The Worst Disaster in Racing History

June 11, 1955…Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France…

Context

Shown above is the modern track, not the 1955 track.

Le Mans is a famous endurance race that takes place over 24 straight hours. It began in 1923 and is the world’s oldest active endurance racing event. This years event will begin Saturday, June 11th and end Sunday, June 12th.

Most races are fixed distance and the car that arrives first wins. In endurance racing the time is set and the car that drives the longest distance in that time is the winner. The Triple Crown of Motorsports is comprised of the La Mans, the Indie 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the pure speed priority of most races, endurance racing calls on teams to consider both speed and a strategy that avoids mechanical breakdown.

The Background of the 55′ Disaster

Since the Le Mans began in 1923 the track had been shortened a bit and widened a bit, and they’d resurfaced it after WWII. The grandstands and pits had been rebuilt and they’d added a 4 foot wide earthen bank between the track and the stands. That was it. In 1923 the top speed of race cars was 60 MPH. In 1955 it was 170 MPH.

Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz had all won before and all brought new cars specially designed for this race. The teams also brought the best drivers of the time, including Pierre Levegh a Frenchman who’d tried to do the Le Mans solo in 52′ but failed in hour 23. Also in the field were Eugenio Castellotti for Ferrari, Mike Hawthorn for Jaguar, and Juan Manuel Fangio for for Mercedes-Benz.

The race began at 4 pm local time with the three favorites building a quick lead while the rest of the teams played more conservatively to preserve their cars. By 5pm Castellotti had dropped back a bit to let team Jag and Merc battle each other for lead–setting new lap records each time around. By lap 35 it was time for the lead cars to take their first pit stop.

The First 3 Things to Go Wrong

If the first problem is that the racers are highly competitive and willing to take risks. This is also what makes racing exciting and is inherent to the nature of the sport. What can be done is making the sport as safe as possible without making it lose its excitement. The only reason to mention it as the first thing to go wrong is that these drivers were particularly keyed up and actively battling for lead.

This matters because one might expect things like driver error late in a 24 hour race when fatigue impairs judgement, but this accident happened early when focus was high–aside from needed to win.

The second issue, as mentioned is that track wasn’t modernized to handle the current speed of racing. The third issue, which is somewhat inseparable from a race like this is advanced technology on cars. Usually tech advantages cause problems like part failure causing a team to lose the race. In this case advanced disc brakes on the Jaguar worked a bit too well.

As Hawthorn rounded the last big corner before the pit he lapped two competitors in rapid succession, Levegh in his Merc and Lance Macklin in his Austin Healey. Macklin moved over to let Hawthorn by putting him directly behind where Hawthorn needed to go to make the pit row.

Problem #4

As Hawthorn jammed in front of Macklin to exit he applied his disk breaks. There wasn’t a designated deceleration lane prior to the pit, in fact their was a bit of a right-hand kink. Hawthorn had to brake hard, Macklin dodged left while braking hard.

Meanwhile Fangio was in process of lapping Levegh. Macklins dodge left connected with Levegh’s front right panel causing both cars to break loose of their tires grip on the road. Levegh, being a veteran of the sport was able to throw his arm up in warning to Fangio, before his car ran up on the back of Macklins car, launching it into the air. Fangio closed his eyes and sailed through the carnage unscathed.

Problem #5

None of the drivers at the time wore seat belts, believing they’d rather be thrown clear of an accident than be burned alive inside should the unthinkable happen. Levegh was thrown clear of the car as it flipped end over end, 260 feet toward and over the crowd. Levegh’s skull was crushed on impact. The car crashed into the stairs for the grandstand and blew apart sending debris out like shrapnel into the stands.

The heavier parts like the engine, radiator, and front suspension continued forward another 330 feet crushing all in the path. The hood spun forward decapitating tightly packed spectators before they could flinch.

Problem #7

What remained of the Levegh’s car landed on the embankment upside down and the gas tank burst into flames. The heat from the fire ignited the composite alloy of the car’s body–which had a high magnesium content. The resulting explosion showered the audience and the track with flaming magnesium which can’t be put out by water. Unfortunately early responders didn’t know that, and the car burned as a fireball for many more hours before it could be put out.

