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Looking for 400MPH – Land Speed Record

There’s excitement about this summer’s world land speed record attempt by a California team with a Hayabusa-powered streamliner. But there are also troubling questions about the state of the world’s salt flats on which to achieve them.

Shortly after this issue goes to press we will know if a new land speed record has been set for motorcycles. For land speed records the Southern California Timing Association specifies eight separate classifications for frames and a whopping 19 for engines. In regards to the record attempt we’re about to discuss here, the class is S-BG. ‘S’ represents the designated frame class (Streamliner) while ‘BG’ is shorthand for the designated engine class (supercharged or turbocharged gas engine). 

The team aiming to set the new S-BG record is California-based Top 1 Ack Attack, which hopes to crack the 400 mph mark with their Hayabusa-powered Ack Attack designed by Mike Akatiff and driven by Rocky Robinson. Team Ack Attack currently holds the SCTA record for their 328 mph performance on the Bonneville Salt Flats, as well as the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme’s speed record for motorcycles at 376 mph. The difference between the two records being that the SCTA is a club event while the FIM record is a global achievement as sanctioned by the world governing body for motorcycle racing.

Ack Attack is a streamliner with a carbon fibre skin and is powered by two turbocharged and inter-cooled Hayabusa engines that have one purpose—top-end speed. With a maximum boost of 30 psi from the superchargers the combined powerplant has the potential for 1000-plus horsepower and a calculated top speed of between 400 and 450 mph. Enclosed streamliners with the rider sitting inside a cockpit undoubtedly stretch the boundaries of “motorcycle” but they are the fastest two-wheeled vehicles on earth due to their extremely low drag coefficient. Without a rider perched out in the elements, air flows smoothly around the enclosed streamliner body tremendously reducing the power required to push the vehicle through the air. The drag coefficient of the Ack Attack is a slippery 0.121. A Toyota Prius has a drag coefficient of 0.24. The PAC-Car II, a purpose built machine created by students at the Swiss Federale Institute of Technology had a drag coefficient of 0.075 and achieved a fuel equivalency of 15,200 mpg running on hydrogen—albeit at a slow speed of 18.6 mph. 

Ack Attack’s sleek shape is required to overcome air resistance and compensate for the machine’s mass during a land speed record attempt. The streamliner is 20.5 feet long with a 12-foot wheelbase and a curb weight without the rider of a hefty 1,617 pounds. During its land speed record attempt—which was scheduled to take place on the world’s highest salt flat, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, during the Top of the World Landspeed Challenge August 3-8—Ack Attack was to carry 30 gallons of engine coolant, 15 gallons of intercooler water and 4.7 gallons of fuel…and Rocky Robinson of course. Ack Attack has been attempting and setting speed records since 2004 with its highest noted speed being 394 mph. But official record book attempts require the average of two runs held within 60 minutes.

The effort of reaching 400 mph requires not only aerodynamics and horsepower, but also a flat surface relatively free of imperfections with enough distance for both a long run up and a long run down. 

While Bonneville has been the setting for some of Ack Attack’s records the machine has also been to Lake Gairdner in Australia in an attempt to break the records while searching for the right location. Finding and moving locations have become among the speed community’s challenges. Within the last 10 years the Bonneville Salt Flats have been unpredictable for both the state of the track and the weather. For several of the past five years Bonneville Speed Week has been canceled due to the state of the salt. While racers have been complaining about the condition of the salt for the past 40 years it has only been in the past decade that attention has been drawn to and focused upon the quickly disappearing salt layer that covers the mud pan of the Great Salt Lake Basin.

Searching for an ideal venue, Ack Attack now travels to Salar de Uyuni, which covers an area of 10,582 square kilometres in western Bolivia, to attempt its 400-mph run. 

At an elevation of 3,656 metres (11,882 feet) the location is 4,646 feet higher than Alberta’s Highwood Pass (Canada’s highest paved road). It is a long way to go but the advantage to running in Bolivia is the size of the salt pan which allows for a 20-mile course with a 10-mile buildup to the timing lights—supposedly enough room to get the throttle twisted to eleven. 

Other advantages include the lighter air density, which should squeeze a few more mph out of the already sleek streamliner. Getting to Salar de Uyuni is surprising simple as the salt flats contain more than half of the world’s known lithium deposits so the nearby towns offer transportation and infrastructure. 

When another group of speed enthusiasts was looking for a location to set a LSR with a 1,000-mph car, scouts narrowed down the options to 16 sites around the world based on the requirements of flatness, weather, lack of vegetation and at least 10 miles of track. Even with 16 options (including Bonneville and the Black Rock Desert in the US and Lake Gairdner in Australia), most were eliminated due to conditions before that team chose the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa, for the running of the Bloodhound SCC jet powered car. It isn’t easy to go fast as this site required a huge effort by locals to move tons of rocks off the track. The planning for the Bloodhound’s run has taken more than 10 years.

The success of Ack Attack in Bolivia and the Bloodhound SSC’s eventual run on Hakskeen Pan will in part decide where future land speed records will be attempted. The fate of the Bonneville Salt Flats rests on the continued deterioration or replenishing of the salt surface, and according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune prior to 2015’s scheduled Speed Week no concrete reasons can be given for the salt’s decline whether it be mining of the salt, varying water tables or long term natural changes. Unfortunately there is no denying that both the area of coverage and thickness of the salt is declining and getting a Speed Week organzied with a 10 mile track grows ever more difficult and unpredictable. Even with good salt, the speeds chased by these crews may start exceeding Bonneville’s capacity, which if you have ever crossed the Utah salt desert, is quite astounding.

About Ack Attack – It’s complicated setting a land speed record.

Top 1 Ack Attack’s bullet-shaped chassis is made from chromoly tubing. Two 1299c Suzuki Hayabusa motors that use Carrillo rods, CP pistons, and a Garrett turbocharger power it. The available combined horsepower is 1,000-plus. The machine runs on tires by Mickey Thompson rated to 500-plus mph.

 Ramsey RPV chains combine the power of the two engines that is transferred to the rear wheel by duel Regina 530 ZRP O-ring chains that are water-cooled. 

The Motec engine management system controls all engine parameters and let the team know how much up or down force is present in each wheel and it also measures front and rear wheel speed for calculating tire slippage, engine rpm, and suspension position at front and rear.

The cockpit has conventional controls: right side throttle, left side nitrogen assisted clutch, and shifting by foot or air. The brake hand lever is on the right and operates the high-speed parachute and low speed parachute; the foot brake is on the left.

The centre hub steering arrangement on the machine provides 12 degrees of steering each side of centre. There is also a steering dampener operated by the driver’s foot.

There are two distinct chutes in the Ack Attack machine. A high-speed type that deploys at 330 mph and above which provides 1.3Gs of force and a larger low speed chute used in case of emergency. Both chutes deploy automatically if the bike tips more than 45 degrees.

There’s a pair of six-piston disc brakes at the rear, which are cooled by ice water from the inter cooler. For additional safety the machine is equipped with a nine-point safety harness, arm restraint, and two halogen fire control systems.

John Molony Canadian Biker Issue #334


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