BAR Honda breaks Formula 1 speed record

On July 20, 2006, the final day of record attempts by the Honda Racing F1 team on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats, Alan van der Merwe piloted the Honda Formula One race car to three new land speed records, each eclipsing those set the previous day, when the Bonneville 400 team finally reached a measured mile speed of 400 kilometres per hour (km/h).

Since Tuesday July 18, 2006, Alan and the team have broken FIA class world records three times over, ending today with an average speed of 397.360 km/h (246.908 mph) over two runs of the Bonneville flying mile. At the same time, van der Merwe set a new class record for the flying kilometre, with an average speed of 397.481 km/h (246.983 mph). Both speeds again set a new mark for the fastest officially measured speed ever by a Formula One car, pending official ratification by the FIA.

The atmosphere was full of anticipation on the final day of high-speed running, as the project team arrived on the salt flats in the hope the records could be raised. The team was ready to go as dawn broke, having carried out a gearbox change late into the previous night. Alan rolled onto the course at 6:40 am and consistently recorded times above 390 km/h all morning until his record-breaking run at 9:02 am.

Unfortunately the team lost a driveshaft late morning that damaged the differential. However, having completed nearly three times a Grand Prix distance at Bonneville this week, in a hostile environment of sand and extreme heat, as well as running at the Mojave, Lyneham and Victorville tests, the Honda 3.0-litre V10 engine was one of the stars of the show. Throughout the challenge, the engine provided unabated power and reliability.

Likewise, the Michelin tires, on such an unpredictable surface, performed exceptionally well during the high-speed running on the flats. Michelin provided advice on set-up changes and all of the attempts were made with Michelin F1 tires, mainly intermediates.

Following the final day of running, Bonneville 400 driver Alan van der Merwe said, “I think in general the feeling is satisfaction with what we achieved. It would have been nice to have a round number [400] for the record and we were only 2 and half kilometres off that. In fact, we know we did everything possible to the car; we timed it exactly right today with the weather and we’re pretty sure we couldn’t have got more out of it, possibly another kilometre an hour but we would have needed freakishly good weather to do that.

“So, yeah, I’m really happy and slightly relieved as well, because it has been really stressful, every day, and we now know we have had the best day possible to run the car. Altogether its been great to set the record and very rewarding to reach 400 kilometres per hour. It’s been a great week”

Mike Cook, president of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and veteran of several land speed record attempts at Bonneville, was equally as pleased that the team had stayed on to push its own records even higher. “First of all, I want to say we really feel the team came out and worked very, very hard right down the side; they truly are Bonneville racers now. We out here call them the Formula One Hot Rod now because they did everything humanly possible to make this car run as fast as it has.”

Bonneville 400 Technical Director Gary Savage said, “Today we went racing; this is the racing truth, isn’t it? The only thing there is, is the stop watch – no excuses, no nothing; you just go for it. The team was fantastic! They did everything on the car to get it to go quicker. We did hit 400 for one of our runs, we did 399 for another and our average is 397 kilometres per hour, so it’s pretty good really.”

This project has been an incredible journey for the Honda Racing F1 Team, driven by enthusiasm and a determination to finally establish what speed its car could reach away from the confines of a race track on the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats.