Relocated and repainted, and with a fresh source of funding, the UK attempt to take the land speed record past 1000mph is back in business.
The familiar blue and orange livery is gone, and the “doghouse” headquarters near the Bristol docks is no more, but team Bloodhound is once again preparing to visit the South African desert to break records. Now owned by Ian Warhurst, the founder and managing director of Barnsley-based automotive turbocharger manufacturer Melett, who is now Chief Executive of a new holding company called Grafton LSR Ltd, the project’s headquarters has relocated to the University technical centre in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. The car is now red and white, which is expected to soon be joined by sponsors’ logos, and the core of the previous team has transferred over to the new organisation. The STEM outreach and education aspects of the programme will also be carried over to the new organisation.
Bloodhound’s driver, RAF Wing Commander Andy Green, and chief engineer Mark Chapman are on board with Warhurst, as is speed record-specialising aerodynamicist Ron Ayers, who worked on Bloodhound’s predecessors, Thrust SSC and Thrust 2, both LSR holders in their time. Also unchanged are the team’s intentions: following operational and logistics planning, it plans to take the car to Hakskeen Pan, a dry lake bed in South Africa, for high speed tests and then an attempt to break the current land speed record, 1227.985 km/h (763.035 mph), which was set by Andy Green in Thrust SSC in 1997. The team will return to headquarters to review the data gathered during high-speed testing and the record runs, undergo any necessary engineering and then go back to South Africa to attempt to hit the 1600 km/h (1000 mph) mark.
What is different is the financial underpinning. Although Grafton is seeking sponsorship, it will no longer be completely dependent on this income stream. Warhurst will now act as a guaranteur, keeping the funding stream going if sponsorship reaches a bottleneck, which previously caused the project to go into hibernation and put its whole future in doubt.
Warhurst is a long-standing fan of the team, following Thrust SSC during its record-breaking attempts in Nevada and referring to Ron Ayers as his hero.
In an interview with the BBC, Warhurst said that his sons had become enthusiastic about the project after seeing the car at the Big Bang fair, and had jokingly suggested that he buy it last November when Andy Green announced it was up for sale. “My kids keep saying I should go and buy a fast car, and I like to joke that I went and bought the fastest,” he said.
Having just sold his business, Warhurst reasoned that he might be able to keep the assets together and stop the project being broken up, so found former chief executive Richard Noble’s contact details online, got his go-ahead to speak to the project administrators and found that he was just in time to stop the car being broken up for scrap. With its major component, an EJ200 jet engine from the Typhoon fighter program, being on loan from the Ministry of Defence, the car had to be broken up so the engine could be removed and returned. “The purchase was a bit seat of pants, and I didn’t know if it was a viable project; I knew I could buy the car, save it and put in a museum, but having looked at it we realised it was still commercially viable,” he told the BBC.
The old sponsorship deals lapsed when the previous company went into administration, he explained, and the new sponsorship would only have to cover the cost of taking the car to South Africa and running it. “We don’t have to pay for the car any more, it’s here.”
Some engineering still needs to be done on the car. The wheel fairings and some other body panels are currently not in place, some electronics need to be completed, the brakes switched from carbon to steel, the parachutes installed and the sensor network connected. It also does not yet have the rocket engine that will take it across the sound barrier in place, and following its first record runs the main engineering task will be to convert the car so that a more powerful rocket can be fitted. “It was a very hard fight to create the Bloodhound car, the largest STEM programme in the UK, the public engagement programme and the 1,000 man-year desert preparation,” commented Richard Noble. “Our weakness had always been finance and now after Administration, with Ian Warhurst the team finally has the financial support it needs to drive forward with confidence and achieve what we set out to do nearly 12 years ago.”
It’s my ambition to let Bloodhound off the leash see just how fast this car can go.
“Since buying Bloodhound from the administrators last December, the team and I have been overwhelmed by the passion and enthusiasm the public have shown for the project. Over the last decade, an incredible amount of hard graft has been invested in the project and it would be a tragedy to see it go to waste,” Warhurst said.
“Starting with a clean slate, it’s my ambition to let Bloodhound off the leash see just how fast this car can go. I’ve been reviewing the project and I’m confident there is a commercial business proposition to support it. I’ll provide robust financing to ensure there is cashflow to hit the high-speed testing deadlines we set ourselves.”