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Bonneville Test & Tune Day 3

Great news! We hit 317mph on our second pass today. We experienced no issues with the car and successfully gathered all the data we needed for the upcoming SCTA and FIA events later this year. Given today’s positive results, we’ve decided to forgo additional runs and return early. We’re not sure how much more we can learn on the 3-mile track and want to preserve the engines for the longer courses at Speed Week and Cook’s. 

Although the test exceeded our expectations, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Our engine team is going to work on hopping up our existing setup in order to generate more horsepower and faster acceleration. I personally will be making some modifications to the cockpit and safety equipment setup. As always, we’ll be tweaking our traction formulas in search of the least possible wheel slip. 

A huge thank you to my kick-ass team, our amazing sponsors, and all of you following along and supporting THOMPSONLSR and the Challenger II. To those of you still testing, be safe and have fun. It's been great getting to see and meet some of you in person. I consider competing with you a privilege. 

Below, you'll find a list of the people I'd like to thank (if I forgot you, please let me know, I'm old), plus lots of cool pictures and videos of our third day on the salt. Thanks for coming along for the ride! Lots more ahead. 

  • Blake Rutherford
  • Cherico Brown
  • Craig Johnson
  • Dan Warner
  • Dave Armstrong
  • Donnie Cummins
  • Eddie Marlen
  • Eric Hoenig
  • Frank Hanrahan
  • Holly Martin
  • Jason Brown
  • Jerry Darien
  • Judy Creach
  • Larry Baird
  • Lou Anderson
  • Martin Menne
  • Matt Holmes
  • Melanie McGuire
  • Mike Brauer
  • Mike Cook
  • Mike Cook Jr.
  • Mike McGuire
  • Peter DeLory
  • Peter Vincent
  • Reid Rutherford
  • Richard Catton
  • Richard Rohrdanz
  • Robert Johnson
  • Terry Hegman
  • Tim Gibson
  • Tommy Roberts
  • Valerie Thompson
  • Warren Baird

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PHOTOS

VIDEOS

Bonneville Test & Tune Day 2

We got to run the car on the salt today, and I can't describe how cool it was. We made a clean 246mph checkout pass early this morning. We have lots of these slower tests to look forward to as we work our way up the safety certification stairway and gather performance data about the car. I'm pleased to say that both engines started immediately and warmed well. The nose did not demonstrate any notable lift during the run, and our RacePak data acquisition systems performed flawlessly. We've been working on the car for four years, but it's all been largely theoretical. Getting to actually run and find out whether we've been making the right decisions has been an amazing opportunity. 

We prepped the car for a second test later in the day, but the wind speed started fluctuating between 10-15mph, so we decided to cancel. We'll be back out again early tomorrow morning, so I look forward to bringing you more of the latest then! Hopefully we'll be able to get some video up soon. The Wi-Fi at the hotel is pretty abysmal though, so in the meantime, please enjoy some photos by Holly and Peter Vincent. 


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Bonneville Test & Tune Day 1

It took 46 years, but the Challenger II has finally returned to Bonneville! My crew and I are here for the 2014 USFRA Test and Tune. This will be our first opportunity to run the streamliner on the salt, and will provide us with the data we need for the upcoming SCTA and FIA events. We will not be attempting any record runs during the Test and Tune. 

That said, it's absolutely bitching to be here. Most of the morning was taken up by the official tech inspection of the car. I also had to do a bailout test with the canopy down. For those of you that haven't attended an event, that basically involved an USFRA official screaming "fire" very convincingly while I scrambled out of my belts, HANS device, and cockpit as quickly as possible. I've practiced that particular move a few times over the years though, so it all went pretty smoothly. 

The latter half of the day was all about capturing images of the car with the help of our amazing photographers Holly Martin and Peter Vincent. Unfortunately, the weather chose not to cooperate, so our golden hour became dark clouds and light showers. That's okay though, because in my opinion, the car looks damn good rain or shine.

Tomorrow will be the first day that we get to run, so we'll have a chance to learn whether the last four years of work have been leading us in the right direction. I can't wait! 


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PHOTOS

The Challenger II Lives Again!

What a terrific day. The Challenger II made it’s first run in 46 years—and it hauled ass! I’ve got a lot to say, but I’d like to start by thanking the huge number of people that made this test possible. I’m sure I left a few contributors out, so please get in touch with me so I can add you to the list! This whole post is being dictated over iPhone, so I can guarantee that there will be mistakes and omissions. My apologies in advance.

