Did you know that Utah’s famous Bonneville Salt Flats, home of the international auto extravaganza Speed Week, are bleeding salt and will eventually disappear? Well, that appears to be the case, but for now there is still a salt bed to race on, so earlier this month Venturi Automobiles set out with its VBB-3 to establish a new electric vehicle speed record along with its partner, the Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research.
Unfortunately wet weather cancelled Speed Week and the aftermath resulted in a wet, bumpy track for VBB-3 (that’s short for Venturi Buckeye Bullet, the “Buckeye” referring to Ohio’s nickname), but the team still came away with a new category record.
Speed Week & The Electric Vehicle Speed Record
For those of you new to Speed Week, it’s a generations-old annual event that takes place about 90 miles west of Salt Lake City:
Bonneville Land Speed Racing is a unique sport that consists of very determined people who drive hot rods, roadsters, belly tankers, lakesters, motorcycles, streamliners, and even diesel trucks to “shoot the salt” in a simple quest to have their name added to the list of many record holders.
Back in 2010, the Venturi/OSU team and its sponsors went to Speed Week and set a world electric vehicle speed record across all categories with an earlier version of the vehicle, VBB-2.5, which peaked out at 320 mph.
The current iteration, VBB-3, is having a tough time cracking that nut, but the all-battery (no fuel cell) vehicle is still a record-setter in its category. Last year, despite stormy weather at Speed Week 2014, VBB-3 garnered a FIA-confirmed speed record in Category A Group VIII Class 8, that being electric vehicles over 3.5 metric tonnes. The average two-way speed was 212.6 mph, topping out at 270 mph.
That’s pretty good, though it fell short of the VBB-2.5 2010 recording-setting average two-way speed of 307 mph and its peak of 320 mph.
This year, bad weather didn’t just hamper Speed Week, it caused the first cancellation in 32 years:
The Bonneville Salt Flats saw a very wet July causing the organizers of Speed Week to cancel their famous event which should have taken place August 8th through 14th. The Venturi team was hopeful that the salt would dry for their mid-to-late August FIA world land speed record attempt, but a heavy storm on August 7th delayed their plans.
Crews worked nonstop to groom the surface but the conditions were still rough by the time VBB-3 hit the salt in a private event attended by FIA officials on August. Instead of a smooth, dry 12-mile track, the teams had to work with a 10-mile track that was wet and muddy in parts.
Here’s VBB-3 driver Roger Schroer on the situation:
In eleven years here I have never driven on such a difficult track. The car was sliding on the surface from one side to the other due to soft spots and bumps.
Schroer only got one shot at the record, because on the next go-around something pierced the front cooling system tank.
Nevertheless, the Venturi/OSU team bested last year’s mark, hitting an average one-mile speed of 240.32 mph. As of this writing, the team is awaiting FIA homologation (that’s fancyspeak for official confirmation) to establish the new record in its category.
For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the power behind the new VBB-3 record:
Propelled by two custom electric motors developed in conjunction with Venturi Automobiles, the VBB-3 is powered by over two megawatts of lithium ion batteries produced by A123 Systems.
The VBB partnership with OSU (here’s some cool video and photos, btw) is just one of Venturi’s electric vehicle ventures. The company also runs a Formula E electric vehicle in the new FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) global racing series, which we happened to catch last spring in Berlin. The Venturi Formula E team is co-founded by Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, this Leonardo DiCaprio and this one, too).
Then there’s a solar car for commuters:
What About Those Salt Flats?
We could go on, but you’re probably wondering about the disappearing Bonneville Salt Flats. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the Salt Flats are indeed disappearing. Here’s a couple of snippets but do read the whole article to get the big picture on this complex phenomenon:
Serious scientific study of the salt flats began in 1960, at about the same time the racers started to complain about deteriorating salt conditions.
Two more studies followed and found, much to everyone’s alarm, that the salt flats did appear to be shrinking. In 1960, measurements found that the salt flats covered an area of roughly 38 square miles. In 1974, the same methodology found the salt flats covered 36 square miles. And in 1988, geologists measured 30 square miles of salt crust.
On a brighter note, did you know that anybody can drive on the Salt Flats? Before you go, check out this handy Salt Flats FAQ from the Bureau of Land Management.
Photo (all photos) via Venturi Automobiles.