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Bloodhound team makes plans for first high-speed tests at Hakskeen Pan

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Photos courtesy Bloodhound LSR.

Though it’s one of the flattest places on earth and boasts a rock-free 20 kilometers of racing surface thanks to the efforts of hundreds of area residents, no land-speed racing vehicle has yet to set a wheel on the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, not even the British Bloodhound SSC, which has long been set to race there. That will change this October when the Bloodhound makes the trip for its first round of high-speed testing up to 600 MPH.

“It’s been a transformational experience over the last few months,” driver Andy Green told the BBC, referring to Yorkshire businessman Ian Warhurst’s purchase of the project back in December. “We’re now alive and kicking and headed to the desert.”

While the 42-foot-long Bloodhound did make some 200MPH “low-speed” test runs at Newquay Airport in Cornwall, England, in 2017 – the first test runs for the hybrid jet/rocket vehicle – Green told the BBC that the high-speed runs will be necessary to test three main components: the vehicle’s wheels, its brakes, and its aerodynamics.

According to Green, “no validated model” exists for solid aluminum wheels running on a surface like Hakskeen Pan, where the wheels are expected to dig in to the surface by up to 15 millimeters at speeds under 200 MPH but then rise and nearly float on the surface at higher speeds. “It’ll feel like driving on sheet ice, we expect,” he said.

As for the aerodynamics, the Bloodhound team has in hand computational fluid dynamics models that describe the way the vehicle is expected to behave at high speeds, but those “are just estimates,” Green said, and with hundreds of sensors strapped to the vehicle during the Hakskeen Pan test runs, the team will be able to better line up those models with reality.

Warhurst, in his comments to the BBC, noted another major reason for the Hakskeen Pan test runs: funding. While Warhurst will pay for the test runs out of his own pocket, he said that the effort will still rely on sponsorships and that sponsors like to see the team stick to its schedule rather than postpone development or quit work entirely for months at a time.

“We’re giving them certainty,” he said, adding that the title livery sponsorship is now up for grabs after the vehicle received its new white and red livery and logo.

Cash flow problems nearly led to the demise of the project late last year when it went into administration still needing £25 million to meet its goal of 1,000 MPH. Prior to that, the team had regularly pushed back its schedule for testing from as early as 2012 or 2013. Warhurst, whose net worth was £60 million in 2018, has yet to publicly discuss the team’s current funding situation or his purchase price for the team.

The Hakskeen Pan test runs will take place on the power from its Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine only. After the tests, the team will test and fit the Nammo peroxide rockets and then head back out to the pan, ideally by October 2020, Warhurst told the BBC. The team’s timeline from prior to Warhurst’s purchase had Green making his 1,000 MPH runs sometime in 2021.

Green set the current world land-speed record at 763.035 mph in 1997 in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in the Thrust SSC jet car. Two other teams are vying to beat Green to a new record: the North American Eagle team, which has vowed to press on despite the death of team founder Ed Shadle last year, and Rosco McGlashan with his Aussie Invader 5R, another vehicle intended to break the 1,000 MPH mark.

For more information about the Bloodhound LSR effort, visit