First, our friends:
Mike Cook, John Baechtel, Zane McNary, Chick Huntimer, James Fleshman, Willi Boeckle, Helmut Haupt, Martin Menne, Monte Warnock, George Callaway, Melanie McGuire, Ron Shipley & Crew, Ron Gillman, Eddie Marlen, Dave Schuten , Jeff Scobin, Roger Rohrdanz, Nick Arias, Tom Curnow

And of course, my amazing crew:
Eric Hoeing, Mike McGuire, Lou Anderson, Frank Hanrahan, Tim Gibson, Terry Herman, Jerry Darrien, Richard Catton, Craig Johnson, Holly Martin, Doug Robinson, Dave Hadley, Tom Mott, Donny Cummins, Art Christman, George Calloway

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Challenger II made it’s first successful test run at the El Mirage dry lake today. El Mirage was not my first choice of venues, but flat, smooth, and free ended up being a winning combination. Track conditions were similar to Bonneville’s salt flats in terms of roughness, but the silt surface made less traction. The course was also much shorter than what I expect to run at the SCTA and FIA events later this year. 

We made a relatively low speed run (200mph range), but a whole lot of important things went just right, validating many of the engineering choices my team and I have made over the last three years. Our clutch combination allowed us to drive away with a relatively minuscule push, and our four wheel drive setup delivered the traction necessary for rapid and steady acceleration. Tim Gibson’s extremely complex front end architecture worked like a charm, and the steering (after a few adjustments) was smooth and fluid. I was able to test the parachutes and the new carbon fiber breaks, both of which performed perfectly. 

We did have a few hiccups. I plan to regress the shifting system, which is currently modeled for F1 style quick shifts. I made it too trick, especially for a pair of hands wrapped in SFI20 compliant safety gloves. We also need to fine tune the radios. I didn’t realize that we’d have to leave the canopy down during warmup (even with a helmet on and air flowing, the engines were dumping too much nitro vapor into the cockpit), and communicating with the crew using our current setup was difficult. 

That said, I’m pumped! We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us as we prepare for our next test at Bonneville in July. The engines will be coming apart tomorrow and we’ll be examining every inch of the car as we fix, tune, and optimize. Thanks for coming along for the ride! 

Start-Up Video with Commentary

Since our first startup a month ago, we've been firing the engines regularly, hunting for problems and experimenting with various modifications and improvements. We've also been taking some videos. Last week, Danny recorded an audio commentary over one of those videos explaining all the different things that are happening during a typical startup. It's more complicated than you might think! Update: This video was featured on Hotrod.com and few other places around the web. 

RACER.com Diary: Bonneville Blue Wheels

We love black and white, but this week we’re making an exception to show off our new wheels. Designed by aerodynamicist Tim Gibson and machined by our skillful friends at S-K Specialities, these freshly anodized bad boys are officially ready to tear up the salt. 

Each wheel starts out as two separate 120 pound pieces of 2024 T-351 aerospace grade aluminum billet. Over many hours that raw material is machined down to two parts; an eight pound inner half and a twenty pound outer half. The outer half requires a bit of extra work because it features ten additional milled pockets to further reduce weight. The two pieces are connected together by thirty reinforced aircraft bolts supplied by our pals at Coast Fabrication. Each 12-point bolt is torqued to exactly fifty-five pounds, resulting in 1,815 pounds of total clamping pressure. This compresses an o-ring, which provides the final seal.

If that sounds like a lot of work, let us assure you, it is. We’re often asked why we didn’t just make a one piece wheel, and we have two good answers. First, our car uses a set of four experimental Mickey Thompson tires. They are 4.5 inches wide, banded with steel wire, and extensively cross woven with nylon. There’s barely any rubber (1/32 of an inch), so forcing the tires to stretch over a one piece design could diminish their structural integrity. At 450mph, we want structural integrity. The second reason has to do with space constraints. The shape and offset of the inner wheel has been adapted to fit around the highly compact front suspension system. Tim’s extensive design work in this area allowed us to incorporate a new carbon fiber brake set, which should come in handy if the parachutes puncture or fail. 

We had four sets of wheels made, mostly because changing tires takes way too long at the salt, especially during the FIA mandated one hour turnaround. It also gives us a chance to match outside diameters well in advance in a temperature controlled environment. We’re not sure if we’ll have to change tires after every run (we hope not), but we want to be prepared for the possibility. It all comes down to how successfully we can control wheel slip, which is basically the story of every aspect of the car.

First Start-Up

I'm delighted to announce that we have successfully started both of the Challenger II's engines. The initial run-throughs used methanol and sounded fantastic. After a few function tests, we switched over to 50% nitro, and the combined 4000hp roar shook the ground. It was a terrific feeling, and one that my team and I have been waiting a very long time for. Full credit belongs to our engine specialists Jerry Darien and Richard "RC" Catton. They made this happen, and I am extremely grateful for their dedication and hard work. 

Looking ahead, we'll be doing a few more shop starts before our first shakedown run at a local drag strip. We've added a calendar section to the top of the website with more information about the dates and times of our testing events. Most will be open to the public if you'd like to attend. As per usual, the startup process has revealed some problems and inefficiencies, so we'll be working hard to correct and overcome those in the weeks ahead. Below you'll find a photo gallery and some videos of the startup. Every time I watch them, I feel overwhelmingly excited. I hope you feel the same. 



March 2014 Photo Update (Part II)

March 2014 Photo Update (Part I)