Bloodhound's step into the unknown

by Ed Foster on 25th September 2015

On the A303 in Somerset there are quite a few hills. Some are pretty big, which helped my 1992 Fiat Panda cover an entire mile in 48 seconds. Quite impressive, no?

Well, it is, until you put it into a perspective. A Bugatti Veyron at full chat will do the same distance in just over 14 seconds. Which is very impressive. How about doing that distance in 3.6 seconds? One mile in 3.6 seconds. Whichever statistic you look at on the Bloodhound it takes a bit of time to get your head around it.

But get your head around it you must as in less than a year it will be doing 200mph tests on Newquay Airport runway. The car will then be shipped to Hakskeen Pan in South Africa to creep its way to 800mph on October 15, 2016. The car will then be shipped home, stripped, rebuilt and taken out again in 2017 – this time with an extra two rockets attached to it – and an assault on the 1000mph barrier will begin.

“I actually think the car will do 60-70 runs over two years,” says Bloodhound’s director of operations Martyn Davidson. We’re standing next to the car, which is now over 90 per cent complete. It’s in Canary Wharf for two days so that the public can come and see it while also quizzing the engineers on the past eight years of the project as well as the next two. “The reason for so many runs is that there is so much analysis to be done,” explains Davidson. “We’re not,” chimes in Mark Elvin, the lead mechanical engineer, “doing 2/3/400mph where you can put your finger in the air. We’re way past that now.”

You may wonder, if the car is over 90 per cent complete, why it’s going to take a further two years to even attempt 1000mph. It’s because the team is literally stepping into the unknown. Of course, Richard Noble, Andy Green and the Thrust SSC team managed 763mph back in 1997, but this is a different car, a different ‘track’ and a hugely more complex mission. They have to approach each run carefully and then analyse all the data before going a little faster. If something’s not right, everything stops until it’s sorted. If it can’t be, it’s all over.

“If we have a wheel failure at 1000mph it’s probably game over,” says Elvin, the master of the understatement. “We have to ensure we’ve done everything right to make sure that we don’t have one.” This is one of the major differences between this and other motor sport projects – in a GT car you make sure the roll cage is strong enough to withstand a massive shunt whereas with a 1000mph car, you simply can’t have a shunt.

Even the track itself, Hakskeen Pan, is an unknown. Yes, it is currently the world’s largest, flattest and cleanest area thanks to 16,000 tonnes of stones being cleared by hand. But the Bloodhound team can’t model the ground’s surface. What happens when the car’s shockwaves hit it? No one knows. And that’s why the Bloodhound project is so fascinating. While it’s grounded in science, technology, engineering and maths there’s still the unknown, an element of hope you could say, which may be the difference between doing 1000mph or not.

“I can see this being the last Land Speed Record attempt in my lifetime,” says Elvin. “With the amount of money involved, it just becomes disproportionate. We’re doing 1000mph, what’s the next big number? Mach 2. The money involved will be hundreds of millions and you’ll need a huge multinational company behind it. Like Red Bull.” Funny you should say that Mark, Red Bull might just have a bit of spare motor sport budget soon...

There’s a small pause before Elvin says pensively, “there is mach 2 out there…”

Davidson jumps in: “Don’t let Richard [Noble] hear you say that!”

“Yes, he’ll say ‘bloody hell! Do you think so? Let’s do it!’”

And that’s the mentality that’s made the impossible seem possible. If you’re near Canary Wharf go and see the Bloodhound today or tomorrow. This is a chance to see one of the most advanced, amazing, mind-boggling and beautiful cars in the world.

Details of where you can find the car

Address: East Wintergarden, 43 Bank Street, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5NX
Timings: Friday 25th September and Saturday 26th – open 9am to 5pm

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