The majority of Ferrari owners are wary of salt. Indeed many of the keepers of older tipi have forsworn Ready Salted crisps lest their fingers convey some of the noxious chemical to their beloved one and start the recycling process. Government statistics show that of the 9295 Ferraris registered in the UK in 2011 Q4, 1 in 4 were SORN, no doubt mainly to avoid road salt. Therefore that some Ferraristi choose to cover their cars in the stuff may seem a bit odd.
These are those who race their cars at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA. Most older enthusiasts know about Bonneville as a former World Land Speed Record venue; the last record set being Gary Gabelich's 622.407 mph (1 mile) in the rocket-powered "The Blue Flame" in 1970. Now it is better known for "Speed Week" and the "World Finals" where, like our sprints there is a wide (and bewildering to the outsider) class system for cars and 'bikes of all shapes and sizes. This was introduced to a huge new audience when the Top Gear lot went there to race three cars, got drawn in, took it seriously and did a very good job. Also, no-one with slightest interest in speed could not help but be captivated by the film "The World's Fastest Indian" about Kiwi Burt Munro.
In August we received a Press Release from ACAT - Advanced Clean Air Technologies- Global who had: "Revamped a stock production Ferrari 550 Maranello to break a World Land Speed Record on the Salt Flats at Bonneville for the Southern California Timing Association’s “Speed Week 2012” August 11th–17th".
This triggered something in the Webteam's collective consciousness about an Enzo on the salt and also an F40 which led us to wonder if any more Ferraris have raced at Bonneville. Prolonged Goggling produced a vast amount of stuff, but much of it was "copy and paste" repetitions and it soon became clear that very few Ferraris have run there. [As always, one cannot be too sure about the accuracy of information gained this way.]
One name associated with Ferraris which occurs frequently is that of Bob Norwood, a race driver, creator of interesting cars including P4 replicas and much more. In 1985 he broke a record in a 308QV he rebuilt from a damaged car. The engine was comprehensively tuned, he also used an electric water pump and removed the alternator to reduce parasitic drag on the engine. The car was lowered and used Volvo wheels mounted with tall thin Ferrari 400 rear tyres. A clever detail was packing the trunk (boot) with ice and modifying the air intake such that the engine now breathed denser air. Norwood finally achieved 170 mph, setting new records for both the F/GT and F/Modified Sports class.
Norwood's next Bonneville project was more extreme. In 1985 he recognized that a 308 could be made into a 288 replica. The first of such 288 GTO rebodies was powered by a 1984 Can Am series engine. First a road car, in 1988 it ran 199.997 mph at Bonneville, briefly holding the class C record. In 1990 the car was refitted with a 512 cu. ins. (8.4 litre) Big Block Chevrolet engine with twin turbos.
Another of Bob Norwood's creations was even more outlandish. It was a front-engined 308 dragster "Funny Car" powered by a turbocharged flat 12 Ferrari engine! It ran 7.0 second runs and 170 mph for the standing quarter mile. In 1989 the car was taken to the Salt, but the meeting was rained off. Norwood himself said it was probably just as well....
The next Ferrari to run at Bonneville was much more conventional. Israeli-born Amir Rosenbaum established a business in the USA which makes air-intake systems and filters for muscle-car enthusiasts. His first motorsport event was in 1989 when he competed in the Virginia City Hill Climb in Nevada. In 2002 he broke the hill record in an F40. Tragically that same year two drivers were killed when they ran off the road. The next year's event was cancelled, so Rosenbaum set to converting his F40 for Bonneville despite never having been there! In Speed Week 2006 he ran 221 mph but scared himself as the F40 was unstable at ultra high speed. As they say in the video at Bonneville you don't want downforce or a rear engine. He subsequently bought and raced a "streamliner".
As far as we can make out the next Ferrari to take to the salt was an Enzo. The same year that Amir Rosenbaum was doing his stuff, Richard Losee crashed his Enzo - on a road rally! The car disintegrated and Losee was badly injured. During his long convalescence he decided to rebuild the car as a salt racer. The major modification being the installation of a twin turbo system.
In August 2010 RLS Racing ran at Speed Week. There's was a steep learning curve which included Losee spinning the car at 195 mph! Some people think the surface of the salt flats is hard whereas it's quite fluid and the cars wander about. Losee said; "One veteran driver in particular gave me the best advice after the spin: ‘Don’t try to correct the wandering the car does on the salt, just think it back into the groove.’” Sounds like it's more akin to running on ice than tarmac.
