Bloodhound, the car designed to hit 1,600kph, is back from the dead – and will be in the Northern Cape this October

Business Insider SA
The Bloodhound car in its previous incarnation in 2017. (Getty)
  • Less than a year ago the Bloodhound Land Speed Record was bankrupt, and it looked as if the world's most advanced car prototype would be scrapped.
  • But the Bloodhound is back from the dead – and headed to Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape for testing in which the team hopes to hit at least 800 kilometres per hour.
  • That will provide the data needed to shoot for the full planned 1,600 kilometres per hour, an event that could put the Northern Cape on the map with more than 1.5 billion people watching life.
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In September the Bloodhound – a car designed to ultimately hit a speed of 1,000 miles per hour (1,600kph) – will be on a ship. By October it is due to be at Hakskeen Pan outside Upington, deep in the Kalahari desert. There it will fire up its military-grade jet engine and hit at least 800 kilometres per hour, and perhaps start approaching 1,000kph, in tests designed mostly to test its braking.

Because the Bloodhound Land Speed Record project is back from the dead, its leaders announced this week, and now it needs to learn how to slow down.

"Going fast is optional, but stopping isn't," the project's CEO and benefactor Ian Warhurst joked on Tuesday.

The British-based Bloodhound team say they have already paid the deposit on accommodation for around a month in the South African desert, and are just finalising the paperwork needed to ship its equipment. It is "quite comfortable" that nothing stands in the way of testing in October, said Warhurst.

That hugely increases the odds that the project may be able to meet its target of beating the current, 22-year-old land speed record of a hair under 1,228kph – and put the Northern Cape on the map.

Based on preliminary research, the Bloodhound team believes its ultimate attempt to go 1,600 kilometres per hour in a land vehicle could draw a global live audience of 1.5 billion people.

Film crews are already trying to figure out how to use the huge and incredibly flat expanse of Hakskeen Pan for various projects after it becomes the site of a record-busting feat, Bloodhound says.

Testing parachutes – and solid wheels

Over the course of a minimum of 12 runs, Bloodhound will use only a jet engine to accelerate to mind-boggling speeds, albeit only half the final target. There is no need yet to fire up the rocket that will take it above 800kph, its managers say; that is fast enough to test the parachutes that must slow it down, the the all-metal wheels that will carry its complicated chassis.

The tests will gather huge amounts of data, including video of how those unique wheels interact with the hard-packed desert surface. 

Initially those wheels should cut between 10mm and 15mm into the surface, says driver Andy Green, who is also the current land speed record holder. As the car speeds up the cut will reduce to around 5mm, at which point it will probably feel like it is driving on ice. Exactly how it moves will become all the more important at double that speed.

Now to find sponsors

Less than a year ago the Bloodhound project entered administration after running out of money, after 11 years of development. At the time its administrators estimated it required £25 million – nearly half a billion rand – to stay afloat, and nobody was putting up that kind of money.

It seemed the massive project run by the Northern Cape government, which saw 300 workers remove 6,000 tons of rock from the pan surface to create a runway 20km long and 1.1km wide, would go to waste.

But in December British entrepreneur Warhurst bought it out of administration.

He has since spent "seven figures" Warhurst said on Tuesday, referring to millions of pounds, the equivalent of tens of millions of rands.

Now, with testing dates set, he believes the project will start to sustain itself.

"We know the value of sponsorship on this vehicle and we are comfortable that commercial sponsors will easily be able to pay for it."

The project is being branded as the "first digital land-speed record", and hopes to attract both cash and in-kind sponsorship from a range of high-tech and engineering-focussed companies.

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