3,000-hp Venturi VBB-3 battles wet salt to set electric land speed record

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The VBB-3 braved rough conditions to set a claimed record of 240 mph

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Spill a little water in your salt shaker, and the salt quickly becomes clumpy and useless. Wet salt isn't all that useful in land speed record racing, either. Wet conditions and bad weather shut down Bonneville Speed Week for the second year in a row this summer, and they didn't much help Venturi and Ohio State in their electric land speed record hopes last week. The team battled through, and while the VBB-3 streamliner didn't reach the high speeds it's capable of, it did set a new category world record of 240.320 mph (386.757 km/h).

The last time we caught up with French electric car specialist Venturi Automobiles, it was showing a rather awesome electric dune buggy at last year's Paris Motor Show. About a year before that, it first revealed the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 (VBB-3), a 3,000-hp battery-powered land rocket designed to best Venturi's own 2010 electric land speed record mark of 307 mph (495 km/h). At that time, it estimated that the VBB-3, developed with Ohio State's Center for Automotive Research, would be able to hit speeds in the 440-mph (708-km/h) ballpark.

Problem is, the VBB-3 hasn't gotten the chance to properly stretch its legs. Wet weather at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 2013 forced the Venturi/OSU team to reschedule its first record attempt for the following summer. Summer 2014 came, and so did the storms, leaving Venturi to settle for a 212-mph (341-km/h) electric vehicle record in the over 3.5-tonne class (FIA Category A Group VIII Class 8) in place of the absolute record the VBB-3 was engineered for.

Bonneville was pounded with rain yet again this year, and while it eventually dried out enough for Venturi to put the VBB-3 to work, the salt never returned to the dry, hard form needed for a proper record attempt. Venturi had planned to practice during Speed Week, which was originally scheduled for August 8 to 14 before being cancelled in July, in preparation of a record attempt after the event.

Instead, things proceeded similarly to last year. No Speed Week, and an August 7 downpour delayed Venturi from setting up on the salt until August 15, chopping down its schedule significantly. While land speed record preparation trucks were able to smooth things out enough to create a safe track, the salt was still wet, muddy and bumpy, and the track was 10 miles (16 km) instead of the planned 12 miles (19 km). During practice, the ground conditions caused vehicle vibrations and electrical problems.

Venturi pressed on and decided to go for the record attempt on August 21. VBB-3 driver Roger Schroer dropped into the cockpit and rocketed across the prehistoric lake bed, achieving an average speed of 240.320 mph (386.757 km/h) after exiting the flying mile at 288 mph (463.4 km/h). That 240-mph was well short of the absolute world record, but it did best last year's 212-mph for a new record in the over 3.5-tonne category. The record awaits FIA homologation.

"In eleven years here I have never driven on such a difficult track," said Schroer. "The car was sliding on the surface from one side to the other due to soft spots and bumps."

In fact, the VBB-3 cracked its cooling tank on the rebound run, eliminating the possibility of a subsequent attempt.

While disappointing in light of Venturi's ultimate goal of a new electric vehicle world record, the run was successful in its own right. Schroer made the attempt safely, and the team at least came out of the desert with a category record to show for its work.

"We went faster than we have ever gone with this vehicle, but it was a very difficult week on a very bumpy track and we have done some damage to the vehicle from extreme vibrations," said David Cooke, team leader with The OSU Center for Automotive Research. "Still, I am confident that with a smooth track the VBB-3 can reach its target speeds."

That target won't come without having to endure more of what Venturi and OSU have gotten all too used to over the past few years: waiting.

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