Businessman Ian Warhurst saved the Bloodhound project from becoming scrap metal. Picture: MARK SMYTH
Businessman Ian Warhurst saved the Bloodhound project from becoming scrap metal. Picture: MARK SMYTH

The beleaguered Bloodhound world land speed record project seems to be back on and heading to the Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape.

After more than a decade in the making, the project to beat the existing land speed record of 1,228km/h went into administration late in 2018, but in a dramatic last-minute rescue last week was saved by British businessman and CEO of Grafton LSR, Ian Warhurst.

We spoke to him at the relaunch of the newly renamed Bloodhound LSR land speed record project at its new base in a science park in Gloucestershire, England. Warhurst was six days into early retirement after selling his automotive business to focus on his passion of restoring classic cars when his son sent him a text message saying the Bloodhound project was for sale and joking that his dad should buy it. Warhurst then went to the former project base where he says they “were close to cutting the car up for scrap”.

He is unwilling to disclose the amount he paid but says after a few months of analysis, he “sees it as a commercially viable business”. He points out that buying the car is one thing, but there is the rest, including getting the car ready to ship to SA, where it will attempt the world land speed record at the Hakskeen Pan.

Bloodhound is now sporting a new red and white livery. Warhurst says they wanted to start with a clean slate, but adds that many of the old sponsors are still keen to come on board. He says the big problem will be cash flow, but he will keep the project afloat as the money hopefully comes in.

As before, there is also a focus on education. The Bloodhound charity was a separate company, as was Bloodhound SSC, registered in SA. Those companies remain, though Richard Noble, the former record holder and the man behind the project, will sit back after a handover period.

Ewen Honeyman, commercial director of the project and formerly involved in commercial aspects of Formula 1, told us the Northern Cape government is very involved in the project and remains keen on its education and tourism aspects.

“South Africa is expecting Bloodhound,” he says. Just when, is a key question, and the team are reluctant to provide exact dates in case they miss deadlines, something that has been common throughout the project’s life so far.

However, it’s clear they would like to get the car to SA before the end of 2019, according to Martyn Davidson, MD of Bloodhound in SA and a former manager of the Thrust SSC world land speed record car. He says he is in the process of revitalising partnerships in SA and continuing to clear the track, which he says is 85% ready.

Davidson says the plan is to get to the pan as soon as September 2019 in order to first do a data-gathering run.

“We need to understand the drag,” he told us. Following that, the car will be returned to the UK to have the Nammo rocket fitted, which will be essential to go for the 1,000mph (1,610km/h) record.

A joint operations centre will be set up, but he says they will not be organising any event around the record attempt; that will be the responsibility of the Northern Cape government.

“The public event is their event,” he says. “ We are the booked entertainment.”

It all sounds positive but there is still a great deal to do if the project is to reach its goals this time. Honeyman says they are looking for technology partners as well as an electric fuel-pump provider to replace the Jaguar V8 currently in the car. He says this is easier than it was when the project began, thanks to major advances in battery technology.

Discussions are also taking place with MTN around the 5G network that is essential to transmit the vast amount of data and stream the attempts to fans around the world.

Other challenges include the possibility of changes following the upcoming SA elections and of course, the risk of load shedding.