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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




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 and few other places around the web. 

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.