16 - 21 July 2006
397.360 kph best two way average (246.9 mph)
400.459 kph best one way speed (248.8 mph)
At 1130 I was on a 737 headed from Denver to Salt Lake City. I had just won the Denver Solo National Tour a scant hour and a half earlier and was now in a hurry to make a meeting on the salt flats. The company I work for was one of only two vendors (the other was Bridgestone) invited by the Honda F1 team to attend their week-long effort to attain 400kph on the salt with an f1 car in legal f1 trim. It was Sunday, the 16th of July and I slept a bit on the short flight. After landing, I hurried to the rental and scooted out to do the 117 miles to the Salt Flats. I made it in time for the afternoon meeting, but the meeting was pushed back due to delays and I ended up talking to the team manager for a bit and then hitting the hotel.
I had never been to the flats but know several who have. Their description of 'desolate' is not near 'desolate' enough. It is eerily spookily desolate out there. Miles of...er...salt. And it's flat (big surprise, I know). Since they weren't running until Monday, some other folks were on the salt on Sunday, one of them being a rocketry club who was launching some good-sized rockets (over 5' tall) with long exhaust trails pointing to the distant heights they achieved.
Monday. 0430. Wow...it is really early but I grab a shower and head out. I'm on the salt by 0515 and action is around the small car. Soon it is fired up and warmed and then by sunup (about 0600) the car completes an installation run and then comes back and is readied for an attempt. They launch and fight the salt for grip and can't get up to speed in the short run they have to the start of the timers. The run is setup with a 2 mile runup, a one mile section that is the official 'timed' section, and then a 2 mile shutdown where they turn around and run back. The official speed is the avg of the two runs in the times sector and the runs must occur within 1 hour of each other. Monday is spent on shakedown runs and learning that the normal f1 tires suck on the salt. Ditto for full rains. Intermediates are the choice.
Above: The Helo I got a hop in on left, and the road to the Salt Flats on the right. See the mountains in the distance? It's pretty much flat till there. Yikes!
Tuesday. Same thing again. Out there early, they fight grip and make another 4-5 runs while trying to balance the car and have the driver not loop it. At the end of the day they decide that it just can't be done with the 'short course' and so Tuesday evening everything is moved to allow a 4 mile runup, the 1 mile 'timed' section and a 4 mile shutdown. On their best timed run so far they found that at the END of the timed section they still have 30kph of wheelspin at over 200mph. Yikes.
Wednesday. First shot on the long run and they launch early (which is what the local expert has been telling them) and knock down the 400kph on the run out, but blow a hydraulic line and must get towed back for a lengthy repair, blowing the shot at the goal. The atmospheric and salt conditions were perfect and not duplicated the remaining two mornings.
Above: Me inspecting some film after a run and Alex preparing to go.
Thursday and Friday they struggle for grip and end up adding a bunch of weight to the back of the car and putting down the 397 average. I'll save you the play by play because you can read about it here. I'll just give you my impressions of things.
First up, the salt itself. It changes. A lot! From the time I step foot at 0530 to the time the sky begins to brighten it stays pretty much the same. When the sun finally pops up the salt changes a bit and seems to get a bit more tacky. Within 15 minutes of the sun being fully above the horizon, the salt changes again and goes loose and the top is much less cohesive. It's weird.
Above: You can barely see the film crossing the left part of the 'E' going vertical.
Second up, the food. They have two custom food coaches with real pro chefs and a spread that would make Iron Chefs proud! Awesome food anytime you wanted to walk up and order something, in addition to 3 servings a day on real china and heavy flatware. I hate to think of the money they spent just feeding the crew, the journalists, security, emergency medical crews, and extras. Incredible food.
Third up, journalists. They came from everywhere, with Brits, Italians and Germans being the most prevalent. When the Germans (from the US equivalent of Modern Marvels) find out about the patterns and film on the car they prep me and I do a 10 minute interview from the hospitality tent about who my company is and what it does. A month or so later the segment airs and it is a huge hit (I'm not making this up) with the best ratings of the season. The producer sends me a dvd copy of the show and it is REALLY strange to hear yourself talking and then being dubbed over in German. Too cool, and great exposure for the company and product!!
Above: Shots of Alex
Fourth, security. Not run-of-the-mill mall cops, but a professional security agency that contract serious folks. Rangers, SEALs, Green Beanies, etc. Over half of them had seen action in Afghanistan or Iraq and many were active duty or reserves. A few from LAPD SWAT and such. I made friends with them quickly and hung out with them the most. On the second day they issued me a radio (they had 3 channels going with 30+ folks) so I could keep up with the security details, movie crew and team folks. It was awesome! I used spare film to cover a lot of those guys' cell phones, cameras and PDAs. Great guys!
Above: Adding weight. The blue sandbag is getting installed and the metal plates are taped into the tail.
Above: I LOVE this shot. I was panning with the car and had NO idea the chopper was hovering there until I viewed the pics later.
Above: The 240mph salt impact area and an early morning return run shot.
Above: Base camp. The black small tent on far left (behind black pickup) is where the car is (next to white hauler). The white tent is hospitality, the red tent is food.
Above: Me filming a segment for German TV.
Fifth, medical crews. In covering the PDA of an LAPD guy, the medi-vac crew (they had a chopper on station the whole time) guys mosey over and we chat. I cover their phones and a camera and then the pilot comes over and we chat aviation and helo flight and Oshkosh (we have both been). I end up covering his new camera and (WAHOO!) get a free hop about the salt. They were taking one of the ambulance crews as a favor and the pilot asked if I'd like to go. Duh! I got some GREAT pics of the basecamp and a good feel for the size of this place (huge!).
Sixth, the product. Although I took several extra kits to re-film the car if needed, after a week of running on the salt the film was still perfect. It protected the carbon fiber from scratches (surface scratches on CF weakens the structure), allowed a quick cleanup and kept the sponsor logos looking good. Mission accomplished.
Seventh, the team. Everyone was great to me and very courteous. From the time I arrived and went through credentialing to the very end it was awesome. I took about 1.5 gigs of pictures and video and had a great time. I'd like to take my own car there someday and see what I could do across the salt.