JCB DIESEL MAX - NEWS
JCB DIESELMAX TO ATTEMPT RECORD TOMORROW - 20 August 2006
JCB's monster makes its attempt on the world diesel speed record tomorrow. Joseph Dunn and Jeremy Taylor in Bonneville report
Wendover is a frontier town. Shimmering on the edge of the Bonneville salt flats and straddling the state line between Nevada and Utah, it began life as a petrol station in the 1920s. It’s main claim to fame is that the Enola Gay B-29 aircraft took off from here in the summer of 1945 at the start of its mission to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Today its gaudy casinos attract gamblers from across the plains. A dusty neon cowboy on interstate 20 welcomes them and a sign reads: “You’ve missed Las Vegas, don’t miss Wendover”.
JCB Dieselmax - Bonneville salt flats
Last week a British team were in town, busy preparing to risk a lot more than money. They are here to race a banana yellow streamliner built by JCB, the brand more usually associated with construction site diggers, across the salt flats at more than 235mph and break the world land speed record for a diesel powered car. The odds are stacked against them.
In the inhospitable surroundings and baking heat of the salt desert the small team resemble a cross between the casts of The Right Stuff and Top Gun. The 30ft-long Dieselmax machine will be piloted by Wing Commander Andy Green, the man who already holds the outright land speed record after reaching 763mph in the ThrustSSC in 1997. On the salt plains he has swapped his green flying suit for a yellow jump suit and shades.
“This is arguably the most exciting form of motor sport there is,” he said last week after a practice run across the flats, “and this is without doubt the most stunning place to do it. I’ve been to Bonneville before but if you haven’t it’s impossible to imagine. It’s wow! The white plains just go on and on and on. You see the mountains in the distance and then realise they are 100 miles away. If you watch someone drive away from you they appear to vanish because of the curvature of the earth.”
The salt flats are not unused to record breaking attempts. It was here in 1935 that Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first man to break 300mph in Bluebird. It was also the setting for New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent years modifying a 1920 Indian motorcycle that set the 1000cc motorbike land-speed record in 1967.
Green, who pilots Harriers when he is not breaking records, will be firmly strapped in to the carbon-fibre cockpit with a seven-point safety belt surrounded by a steel tube cage. While there’s no airbag, the safety set-up includes three fire extinguisher systems, three separate braking devices and two parachutes. Air, not oxygen, will be pumped into his F1 helmet if the unthinkable happens and fire engulfs the car.
“It has all the challenges of any wheel-driven record,” says Green. “To get in a 1500-horsepower vehicle with such fantastic performance is hugely exciting. It’s completely different to a Harrier. The aircraft is the best day job in the world, but the car is the best holiday job.”
With the thermometer nudging 50C, one of Green’s enemies in this ground war is heat. In the cockpit of Dieselmax an average person would suffer heat exhaustion within minutes. Green is wearing four layers of fireproof clothing and even with his training it is proving exhausting behind the controls. “It gets pretty warm in there. In fact when I get out of the cockpit after a run and onto the salt plain it feels like getting into a cool area. It isn’t of course — the rest of the team is sweltering.”
The support team, all sporting yellow JCB jump suits, must operate like a well-tuned machine. “It’s like a military operation and there’s a very obvious parallel there. It has the expeditionary pioneering element and it also has Great Britain stamped all over it — the flag on the tail is there for a reason and we are proud of that.”
The project is being backed by Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman of JCB and 56th richest man in Britain with £950m, according to the 2006 Sunday Times Rich List. The family has a history of stumping up large sums: last year the Conservative party received a £1m donation.
Now, at the age of 60 and with a hugely successful business under his belt, this is Bamford’s chance to put his family in the record books. “It has always been a family tradition that the way to make progress is to push forward with a real sense of urgency,” he said. “I was advised by many people that using our own engine would be a mistake, yet we have proved our critics wrong.”
Back on the Bonneville salt flats the team finished its first run last Saturday during America’s National Speed Week — a celebration that sees teams from across the world descend on the flats in an orgy of speed and horsepower. Onlookers crowded around in the sweltering heat eager to catch a glimpse of the machine that will be attempting to break a record set by the American Virgil W Snyder in Thermo King Streamliner in 1973.
The Dieselmax is powered by two turbocharged diesel engines each pumping out 750bhp, making it twice as powerful and twice as fast as a Formula One race car (despite weighing almost twice as much). The engines are modified versions of the JCB444 production engine found in JCB diggers and will run on standard diesel.
