In the early 1900’s the French were the only challengers of the Land Speed Record with Count Chasseloup-Laubat and Camile Jenatzy fighting it out in their electric cars. The former reaching 39 mph and the latter raising it to an unheard of 65 mph. This was highly impressive given that most doctors of the time stated that travelling faster than 30 mph would result in death. Jenatzy held the record for just four months before a Mr Leon Serpollet used his self-designed steam car to reach 75 mph in April of 1902.
Thereafter the record was slowly raised and the 100 mph barrier first broken. Then with the outbreak of WW1 the record breaking was halted. Following the war, competitors used Mors, Gobron-Brillie, Mercedes, Darracq, Napier, Benz and Sunbeam racing cars to lift the record to 133 mph, the latter being set by Kenelm Lee Guinness in an aero-engined Sunbeam in May of 1922.
The competition in the 1920’s soared with race drivers Henry Segrave, Malcolm Campbell, Parry Thomas and Kaye Don fighting for British honour whilst over in America, rivals Ray Keech and Frank Lockhart tried hard and edged the record of Segrave with a new LSR of 231 mph with Golden Arrow in March 1929.
In the early thirties the record belonged to Malcolm Campbell. Parry Thomas was dead, killed at Pendine Sands in 1927; Segrave had died on Windermere in June 1930. Bravely, Campbell pushed his own record ever higher with his famous and ever changing Bluebird, raising the bar to 301 mph in September 1935. Then came WW2 marking a second pause of play, after which fellow race drivers George Eyston and John Cobb, with Thunderbolt and Railton Special respectively, set three records apiece. On Cobb’s last, 394 mph in September 1947, one run yielded an average speed of 403 mph, the first time 400 mph had been attained on land.
The 1960’s marked the beginning of a famous and dramatic era on the Bonneville Salt Flats. American racer Athol Graham was killed at speed, Art Arfons and Dr Nathan Ostich tried and failed to get the record. Mickey Thompson was denied glory by a catastrophic driveshaft failure. Malcolm Campbell’s son Donald, the sole British defender crashed his turbine powered Bluebird at 325 mph.
Malcolm Campbell repaired his car and in July 1964 set the wheel driven record at 403 mph. However America had discovered the turbojet engine, Art Arfons and his Californian rival Craig Breedlove played a high speed game of Russian roulette on the Bonneville salt flats which resulted in the record being lifted almost 200 mph to 600.6 mph by November 1965. At this point both drivers were lucky to be alive having suffered major crashes at high speed destroying their respective machines Green Monster and Spirit of America.
At the dawn of the next decade, Gary Gabelich wasted no time ushering in the rocket era. In October 1970 his rocket powered Blue flame immediately punched the record up to 622.4 mph. The record was becoming a serious engineering and now aerodynamic challenge like never before with cars in touching distance of the mysterious sound barrier, the speed of sound. This barrier had been a massive issue when the aviation industry reached it two decades earlier with many aircraft disintegrating or suffering strange control failures as aircraft went supersonic. Driving a car into this territory was a journey into the unknown.
Five years later Richard Noble, a recent graduate in mechanical engineering from the UK decided that Great Britain ought to have the record back. Richard set about his mission to regain it. His vehicle was called Thrust1, In essence it was a chassis with a jet engine bolted on the back, with some aerodynamic bodywork on the front. Whilst testing at RAF Fairford in 1977, Richard lost control at nearly 200 mph and somehow walked away uninjured.
Most people would walk away at this point and abandon the dream but not Richard. With bags of determination and just £175 he set about making his next vehicle Thrust2. He used his limited budget to buy a Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet, an engine more accustomed to sitting in an English Electric fighter jet. After 4 years work, Richard and his team finally headed out to the Bonneville Salt flats in Utah. Richard eventually reached 400 mph on one run, the following day it rained, bringing the project to a halt for 12 months.
In August of 1982 the team returned, however the salt flats at Bonneville were flooded so they searched for an alternative. In the end they discovered Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Thrust2 now reached speeds of 600 mph however the rain came and once again the project was put on hold for another year. In 1983 Richard finally succeeded, reaching a speed of 633.4 mph, reclaiming the record for the UK, mission accomplished.
Seven years later in October 1990, Richard was visiting Bonneville and learned that the American speed king, Craig Breedlove was to try and beat his record. Competition is the greatest spur to progress and Richard reacted in the only way he knew, he would fight back. Breedlove was well ahead of the British contingent and the British had to put in five man/hours to every one of the Americans.
