW: Is there any difference between the tire on the Chiron and the Pur Sport?

SB: The new tire has a compound optimized for maximum lateral performance and was specially developed by Michelin to fit the new suspension setup.

AW: Because it’s limited to just 60 units, do the customers get involved on any level to determine handling?

SB: We are in constant communication with our sales department and with Andy Wallace, who does a lot of customer drives. This gives us valuable feedback as to what the customers’ desires are.

AW: What is your favorite Bugatti project you’ve worked on?

SB: It’s hard to say. Every project is unique and special in its own way. You always have different challenges to tackle. If you have a racing background, it’s always nice to work on cars focused on lateral dynamics like the Chiron Pur Sport, but it’s also amazing to drive 400kph and far beyond. I just love to work at Bugatti because there are a variety of projects.

AW: What is your favorite Bugatti you’ve driven?

SB: The answer is linked to the question above. But I would really like to drive one of the classic icons like the Type 57SC. I haven’t had the opportunity to drive one yet…

AW: If you ran the company and had full authority, what Bugatti project would you build?

SB: It’s probably good that I don’t run the company, otherwise I would dive into building a minimalist 16-cylinder high-rpm front-mid-engine two-seater GT with transaxle gearbox. Not sure that would be the smartest move, surely not even a business case, but I definitely would love such a car!

AW: Mr. Winkelmann, build Bohnhorsts car!

Photo credit: Bugatti