Macklins car, rebounded off the left side wall of the track and veered back across the track and through the pit lane wall, almost scraping down the side of every car and crew that was already in the pit. It did hit a police man, a photographer and two race officials seriously injuring all.

The Fallout

Hawthorn overshot his pit so he stopped his Jag and got out, his crew demanded he get back in for another lap, trying to get him away from the chaos. When he pulled in on the next lap he was devastated and taking responsibility. Although track layout was ultimately blamed for the disaster.

John Michael Hawthorn

American driver John Fitch was suited up and ready to take Levegh’s place when they pitted in, he watched the accident with Levegh’s wife. After half an hour he realized he should call his family to tell them he wasn’t one of 84 dead or 120 injured.

They Kept Racing

Surprisingly they continued the race. Director Charles Faroux didn’t stop the race. He later justified his decision saying that the crowds leaving all at once would only clog up roads needed for emergency vehicles. He also didn’t want to get sued by every major car company involved for breach of contract. Sadly, there was reason to believe that might happen based on similar tragedies.

Team Mercedes-Benz fought to pull out of the race, but it took until midnight to get team owners in Germany to agree to it. At 1:45 AM they quietly pulled their cars into the pit, and packed up. The were running 1st and 3rd.

With the Merc’s out of the race and the Ferrari’s all destroyed of broken, team Jag won by five laps. There was no victory celebration, partly due to rain, but they got a picture of Hawthorn on his car sipping his victory Champaign. That didn’t play well in the French press. Although it should be noted that when several countries suspended Motorsports, including France, the lifted the ban prior to the next running of Le Mans.

Enough countries did’t ban motorsports, (America for one) or lifted the ban later in the year, that the world sportscar championship season could finish and crown Mercedes-Benz ultimate victor. Merc then withdrew from racing until the 80’s. A number of drivers retired as well, some at the end of the season. Macklin after another fatal crash later that year.

Modern Pits in daylight

Hawthorn took a lot of blame from the press, claiming he’d cut in front of Macklin and slammed on his brakes. Team Jag tried to question Levegh and Macklin’s reflexes. It took until 1975 for Road & Track Magazine and Paul Fre’re (second place finisher at the 55 Le Mans) to clear up what had happened. By converting still pics of the carnage into video it was clear that the last minute jog in the track before the straight away lined the drivers up with the stands and gave little room to exit to the pit lane at 120 plus miles per hour. Hawthorn would have had to wait to lap any of the cars well before the pits were visible in order to go slow enough to exit without hard breaking. He knew what his car could do, but not what the other cars could do in response.

As it turns out the government inquiry cleared all the drivers, and the teams, but found that the track design caused the spectator death.

A Sad Footnote

In publishing his autobiography, Challenge Me the Race, Hawthorn took no responsibility for the accident on himself or his equipment, leaving Macklin feeling blamed as the only other principle involved. He sued for libel. The action went unresolved when Macklin died in a non-racing car accident on the Guildford bypass (1959) while overtaking a Merc in his Jag.

The Track, who’s problems had been pointed out by drivers since 1953, was fixed.

Best Road Course Tracks Open To The Public

Road Atlanta Track

Road course tracks are meant for people who love to use their vehicles for sports. If you love driving around a track, you might be interested in learning which road courses are open to the public. You will find many courses closed to the public, leaving you feeling discouraged. However, there are a few around the U.S. that may be worth the trip just to test them out. Take a look at the best road course tracks open to the public for use.

Lime Rock Park

You may have heard of Lakeville, Connecticut, but if you haven’t, you should be aware that this town has America’s longest track. This is known as Lime Rock Park, and it is open to the public. It was built in the mid-50s and what makes this track so unique is that it was built with the natural terrain in mind. This construction makes it a more challenging track for racers.