The new car was named ThrustSSC and as the name suggests the goal was to exceed the speed of sound. This project had to be ground breaking and nothing could be overlooked. There were no supersonic wind tunnels that could produce any meaningful data for a vehicle running on the ground. Expert aerodynamicist Ron Ayres was brought on board for the project to make sure the car was safe, any accident at such speeds would almost certainly be fatal. In the end ThrustSSC was a rear wheel steer vehicle, powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey engines, weighing in at 10 tonnes and 16 metres in length. After years of development the team was ready and with the help of Andy Green, an RAF fast jet pilot they now had a driver. On the 15th of October 1997 Green drove the car past the sound barrier to a speed of 763.035 mph. He remains the only supersonic speed king in history.
Ten years later Richard again discovered that there was competition coming for the ThrustSSC record so the whole process began again and since the public launch in 2008, the Bloodhound team have been working to build a car capable of 1,050 mph.
Records must officially be ratified by the FIA, the governing body of motorsport, and are the average of the elapsed time for two runs, made within an hour and in opposing directions over a measured mile or kilometre. Where a contender breaks both the mile and kilo records, the practise is to recognise the former since it is the greater distance.
BloodhoundSSC is aiming to set a new Outright World Land Speed Record. However, none of the technical expertise and incredible engineering will matter if they don’t meet the rules of the competition. The World Land Speed Record is regulated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, or FIA for short. The task of setting a record seems simple, as you just have to go faster than anyone else, ever. However, deciding what constitutes a ‘vehicle’, how you measure the speed, and so on, has caused some controversy in the past. To avoid any doubt about the validity of the Record, Bloodhound will be following the FIA regulations very closely. The key rules are listed below as a ‘beginner’s guide’ and are taken from the FIA’s International Sporting Code, together with the Appendix D ‘Regulations for Land Speed Record Attempts’.
All vehicles must meet the requirements of a ‘Land Vehicle’:
Vehicle must be propelled by its own means in constant contact with the ground with the drive power and steering system being constantly and entirely controlled by a driver on board the vehicle.
There are 3 types of Land Vehicles:
1: Automobiles, which drive and steer through the wheels (i.e. conventional ‘cars’)
2: Ground effect vehicles (hovercraft)
3: Special Vehicles, vehicles on at least 4 wheels, which are propelled otherwise than through the wheels.
Bloodhound is classed as a Special Vehicle in the Group C category – Jet and Rocket
The record is the average of 2 passes through the measured mile (or kilometre) in opposite directions within 60 minutes, a requirement first introduced in 1914 to reduce the number of people waiting around for a strong tail wind.
This brings up the hugely demanding challenge of a turn-round within the 60-minute period. The Car will need to be prepared for the return run within about 45 minutes of rolling to a stop, so that the team can get it started up again and back through the timing lights within the hour. The turn-round operations are defined as; All operations concerning refuelling, cleaning, tuning, fitting, replacement of wheels, sparking plugs, injectors, repairs and welding (if needed)
The Bloodhound team will need to load up about 3-400 kg of jet fuel and one tonne of High Test Peroxide (not at the same time – they don’t mix well!), remove the glowing-hot used rocket tube and replace it with a fresh fuel grain, replace the 100+ litres of (very hot) cooling water with fresh cold water, repack the drag chute, etc. It will be a very busy 60 minutes, but it’s all part of the challenge.
The timing must be conducted by an approved timekeeper from the national sporting authority, using FIA-approved timing equipment. Bloodhound is working with the South African Motorsports Association, as the FIA-approved national body in South Africa. The measured mile is the recognised distance for the Outright World Land Speed Record – both mile and kilometre times will be recorded, but it’s the mile speed that will appear in the record books. For these measured distances:
The length of the course must be measured to an approximation of 1/10,000th of its length. For a measured mile, this is an accuracy of 16 cm or less. Sounds easy in the era of differential GPS and lasers, but until just a few years ago, this was a challenging task using steel measuring tapes and temperature-compensation tables.
The course will be of an open type with a maximum gradient of 1% over any 100 metre section. In the case of a flying start, this gradient limit will apply to the whole run of the vehicle. For Hakskeen Pan, this is not going to be a problem. Survey data shows that the track only varies by about half a metre over the whole 20 km length.