After experimenting with a different nose, Losee and his crew decided to put the Enzo back to standard except for the Salt Flat tyres and wheels, the obligatory safety equipment and the twin turbos. In October that same year the they achieved a new SCTA "World Land Speed Record" of 237.871 mph. Unfortunately the very next year the record was to fall to a "1971 Triumph GT6" which raised it to over 300 mph! The Enzo was pretty much how it came out of Maranello but we doubt that anyone working at Canley in 1971 would recognise much of this particular GT6.
This brings us back to where we started: the ACAT 550M Maranello. In August this year the car ran 207mph and returned a week or so ago for the "World Finals". The team's target was the GT class record of 232 mph. A standard 550M is said to have a top speed of 199 mph. The ACAT car is modified but close to standard, so their August speed was a good effort. In October, driven by owner and ACAT Global CEO Joe Moch, the car topped out at 214.799 mph; a fantastic effort but well short of their goal.
Could the reason possibly be something to do with aerodynamic drag? This increases at something between the speed squared and cubed, say to the power 2.5. When the F40 was launched in 1987 the World's first Supercar was said to have a top speed of 202 mph, the first road car to be capable of exceeding 200 mph. We don't know if this has ever been verified, but recall an FOC GB member running at the low-mid 190's at a Club airfield sprint some years ago. Rosenbaum's F40 was reported to be standard except for minor changes to the intake system and turbos, but if a standard F40 needs 478bhp to reach 202, then using the (empirical) formula....
.... I reckon Rosenbaum would have needed the best part of 600 bhp to do 221 mph. The F40LM was reputed to have a top speed of 229 mph for which it would need 650+ bhp; this also ties in with claims.
The standard Enzo was said by the Factory to have 660 bhp and a top speed of "more than" 217 mph. Losee hit 237 mph and the estimated power requirement of 830 bhp ties in pretty well with the 847 bhp he said it had.
If a standard 550M can do 199 mph with 485 bhp, then 535 bhp would be required for the 207 mph Moch reached in his ACAT car in August. In October they exited the course at 214.799, which I reckon equates to approx. 590 bhp. This sounds about right for a tuned normally.phpirated 5.5 litre Ferrari V12 and is close to what was reported for Prodrive's 550M GT1. To achieve ACAT's goal of 232 mph I reckon over 700 bhp would be required, impossible without turbocharging or funny fuel, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of Bonneville's 1,286 m elevation.
Some might quibble over the factoring, or drag reduction measures, surface friction issues, or air density at different times of the day; but whichever way you look at it, at these speeds it takes a shed load more power to go a bit faster even when you've already got loads.
Bonneville hasn't just been the venue for straight line maximum speed runs. In the 1930s and '40s Ab Jenkins in his "Mormon Meteors" and others such as Britons John Cobb and George Eyston used a circular course to set endurance records. In 1974 Luigi Chinetti Jnr.'s N.A.R.T. attempted the same with a 512M and a 365 GTB/4 Daytona Competizione The squad of drivers was incredible with Chinetti himself, US racer Milt Minter, two times F1 World Champion, Indy 500 and Le Mans winner Graham Hill and screen legend, racer and later team owner Paul Newman!
Reports have it that the 512M was rather "tired" after a hard season's racing; occasionally running on a random number of cylinders less than the optimum 12. Later when Chinetti was driving a tyre was punctured by some on-track debris. The tyre shredded the bodywork and removed some oil pipes and that was it for the 512M. However the more rugged Daytona was successful, setting International Class C records at 10 miles (174.763 mph), 500 kilometres (171.255 mph), 500 miles (166.173 mph) and 1000 kilometres (166.445 mph).
Finally, the first reference I could find to a Ferrari at Bonneville was just a pic of a 1962 Superamerica running on the Salt. Later I found the following information on the RM Auctions' website:
"3309 SA was sold to Phoenix, Arizona Ferrari dealer J.A. Stallings off the show stand in New York by Luigi Chinetti Motors. Wasting no time before enjoying its sparkling performance, Mr. Stallings used the car for hillclimbs before taking it to the Bonneville Speed Trials in 1962, where he was officially recorded reaching speeds over 145 mph, as featured in the November 1962 issue of Road & Track documenting the event."
The car was sold at RM's Monaco 2010 auction for 2.8 million euros.
That's about it for Ferraris at Bonneville (unless you know otherwise).
We may not have printed ACAT Global's Press Release, but it did set us off. Therefore we feel we owe them our thanks and this post:
"The ACAT Herringbone Pattern & Particulate Matter and Sound Reduction CAR- technology creates clean air without wastes and virtually no toxic emissions. It uses one-third less precious metals to achieve the same emissions reduction while reducing sound by 30 decibels. This achievement raises environmental standards for manufacturing across the board and makes ACAT a leader in green companies."