Homestead Miami Speedway

Miami is one of the places most of us love to vacation. The beaches are lovely, the sun is hot, but on top of the fantastic weather is a massive speedway open to the public. In the south of Miami, you will notice a large track with a standard setup. This track hosts professional races and has days where anyone can use the track with their cars. It’s time you check out this road course in Miami.

Watkins Glen

You may have heard of “The Glen if you love racing.” It is one of the oldest race tracks in America. What you may not have known is that they host days where the track is open for the public to use. No matter who is driving, this track provides a good show because of the variety of elevations and straights on the track. It’s time to drive to Watkins Glen, New York, to view this amazing track.

Virginia International Raceway

This is a fun and budget-friendly track for the public to use in Virginia. It is also surrounded by beautiful vegetation. The broad fields and lofty trees are reminiscent of parts of the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, the track, with its narrow lanes and sharp curves, seems to reflect that. Therefore, if you find yourself in Alton, Virginia, with nothing to do, pay a visit to this fantastic road course.

Road Atlanta Track

Atlanta is known for being a city full of fun activities, but if you love cars and racing, there is a track waiting for you right outside the city. In the past, Road Atlanta has hosted several illustrious racing series and featured some of the sport’s greatest drivers. High-speed bends and straights are interspersed throughout the course to truly put a vehicle to the test. Use their rental service to receive a competent automobile, no matter what you drive.

Sonoma Raceway

Even though its road course is challenging, the oval course is also open to the public. Before going into Sonoma, California, it’s best to practice first. Although this is for all drivers, it is a challenging track to start with. If you are experienced, it can be fun, but this is not the course to practice on if you are inexperienced.

Circuit of The Americas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? Well, in this case, that statement may be right. Circuit of The Americas, also known as COTA, is one of the most well-built tracks in America and is occasionally open for the public to use. Austin, Texas, is one of the best places to go as a tourist and has a lot to offer anyone who loves to race.

E-racers – Grand Turismo and Forza

It seems that the virtual world of racing is as interesting as the real world of racing. As always, it depends on how you like your thrills.

Grand Turismo

Starting with the Grand Turismo brand; Grand Turismo 7 has been linked with the Porsche brand since 2017. It’s different from designing a car as it’s all about what it feels like to be behind the wheel and although you need to know something about the interior and the paintwork this isn’t the main focus.

The Deep Forest Roadway is apparently back as is the Trial Mountain and the High-Speed Ring.

This is the first year that a Porsche has been developed for the game, as if it were a concept car or one-off. It’s not a car you’d see on the road now, it’s far too futuristic an aesthetic.

Porsche Taycan

It needs to look and feel as if it were a Porsche-in other words, have the correct proportions and the iconic light strip which is linked with the brand. It has a hologram display in a curved shape which is also linked with Porsche and has the low seat associated with a racing car. Although these features wouldn’t necessarily work in real life.

The LED headlights are certainly reminiscent of the Porsche but to be clearer it is most similar to a Taycan, a Porsche electric sports car.

The titanium and carbon casing that the car were accounted for in the weight and wind dynamics effect on the cars handling. Funny enough, made sure that interior appears to be made out of vegan elements. Not sure why a car that doesn’t actually exist in real life needs to go that far, but…there you have it.

The display reacts to the steering wheel/controller as quickly as it can be. There are a number of mysteries under the hood which the game merely hints at.

Apparently, creating a concept car so real your competitors could potentially steel your design ideas from it’s avatar in a racing game is a concern for Porsche. Remember when automakers tried to keep people from viewing their design models so you couldn’t reverse engineer them—well, now adays you might be able to do it from a digital footprint.

Forza Horizon 7

Forza Horizon 7 has introduced speedsters such as the Lamborghini Aventador and various other vehicles recognizable to road users such as the 2011 Ferrari. There is also the 1939 Maserati which might only be considered highly recognizable to vintage car experts.

Do people buy the Forza Horizon for the different qualities of car horns which can be heard? It’s highly unlikely, but they made the horn sounds accurate and we nerds thank them for adding a new level detail to the gameplay.

Unfortunately, its predecessor Forza Motorsport 7 stopped being available in online stores in September 2021. The only way to buy it as a boxed copy is now second hand.

