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Bloodhound team heads home after 628 MPH run, but will it return for the record?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Image courtesy Bloodhound LSR.

Judging from videos, the mood of the entire Bloodhound LSR team as it packed up and left Hakskeen Pan this week ran from celebratory to jovial. The jet car had performed admirably with driver Andy Green at the wheel, media coverage and social media attention had spread word of the tests around the world, and the team could boast of a one-way speed in excess of 600 mph and 1,000 km/h.

What few people seemed certain of is when, or even if, the team will return to South Africa for runs at the world land-speed record and at the team’s ultimate goal of 1,000 mph.

“Our work here is done for this year,” team owner Ian Warhurst said in a Bloodhound video shortly after the 628 mph run on Saturday, the last run of the team’s first session in South Africa meant to test the engine, brakes, parachute, and aerodynamics at progressively faster speeds. All timing and speed measurement for the test session was done by GPS and Bloodhound’s own on-board instrumentation and not by official timing devices from the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

In the same video, Stuart Edmonson, Bloodhound’s head of engineering operations, declared the hybrid jet/rocket car “absolutely ready for land-speed record speeds.”

The team, however, needs to clear a number of hurdles prior to returning to the 20-kilometer-long racetrack on the dry lakebed that the team selected for their record runs. Foremost among those hurdles is financing. While Warhurst stepped in to save the land-speed record effort last December with an undisclosed purchase price and pledged to finance the testing session himself, he’s yet to finalize funding for any outright record attempts.

“With the high-speed testing phase concluded, we will now move our focus to identifying new sponsors and the investment needed to bring Bloodhound back out to Hakskeen Pan,” he told the BBC.

From 2007 until late last year, the Bloodhound team spent about £30 million to design and build the hybrid jet/rocket car and to test it once at low speeds in Britain. At the time of Warhurst’s purchase of the team, it reportedly needed another £15 million to break the existing land-speed record and another £10 million to go 1,000 mph. When setting the test session date over the summer, Warhurst said that he was counting on the session to not only tell the team how the vehicle will handle higher speeds but also to show potential sponsors that the vehicle was indeed capable of breaking the record.

Whether those sponsors will now come through is anybody’s guess. Warhurst has estimated a timeline of 12 to 18 months which, if all works out, would still concur with his original goal of returning to Hakskeen Pan in October 2020 for record attempts.

Another big question mark lies in the vehicle’s hybrid drivetrain. The single Eurofighter Rolls-Royce EJ200 turbofan, with its 9kN of thrust, or about 54,000 brake horse power, handily pushed Bloodhound to 628 mph in just 50 seconds, and the video of the run appeared no more dramatic than a drive to the corner store. However, to get the vehicle to surpass the record, the team will now need to install and test hydrogen peroxide rockets from Nammo, rockets that were not included in this most recent testing session. Those rockets have yet to be built or even designed, and Green has said that the record is unattainable without them.

In addition, while Green may have the highest qualifications of anybody alive to drive Bloodhound, the test session still contained a number of surprises for him, as he told Top Gear and The Sunday Times. Perhaps most alarmingly, he found Bloodhound more difficult to drive than he expected.

But that’s nothing to do with the car. It’s actually to do with the lateral wheel grip on the desert. I was fairly confident we’d be able to expand the crosswind limit to 15mph and Bloodhound would cope. And it can’t. At low speeds it’s like driving from snow onto ice – we were expecting that would happen at around 300, 350, 400 mph but then at 500-600 mph the aero load would build back up.

But at about 200 mph, if there’s a crosswind the car starts moving around, and by 300 it’s moving around even more. It’s really obvious. It’s happening earlier than we expected, it’s more obvious than we expected, and mechanical grip is lower than we expected. Now, that makes it slightly more challenging to drive. It reduces our crosswind limit. So we’ll just lower the limit and I’ll learn how to cope.

The plus side of having limited lateral grip is that if the car does get into a slide, it will slide. it won’t dig in. So we’ve got friction with the desert generating grip and we’ve got the grip of turning the wheels and displacing material and pushing the car sideways – that grip appears to be lower than we expected. Not dramatically, but a little bit. We knew it was going to be low, in fact possibly it is what we were expecting, it’s just the feel of it isn’t what I was expecting.

One factor the Bloodhound team won’t have to contend with is foreign object damage, reportedly the root cause of Jessi Combs’s fatal crash in August. Starting in 2010, South Africa’s Northern Cape government has worked with the Bloodhound team to employ crews of locals in clearing 37 million pounds of rocks and debris from the surface of the 22 million square meter race track.

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, powered by dual Phantom II Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans. With Combs’s crash, the only other contender for the world land-speed record is Australian 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 BloodhoundLSR.com.