Ian Warhurst shares how the Bloodhound LSR’s quest to break the land speed record could inspire a new generation of engineers

By Rory FH Smith | 19 Feb 2020

Bloodhound LSR will be a zero-emission vehicle when it attempts the land speed record in 2021

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Many people have unhealthy obsessions. While some are partial to their favourite tipple, others prefer to smoke, spend or do all of the above. But for Yorkshire-based businessman Ian Warhurst, his obsession is machines, especially ones capable of record-breaking speeds. After a successful career in automotive engineering, on the brink of retirement, he found himself at the heart of the Bloodhound Land Speed Record project – a quest for the impossible that has evolved into a crusade for social and environmental change.  

Born in 1969, Warhurst is a self-confessed engineering nut. Having grown up tinkering with engines in his father’s garage, it didn’t take long for him to start his own business in speed, in the shape of a small engineering firm specialising in making turbochargers. 

“I just like making things work,” declares Warhurst. By the end of the last decade, the company had grown rapidly and was helping machines move faster and more efficiently from China to Chamonix and everywhere in between. At this point, most level-headed 40-somethings would hand over the reins, hang up the suit and opt for a quiet retirement. But Warhurst had other ideas. “I was due to retire at 49,” chuckles the Yorkshireman. “I was in the process of selling my business when I received a message from my son, who’d seen the Bloodhound Land Speed Record car was going to auction.”

First formed in 2008, the Bloodhound project is a rocket-powered titanium, aluminium and carbon fibre-clothed shrine to speed. Started by land speed record veteran Richard Noble, the project was the continuation of both Noble’s 1983 record-breaking Thrust2 car, which was only topped by Noble’s ThrustSSC project driven by fighter pilot Andy Green in 1997. Despite all that, the Bloodhound car was developed with even higher speeds in mind. 

“He’s a land speed racing nutter!” laughs Warhurst. “But he’s been the one that’s made world record history – he’s a great guy." |Despite Noble’s vision, the Bloodhound project ran out of steam shortly after completing its shakedown test at Newquay airport, where it topped 200mph trouble-free. 

“The problem was that they needed a lot more money to get it to the desert to complete the next high-speed tests,” explains Warhurst. “I knew how good Bloodhound was at inspiring kids to get into engineering – I remember thinking it was such a shame it went into administration.”

For a man on the cusp of a comfortable retirement, Warhurst suddenly found himself at the heart of a ballistic living and breathing land speed record attempt. “I Googled Richard Noble’s name, found an email address for him and sent him a message asking if I could help,” he explains. “He came back straight away and said it was the end of the road for the project and warned the administrators were coming to break it all up.”

With no more funding or sponsors, one of the most advanced machines on the planet – a shining testament to mankind’s obsession with speed – had ground to a halt and was being prepared for the scrapyard. “I thought it would be such a shame if the project got broken up, so I thought I’d buy it and hold it to keep it all together and then hand it back… I had no intention of getting involved at the time.”

Running against the clock, Warhurst called the administrators and persuaded them to stall the angle grinder for a couple of days while he raced down to Bristol to see what he’d bought. “I had no idea what I was going to do with it, I just knew I had to stop them cutting it up into bits!” Within a week, Warhurst had funded it, bought the assets and the intellectual property and tidied up the contracts. By Friday of the same week, he was the new owner of a 13m, five-tonne land speed record car. >>

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ROCKET MAN

“Everyone asks what I paid for it, which is a silly question because the minute I signed the paper, 
I was instantly committed to twice that to just keep hold of it,” he says. From there, the businessman-turned-world record hopeful looked to the original team and its founder for guidance. “Most of the team had been disbanded, so Richard Noble called me up and said, ‘Ian, you’re the sort of person needed to run this project – why don’t you give it a go?’”

With a car capable of topping 700mph in his possession, there was only one thing for it. “I remember thinking, ‘Right, let’s go and break a  world record’.” He got to work reassembling a team that includes former fighter pilot and land-speed record veteran Andy Green as his driver of choice. “He’d been waiting to drive the car for 10 years. He’s more than just a driver: he’s a very intelligent chap and has a great understanding of the dynamics of the car.”

Now with the 763mph record in his sights, Bloodhound was ready to head to the desert for high-speed testing. When the project was first dreamt up, Hakskeenpan salt flat in the Kalahari Desert had been selected as the testing ground, with its wide-open spaces and flat surface comfortably accommodating the 20km by 1km wide strip needed to run the car to over 600mph. Only it wasn’t as simple as just turning up with a five-tonne rocketcar and turning the key. When the project first confirmed it would run the car on the dry lakebed, it struck a deal with the local government to painstakingly clear every stone from the test strip by hand. Between 2008 and 2015, more than 300 people cleared 16,000 tonnes of stones to clear the way for the car. “You just can’t not turn up after all that, can you?”

When Warhurst and his team finally turned up with the car, they were greeted with an »
emotional response. “The locals had tears in their eyes – they had spent years toiling to get the stones cleared that to see the car arrive was a really big thing for them – to see it run in the desert made me so proud of the team.”

So, in November 2019, the Bloodhound  successfully proved itself the fourth fastest vehicle in the world as it touched 628mph – a pitstop closer to the final goal. >>

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GREEN MACHINE

Bloodhound is about far more than a hell-bent obsession with speed. In late January, the Bloodhound team confirmed its goal to make the car a zero-emissions vehicle when it attempts to reach over 800mph in Q3 2021.“The truth is, it really does inspire kids to get into engineering,” insists Warhurst. “The relevance of Bloodhound has always been about inspiring the next generation. There’s no doubt about climate change – it’s clearly happening – so we have to solve those problems and for that, we need clever minds and clever scientist to come up with some very clever ideas.” Put simply, Warhurst is on a crusade as well as a campaign to set the land speed record – a combined mission to inspire the next generation while going faster than any person on the planet. 

“The issue is that fewer people are getting into engineering and science – it’s not seen to be a sexy subject. Bloodhound makes it sexy. It’s not just a fast car trying to go fast, it’s a massive engineering jigsaw puzzle.”

With high-speed testing complete, all that remains is the final hurdle itself – making history as the fastest car on the planet. “We need to secure sponsorship to give us the next bit of funding to take us to the record. There is a chance that if we don’t get any sponsors, we won’t go any further,” warns Warhurst. 

And so, what started as a passing interest in land speed records for the Yorkshireman has rapidly developed into a high-profile campaign to demonstrate mankind’s unique ability to find solutions to impossible problems. When the record of 763.035mph was set in 1997, few believed it would be possible to top. But Warhurst is one of those believers – a pioneer of speed determined to make a positive change in society. 

From the brink of retirement to the heady heights of world record history, Warhurst’s new adventure has taken him around the world in search of speed. With all eyes and efforts now focused on smashing the record, the only question remaining is what speed would Warhurst finally be content with? “As long as those three figures start with an eight, I’ll be happy.”

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