1939 Maserati

This seems to be the way of things; gone are the days of owning a physical copy of a game. People must prefer to buy it online and play it online without a physical box or file that you can hold.

Even if you delete Forza Motorsport 7 and similar games you can redownload it for nothing (in a similar way as you can redownload apps).

As of December 2021, there’s no news of the game which is simply called Forza Motorsport, or the one called Forza Motorsport 8. Project Woodstock is also linked to Forza but again there’s scant news about these projects.

This keeps everything guessing about the latest fads, so it probably keeps online racers intrigued. We’d love to write a post about how racing game developers are pushing designers to innovate real cars, or something along those lines, but game developers don’t seem to be able to push themselves to release their own games on time. So we’ll work with what we have. Look for updates as they become available.

Truck Racing

From the UK Desk

Truck racing began in Atlanta in 1979. Unfortunately, the speed of the trucks are limited at 160 mph and no truck can weigh greater than 5500 Kg. Before the race the trucks need to be rolled into position. It tries to be a non-contact sport but the odd crash is not uncommon.

The first truck race was on dirt and the truck was not adapted. This has now changed; in the UK there is a special division – Division 1 – where all the trucks, including the braking and suspension, have been especially adapted.

In 1982 a top speed of 132 mph was at the Texas World Speedway. After 1986 the tag axle was removed, getting rid of 2000 pounds. The Bandit Big Rig Series began in 2017. It included the Hickory Motor Prize. Points were awarded in the qualifying rounds and included heat races, shootout races, challenge races and ultimately the final.

The FIA European Truck Racing Championship or ETRC includes events which have been running for thirty years. The championship, which attracts families, according to their website, usually has around 400,000 spectators or so.

The trucks are not supposed to emit black smoke and this will get them banned from the event if it happens twice in a row. The two categories are Chrome and Titan, the Chrome division plays for the Goodyear Cup. There are drivers and team categories too.

Each Competition takes place over two days. A day generally includes half an hour of practise followed by qualifying events and finally the championship race. The winner is the one allocated the most points.

Baja Trucks

A different type of truck racing involves trophy trucks or Baja trucks/trick trucks. Instead of the usual circuits this is off-road racing using high powered engines. The trucks are considered street legal but have been especially designed. There are minimal rules for each truck’s production.

When it began the trucks varied in design so drastically that no truck was the same. Over time a group of engineering firms got involved. The downside of this was that the trucks began to lose their individuality.

It’s weird but for a long period the trucks were two-wheel drive, but they now incorporate an all-wheel drive feature. Ford and Chevrolet engines are commonly most used. An air restrictor is required if the truck uses a turbo engine.

In order to maneuver against the terrain of the desert the minimum weight has to be 1,600 Kg. The gearboxes used have a choice of either being three speed or six speed.

Pickup Racing

Pickup truck racing has modified trucks which are more drivable in racing terms than most trucks but still aren’t as aerodynamic as the usual racing cars.

The NASCAR Truck Series began in 1995 and the electrical equipment and aerodynamics involved have evolved over time.

Whatever type of truck racing you decide to attend you are guaranteed a special event, which despite the size of the vehicle, still has some of the best racing drivers out there. 

The Future of Racing

There’s not much coverage of electric cars in racing, we tend to associate it with gas guzzlers, even if these types of racers are out there. It’s noteworthy that hybrid powertrains replaced diesel more or less from 2014 on, so EV’s could be the future. As long as the car is lightweight the power source is open to interpretation. Unsurprisingly the racing fraternity is always after the next best thing so electric may just be the start.

Many countries and cities are looking to ban combustion engines so eventually electric cars will be the standard for all races.

Potential Adaptations

Just because the car is electric doesn’t mean needs look that different from a traditional racing car, which might surprise some early EV designers. One thing that is true of EV’s is that the lack of noise creeps out most people, so racing will need to find a way to add some noise or risk driving away their fans. Now the noise of traditional racing is excessive, potentially giving ear damage to pit crews, so maybe they don’t need to be as loud as they are now, but some accommodation must be made.