“This is the most amazing race car to be built in Britain for a decade,” said Green. “It is an extraordinary challenge. What we have is basically a digger engine that has been made into the most powerful car engine in the world.”
During Speed Week the flats are divided into two areas: a 10-mile-long straight for speed trials and an oval or circular track for distance runs, which are typically between 10 and 12 miles. The straight is marked with a broad black line down the centre with measured mile sections after the second mile marked out carefully with cones.
The first run doesn’t go as planned. Although the JCB reaches 159.464mph with a peak speed of 163mph, the turbo boost from the rear engine fails to kick in. The next day they try again but the rear engine stubbornly refuses to fire. And the next.
By Tuesday the team thought they had cracked the problem: they had changed the engine management system to reduce the fuelling of the front engine in first gear, thereby increasing the load to the rear engine, which would hopefully engage the turbo. It worked — up to a point. The rear engine turbo kicked in as planned, but the front engine didn’t.
By Wednesday the team were getting worried. The record attempt is due to take place tomorrow and with just five days to go and the engine misfiring there is little time to get it right.
Sophy Gardner, Green’s girlfriend and a trained pilot, is on hand to lend moral support. “She is used to me doing stupid stuff,” said Green. “She’s only frustrated that she can’t be there for the actual record attempt. It’s very hard to explain the excitement of all this. It’s nothing like driving a fast car on the road. There is a real camaraderie. Everyone is willing to offer tips and help out where they can — it’s a sort of pioneering spirit.”
Just as well, because at time of going to press the team were still finding and fixing gremlins in the works. “We’ve discovered what the problem is with the rear engine and the front engine and we have made the necessary adjustments,” said Green.
“No car ever works first time and you have to remember that we have encountered problems that have never been seen in a car that has never been built before in a place where some of the team have never worked before.
“It is intellectually challenging and emotionally scintillating, but when it all comes together at the right time I know that we can do it.”
To find out if he is right you’ll just have to wait until the first official record-breaking attempt tomorrow.
There’s half a century of experience between the youngest and the oldest members of the JCB team. Annie Berrisford, 24, a mechanical engineering graduate from Derbyshire who has spent a year working at JCB after university, is one of only two women in the team. “My father restores old cars and I was always working with him in the garage as a teenager. I’m not really one for skirts and dresses.”
At the other end of the age scale, 74-year-old Ron Ayers has created the aerodynamic shape of Dieselmax. He was also the man behind the Bristol Siddeley Bloodhound missile, the UK’s main air defence weapon during the cold war. Ayers became a pensioner in 1997 when taking charge of the aerodynamic test programme for Green’s ThrustSSC world record car.
With the kind of determination that inspired grandfatherly Burt Munro to set a world record on the salt flats on his Indian Scout motorcycle — played by Anthony Hopkins in the film The World’s Fastest Indian — Ayers resolves never to put away his slide rule.
“I have no intention of retiring. As long as I have something to contribute I will continue.”
THE ENGINE THAT PICKED UP SPEED LATE IN LIFE
The diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel in 1892 and the first diesel production car was built in 1936. It wasn’t until the 1970s with the introduction of turbochargers that the performance of diesels improved enough to see speed-record attempts in machines such as the UFO diesel driven by Fredrick Lavell. Even so, the acceleration of this 1970s classic was dismal by modern standards. It would clock just 45mph on a quarter-mile run and took 10 miles for it to reach its maximum speed of 129mph. Then in 1973 came the Thermo King Streamliner (above). Driven by Virgil W Snyder, it smashed the 200mph barrier and later achieved 235.756mph on August 25. Since then no competitors have come close — until the Dieselmax.
Andy Green and the JCB Dieselmax - Bonneville salt flats
JCB DIESELMAX PRESS OFFICE
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The JCB diesel record attempt car described in the June 2006 edition of Eureka has exceeded 200mph on tests, close to the current 235.756mph world record.
today unveiled the JCB DIESELMAX vehicle with which it aims
to break the ... Ricardo will continue to support the JCB
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a purpose designed streamliner car – the JCB Dieselmax -
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"It's a fantastic ride, a delight. When the turbos come in and it boosts up to 300mph, I know how excited the team are and it's exhilarating. Thirteen weeks ago this car didn't exist, it has just 101 miles on the clock. It's a prototype, so we don't know for sure how it's going to work, but we've already cracked 300mph and we're very buoyant," said Green.
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