Speed Scotland vow to return for record bid21 | 08 | 2010

    SCOTLAND HAS LONG been associated with speed, such has been the success of its lineage of motor-racing drivers; so perhaps it should come as no surprise that on the eve of their bid to break the 1000cc World Land Speed Record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the Speed Scotland team turned their hotel rooms and car park into a temporary garage.

    Ultimately their efforts were to end in heartbreak when, on the team's final run and edging closer to nudging past the 313mph record which has stood for 12 years, the car's engine dropped a valve as it cruised passed 260mph.

    Success in failure? That's one way of looking at it but, for 59-year-old Derek Palmer, the Lesmahagow engineer and the man behind the successful ProMotorsport team which runs the Speed Scotland campaign, it's been only the first of three attempts at the record; and he has vowed the team will come back bigger and stronger next year.

    "All the blood, sweat and toil was to prove frustratingly worthless"

    Done on a shoestring

    "I'm not going to pretend otherwise, this is a big, big disappointment because we were almost within touching distance of the record," Palmer, back at his Lesmahagow base, said after flying back overnight from the States.

    "When you consider the size of some of the other British teams costing multi-millions of pounds which have been put together in an effort to break world land speed records, we've almost done it on a shoestring. But we got so bloody close."

    Let's put things in perspective here. The 'shoestring' still amounted to around £200,000. But such was the desire of the six-man team — which included Derek's son, 23-year-old Derek jnr, and driver, Swiss-based Londoner Rick Pearson (35) — that they spent the 48 hours before the record bid jetting round the States tracking down rare parts to carry out repairs.

    Having spent the early part of last week bedding the 22in-wide, methanol-powered Streamliner car — Christened Flower of Scotland — into the technical demands required for a world speed record attempt, the team's progress was stopped abruptly on Wednesday when the chain-drive broke during a 270mph run.

    "It certainly set us back"

    "That shouldn't have happened, because we had the highest quality of chain fitted to the car," Palmer explained, "but I guess these things happen. Thankfully the damage was restricted to the car's transmission case, but it certainly set us back."

    It also catapulted Palmer into a logistical nightmare. Stranded in the middle of the salt flats in temperatures of 120-degrees, the team embarked on sourcing rare and highly-specialised parts for their car.

    The Scot traced a transmission case which was available in California and Pearson flew to Los Angeles to collect the part in person after the owner had worked overnight to machine it to their required specifications. Derek jnr was dispatched to South Dakota to collect a new crankshaft and bearings, while Palmer himself picked up a new gearing system which he had FedEx'd to Salt Lake City.

    "I collected everybody together late on Thursday and though we'd managed to strip the broken motor down during the day, if we were to have the car ready to take part in its final run on Friday we knew we'd have to work through the night," Palmer continued. "So that's what we did."

    With the beautiful but sick Streamliner eased off its trailer, the crew set to work on it in the car park of the team's hotel. While the engineers beavered away in the welcome cool of the night air, upstairs in the hotel rooms beds were covered in sheets as tools, gears and transmission cases were prepared for fitting to the car.

    All fired up for the record attempt

    "We did what we had to do to make sure the car could run on the Friday and when the sun rose, she was in perfect working condition. We were all fired up for the record attempt."

    In the end, all the blood, sweat and toil was to prove frustratingly worthless. After a couple of runs to bed the car in, on the final recordbreaking run dropped a valve as it accelerated passed 260mph.

    "It just shouldn't have happened; it's as simple as that," the deeply disappointed but philosophical Palmer said. "The engine and the car were both running beautifully smoothly and neither was under any stress. We were only in the third of the car's six gears and accelerating comfortably towards 300mph and the record when, suddenly and without any warning, the engine just dropped a valve. That was it; game over.

    "But we'll be back next year; that's definite. This was always a three-year project and perhaps, with hindsight we got a bit greedy thinking we could break the record in our first year. Everything had been going brilliantly until the drive chain broke. That's what scuppered us. Next year though, we'll break the record; I promise."

    Jim McGill

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