EV’s require charging a battery, presumably a race car would require more powerful chargers than domestic EV cars.

What Likely Won’t Change

Future cars will likely still be made of carbon fiber and they have to fit legal standards. Aerodynamics is important but each race also has a set of rules which you have to comply with. Le Mans for instance has more leeway than the more conventional races, such as Formula One.

Social media presence will remain a big component for teams. Pictures are currently uploaded to places like Facebook as well as “access all areas” content. (It’s not literally access to all areas by the way there will always be secrets withheld.)

Future Types of Races

Many sports have gone entirely virtual. The rise of Esports has created leagues in every traditional sport from bowling to basketball, as well as gladiatorial first person shooters. Racing is no exception and seems a natural fit since the racing industry pours millions into virtual simulators to enhance their ability to win IRL races.

Also many racing events are exceedingly short, about five minutes and so people tend to look at the esports or displays of rally cars at the track.

Esport play areas have proved popular in recent years, but you can also use computers to look at aerodynamics and performance as well as the physics of engines.

Future Broadcast

You could broadcast events on free to air channels which rely on advertising, a brilliant way to show the race to as many people as possible. Or we could see an uptake in Pay Per View events, or online only events coming out of Covid Lockdowns—however the latter seems extremely unlikely.

Future of Drivers?

Racing using automatic cars is quite a new phenomenon, the first Roborace, as it was called, was in 2015. Instead of relying on a driver to win, the strategy depends on programming the reflexes to be as strong as possible. Robodrivers all for analysing and re-analysing the statistics to see what works. Despite the name roborace its intention is to mix the skills of virtual and physical technology together.

The teams too are unfamiliar, namely the sponsors Arrival, Acronis, Michelin, Nvidia and Trimble. The robocars are built around a teardrop shape running on four electric motors using optics and radar in order to reach the speed of about 190mph.

The Near Future of Racing

For the new season of conventional racing which is due to start in 2022 they are looking at virtual design, experimenting with altering environmental changes such as weather in the simulated world, even looking at stress testing and which tires are the best.

The industry may be moving from America and towards Asia. There’s always a huge amount of competition out there; things will always evolve.

Racing Myths

By P Wimsett

There are too many myths about racing, but they include the idea that only women win races, cheating still occurs, that all racing drivers make thousands, there are a fair number of drivers or small teams which only make a modest amount of money. The rise of racing video games makes people think that even racing drivers keep their mind active by playing video games – sorry but that’s not true.

What is true is that racers at NASCAR need to be fit in both the physical and mental sense of the word. Also, part of the job–long hours, extremes in temperature and coping with the strongest of G forces in a way reminiscent of being an astronaut.

G-Forces

To survive the G forces, they need a strong level of concentration as well as a huge upper body strength and the amount of care an athlete takes on their body. In cornering, the body encounters 4-6G where 6G is six times their own weight. These forces attack repeatedly during a race, which may last for two hours or more.

Because of the dangers of cornering your instinct is to check your speed when you encounter a bend. This is where the skill comes in. It may be this speed reduction which loses you the race so what you need to learn is how to corner at an unsafe speed.

Racing Gets Faster Every Year:

The truth is that racing gets safer every year. You’d expect cars to get faster and faster, and they could, but changes to rules and racetracks and even regulations on the mechanics of the cars are designed to make them safer. So, in many ways racing has become less entertaining. Many people feel nostalgic for the cars from the 70s and 80s as this has become a divisive paradox in the sport the goal is to entertain or there’s no ticket sales, but also to address safety concerns.

Despite more regular checks people have been found guilty of cheating.

Many people believe that cars don’t even overtake each other anymore. Although it is true that passing is extremely difficult on certain chicanes such as the Monaco Grand Prix, no one has actually regulated that drivers can’t pass each other. That would miss the point of racing entirely. But passing along with wrecks are less common.

It is tricky even to stay close to other cars due what is known as “wake” – the emissions which come out of a car- even affecting the tire performance if you go too near. The drag reduction system helps a bit, but people are prone to criticize it as being an additional aid.

Racing is Bad for the Environment:

Racing is seen as environmentally unfriendly. However, NASCAR are looking into reducing car emissions and planting trees and no doubt other race regulators are doing the same.

These days, Race Drivers are Boring.

People do complain about the lack of personalities in the racing world. It’s notable that many drivers stay away from the limelight. The fame they achieve tends to come from their skill on the track, rather than their charisma. While the NFL and NBA have championed certain causes, they’ve also lost a lot of popularity. The racing organizations have wisely kept their racers politically neutral at least until they retire. But drivers may not lean toward drama in their personal lives. They love what they do and, aside from a few rivalries, they avoid being a soap opera in the public eye.

Too Competitive:

Finally, there are those who complain that today’s world has got too competitive, especially in something like Formula One. Racing is at its core, competition. NASCAR had it’s start in rum runners trying to stay ahead of revenuers. Compared to that, regulated racing seems pretty tame.

It seems like an empty argument though as racing was always about one team achieving dominance. The idea of a level playing field may seem fairer to some. Many team sports have gone to a salary cap for this reason. But in the America’s truly traditional sports, like Baseball and NASCAR money is a competitive advantage. The Yankees will always have the best players money can buy and in racing, where great equipment matters, it should shock no one that the team with the most money to invest is going to win more.

The Great Racing Car Teams

Farrari Racing

Top racing teams include McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull. The reasons these teams stay on or near the top year after year is because they recruit the best race car drivers and support the best engines.

As with anything else, money can buy success, but only to a limited degree. Ferrari seems to be one of the highest funded – a cool 300 million according to a recent New York Times article.

Financial crises are not good for any business, but the successful race teams become smaller and more streamlined.

Qualities of a good Driver:

Sometimes it is about luck, finding the right drivers for instance. It’s a high-pressure job and in order to race effectively, drivers must stay in shape — it’s not only steering a car. The most easily overlooked aspect of racing is the teamwork. Drivers must be able to communicate constantly with their team, via radio, and work to make good decisions as a team.

Let’s look over the different teams:

Mercedes racing began in 1954. Along with Auto-Union cars they acquired the name of Silver Arrows. This is because German cars tended to race in silver, though they did have white cars too such as the Blintez Benz. Even now many German cars are referred to as being colored “Silver Arrow Gray”.

Red Bull Racing

The team currently uses AMG-Petronas cars which are silver with a green – or possibly turquoise- trim. In 2020 Merc introduced black livery in support of Black Lives Support.

Ferrari’s racing team is Scuderia Ferrari known also as the Prancing Horse. Confusingly though other teams can still use Ferrari engines and it makes sense for them to do so as they are one of the most efficient, both on the racetrack and off. Strange it may seem, although the team was created by Enzo Ferrari they originally used Alfa Romeo engines instead of Ferrari ones. Although it seems a long time ago it wasn’t until 1947 that they used Ferrari engines. This was due to Alfa Romeo’s teething troubles at the period.

Their supporters are known as the tifosi (please note they do support other Italian cars though!) who famously cheer when the cars go past them. Italians are one of the biggest fan groups of motor racing. As with the domestic cars Ferrari race cars have a strong red hue.

The Williams team was formed in 1977 in the Spanish Grand Prix. Although it used Ford, Honda and Renault engines it also used the lesser-known Judd and Cosworth engines. Judd and Cosworth don’t make ordinary cars, just the racing engines.

Red Bull has also used Cosworth engines as well as Ferrari and Renault engines. In 2019 they changed to Honda. In order to support future drivers, they also have a Red Bull junior team.

Whether it comes down to getting the lucky breaks, or being able to finance a team well, these great teams have and will continue to field some of the most winning drivers on the circuit.

Testing A Car’s Aerodynamics

A number of companies are dropping wind tunnels in favor of virtual simulation. Against what people may think, the computer simulation gives a better idea of reality than wind tunnels.

Propulsion, also known as drag, has a complicated relationship with the speed of the vehicle. As the speed doubles the drag goes up to four times that much.

Using wind tunnels to test cars goes all the way back to 1960. Things that can be tested include the design, speed, fuel efficiency and how the driver handles the car, the latter is especially important in assisting racecar drivers to know how to perform in the toughest conditions.

For a car to turn corners at 200mph requires the aerodynamics to be tested and retested. Racecar designers will actually use wind to artificially increase the cars weight to improve its traction and handling. They do this by adding spoilers and fins in order to increase the downforce.

It’s important that the peak of the roof is far enough forward, which not only adds to the aerodynamics it means there is more headroom for the back seat.

BMWs are tested in the Aerodynamic Test Center, which recreated road speed and air speed, up to a massive 300 km/h. The difficulty here is that you need a prototype vehicle to start with.

The variables investigated include the drag, lift, side forces, pitch, yaw, and roll.

The lift is the opposite to the drag, an upward force countering the weight of the object.

The pitch is a rotation by side parts of the vehicle, it isn’t that noticeable unless you are talking about the wing of a plane or the sail of a yacht.

The yaw is the rotation of the vehicle’s nose whereas the roll is the rotation of the whole vehicle’s body, usually in a crash.

In reducing these variables, the car becomes easier to handle. To prevent a car skidding on the road, you need to know the yaw and the drag especially, to prevent the car flipping over you need to know the roll force, but also the load and pitch forces. Ultimately whatever happens to a car is a result of all these forces interacting with one another. If a car is unstable it will be harder to control.

Flow Field

The areas that are affected by the aerodynamics of a vehicle is known as a “flow field”. It all comes down to optimization, making the car as easy to handle as it can be. This include lengthening the car, which effects the flow field” to make the car more aerodynamic as well as fuel effective–the pressure is distributed around the vehicle. The “flow field” is a picture of the drag, lift and the side forces and is shaped in a similar way to the car itself.

After the indoor stuff the cars are tested on the racetrack. They require 200 hours in all.

Another way of carrying out test is modelling, at around 30-60% of the production size. It’s a way to carry out similar tests but to save on running costs.

It’s best to understand how your car operates in tests so you know where the potential liabilities are. A car only drives well because its aerodynamics have been well thought out.

What Is A Rocket Bike?

There are two types of rocket bike: a manual cycle with added rocket power (or what appears to be rocket power) and a motorbike with additional power. They are often thought of as stunt bikes, because they lack deceleration and are impractical for the highway, but stunt bikes is its own category, which just happens to also not be street legal. While most stunt bikes you won’t see on the road, it’s definitely just as well that you will not see a rocket bike of any description on the road.

Early Rocket Bikes:

Early versions of the Rocket bike include Germans Fritz von Hopel, and Richter. Fritz von Hopel bolted six booster rockets to what was a 22hp (horsepower) motorcycle called “The Monster,” but he was stalled by the German government. He finally created a rocket powered motorcycle in 1929. Richter in 1931 had a less than successful test run; his bike exploded. This was also in Germany.

Rocket Bikes Today:

You might expect that we have mastered the skill by now, but the thing about being a stuntman is that things can always go wrong. It’s best to always be prepared. Names currently associated with rocket bikes include Eric Teboul, Francois Gissy, Fred Rombelberg, Rick Jojatt and the most famous, Evel Knievel.

So, let’s take these doers of daring-do one by one.

Eric Teboul who gained the nickname “Rocketman” by achieving speeds of 220mph. The bike ran on hydrogen peroxide which is broken down into oxygen and a massive cloud of steam, coming out of its exhaust nozzle. It will accelerate until it runs out of fuel.

Francois Gissy sped up to 207mph, the bike was made to be lightweight, looking more than an e-bike rather than a motorbike. Silver powder provides the “secret ingredient” to the thrust. He also developed a bike which had a speed of 249mph called “The Spine Crusher” though it is difficult to maintain such speeds.

Fred Rompelberg reached a speed of 286mph, though it had to be towed by a racecar for a bit. He achieved 0-60 in 11 seconds in a home-built rocket bike.

Most infamous is definitely Evel Knievel whose rocket bike was developed by experts including US Robert Truax. The goal was to jump the Snake River Canyon. The jump took place September 8, 1974. It’s a little hard to think of a rocket bikes taking off at a trajectory, but not flying as such. As long as there is no wings it’s a power assisted jump—not a flight.

Technically the bike cleared the canyon, but a parachute was deployed too early; the high winds affected the trajectory causing a technical fall. The bike reached speeds of 250mph; he was lucky to have survived.

Rick Jojatt known as The Human Fly used rocket power to jump 27 buses. He may not have appreciated the fame as he disappeared soon after achieving the stunt.

What is the fastest speed of anyone on rocket bike?

The leader has changed hands several times. In 1999, The Mach 3 Challenger (sponsored by Gillette) piloted by Richard Brown achieved a speed of 365mph. Then along comes Rocky Robinson with a bike called “Jet reaction” which was powered by a gas turbine achieved a speed of 376 mph.

Several bikes are lined up with over 425 pounds of torque to make attempts at breaking the 400 mph mark, we’ll soon see.

Is it about the records? Francois Gissy says that when he gets old he may settle down to the comfort of a motorcycle. This is the kind of people we are dealing with; those who think the speed of a motorbike is too geriatric.

Early Racing

Early racing included Paris to Rouen, a mere 80Km. It had a top speed of 10 mph. 69 cars were in the preliminary competition after which only 25 won a place in the competition itself. Paris to Bordeaux could be better described as a race but even that one only went to 24 mph.

Early races were sponsored by newspapers, for example the Paris-Rouen race was run by Le Petit Journal. By 1900 cars were doing about 80kph. Because of the damage to the racers, spectators and even livestock which found itself on the road, races weren’t exactly annual events.

Indie 500

The Indy500 began in 1911 with the name “the 500 Mile International Sweepstake” and is still run today. Taking place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the oval circuit shape has been nicknamed The Brickyard due to its paved appearance. The race itself consists of 200 laps of the circuit. At one point it earned the name “The greatest spectacle in racing”.

Hotrod Racing

These early races shouldn’t be described as “hot rod” races. A hot rod is a later invention and is technically a modified older car. In essence racing a Model T in the 1920s was a contemporary car. A few decades later modified Model T’s would race under the banner “hot rod.”

Hotrod races began in California in the 1930’s but they lost popularity in the 1980s. As might be expected the older cars weren’t designed for speed, hence the need for modification. This included Ford Model Ts and similar vehicles.

As well as modifying to run faster it was important to reduce some of the bulk of the vehicle. These vehicles might be comparable with the boneshakers of the bicycle world, just not racers in the conventional sense. It’s not clear why “hot rod” is called this, but many believe it refers to the connection between illegal booze and racing. Rum runners used to modify vehicles to smuggle hooch around country roads. Many racing traditions sprung up from the practice of fleeing revenuers. If this is where “hotrod” came from, it could refer to burning alcohol instead of gas or the act of fleeing the law in a supped up rig.

The Mille Miglia meanwhile started in 1927 and ended in 1957. Generally, it started and finished in Rome going through the mountains and small villages.

Early and Dangerous

These early races have been associated with disasters. In 1938 several spectators were killed. In 1957 two drivers were killed and even more unexpectedly, eleven spectators were killed as well. It’s likely that engine speed was easier to increase than handling, which was seen as the drivers job.

There’s also the Milwaukee Mile, which used an old horse racing track. Then there’s the Knoxville Raceway in Iowa which had “illegal races” between 1901 and 1914 (aka the dodgy part of car racing the history).

The term “Grand Prix” goes all the way back to 1894. It began with a road rage challenge and moved into endurance racing. Formula racing (Formula One etc) began in 1947 with the first world championship in 1951. From there it became the professional activity we know today.

Some of these endurance races were about speed, such as Indy500. Others such as Targo Florio which was set on the mountainous roads of Sicily were about overall performance. The sport of racing was finding its feet. Today, racing is a great deal safer but it could be said to have lost some of its romanticism.