• Loading stock data...
The inside story of the SSC Tuatara’s harrowing land-speed record run

The inside story of the SSC Tuatara’s harrowing land-speed record run

SSC CEO Jerod Shelby found race car driver Oliver Webb sitting on the ground, shaking, in front of the Tuatara supercar with his head in his hands.

Webb was visibly emotional and upset according to Shelby. “I’m done. I can do no more,” Webb told Shelby.

The SSC Tuatara Webb was driving to set a new production-car land-speed record had just been hit by a gust of wind at 331 mph, knocking the car one lane over and almost off the road.

Shelby could understand why Webb was upset.

During that run, the SSC Tuatara bested Koenigsegg (and Bugatti) and set a new production-vehicle land-speed record of 316.11 mph.

Webb needed to make two runs that would average more than 277.9 mph to beat the previous record set by the Koenigsegg Agera RS 2017. He made three.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Delayed

The record, which was set on a seven-mile stretch of fresh asphalt on State Route 160 between Las Vegas and Pahrump, Nevada, took place on Saturday, Oct. 10, about a year after initially intended.

The first production SSC Tuatara was delivered to its owner, Philadelphia native Larry Caplin, in August 2019 at Monterey Car Week. However, the car wasn’t publicly revealed until February 2020 at the Philadelphia Auto Show as part of a tie-in with Caplin’s charity organization, CF Charities.

Caplin, who owns two SSC Ultimate Aeros, wanted Tuatara number one of the 100-car production run, and loved the idea of using his car for the record attempt.

That attempt was originally supposed to take place in November 2019. That summer Shelby and his team contacted the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to begin the process of shutting down State Route 160 in November. A problem arose.

NDOT was repaving that section of highway, and while originally set to finish in October, the project lasted until the new year.

The stretch of highway used is at 2,600 feet of altitude, so it wasn’t ideal for a wintertime run, according to Shelby. The team waited.

The team began planning for a March run, but the coronavirus hit and the world shut down.

Next, the team considered July. “I remember some discussions in June where we could probably do it at the end of July (when) it’s like 115 degrees down there.” The plug was pulled again due to the possibility of excessive heat.

A year after originally planned, the stage was set and everything was locked in for November 2020.

Here’s how it happened.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Monday, October 5: Webb arrives

Webb, a 29-year old British race car driver flew to Nevada from the UK. He left behind his wife, who was seven months pregnant. Webb had never seen, touched, or driven a Tuatara.

The SSC team set up at a small private airport with the hangar as the home base for the week. The airport had a runway, but it was only 5/8 of a mile long.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Tuesday, October 6: Testing begins

Five days until the record attempt, Webb finally got behind the wheel of the Tuatara to get to know the car. A problem soon arose: Webb maxed out the Tuatara on the small airport’s runway in just three passes with speeds reaching 204-206 mph.

To achieve those speeds on the runway, Webb treated the car like a drag racer, with redline shifts and heavy application of the carbon-ceramic brakes at the last possible moment before running out of tarmac. Shelby and his team didn’t feel this was representative of the way the car would be run during the record attempt.

A new testing site was needed.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Wednesday, October 7: Scouting

The team began looking for a site that would allow Webb to hit 250 mph, putting him in range of the goal. Part of the SSC team spent the day locating, negotiating, and locking down the Tonopah runway about three hours away just outside Tonopah, Nevada, for further testing. That site had tarmac about 1 3/8 miles long.

Meanwhile Webb, Shelby, and others scouted State Route 160. Using a smartphone app, they mapped out and placed pins anywhere there was a seam or imperfection in the asphalt. They used the pins to strategize how Webb would run each direction :What kind of seam can I go over at 150 mph instead of 250 mph,” Shelby explained.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Thursday, October 8: The final shakedown

The team put Caplin’s Tutara into the transporter and caravanned to the Tonopah runway to allow Webb further, and faster, seat time in the car.

On the first pass Webb hit 248 mph.

On the second pass Webb hit 264 mph.

On the third pass Webb hit 270 mph, just 7 mph shy of Koenigsegg’s two-way average record from 2017.

Webb told the team the car felt extremely stable and planted.

Shelby realized the team had a real shot at breaking the record on Saturday.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Friday, October 9: Filming and strategizing

Part of the team spent Friday taking photos and recording preliminary film as distractions needed to be kept to a minimum on Saturday during the record attempt.

Shelby and his team spent the day strategizing with Webb about how the record could be accomplished in the least amount of runs while being safe.

The weather all week looked great, but Saturday’s forecast called for some wind. Shelby and Webb agreed if they saw 10-mph winds they’d call of the attempt. Webb also spoke to Niklas Lilja, the man behind the wheel of the Koenigsegg Agera RS that set the previous record. Lilja told Webb that Koenigsegg ran into wind issues that caused scary moments.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Saturday, October 10: Breaking the record

A full film crew was on site to capture the attempt; they even had a jet for overhead shots. Also on hand were two witnesses from Guinness World Records, Shelby’s entire team and family, and Caplin. The team hooked up satellite gear, which is needed to confirm a land-speed record.

Webb drove down State Route 160 to get comfortable in the Tuatara and warm up the engine, gearbox, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. He hit 100 and then 120 mph. “Car feels great,” Webb said.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Shelby and the team let the car cool down and then performed final checks on everything from the tires to the engine and suspension. Ready for the run, the team activated the satellite tracking gear.

Heading northwest to Pahrump, Webb ran the first pass and hit 287 mph. Faster than either of the Koenigsegg’s passes, that was an amazing speed in Shelby’s book, but he hoped for more.

As soon as Webb got out of the car he called his dad. “I just went at world-record speed. I’ve got to do it in another direction,” he said.

Webb noted to Shelby that there was some wind during the first run but it wasn’t terrible. The wind started to pick up before the second run.

After warming up the car again, Webb ran 301 mph going southeast toward Las Vegas. The Tuatara had broken the 300-mph barrier.

The first and second runs averaged about 293 mph, which set a new record, but Shelby wanted more. He wanted to break 500 kph, which would mean going at least 312 mph.

Webb approached Shelby and said, “I want to talk to you.”

The two went into the transporter alone and Webb expressed a concern. “I hit a blast of wind out there and it moved me over a lane. It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to push it. I’m sorry, I’m only going one more time,” Webb said.

Shelby said his stomach dropped. He knew Webb, the team, and the car had done something monumental. The record had been broken, but he knew the car had more in it. He understood Webb’s concern and safety was the priority.

Tire temps were taken again, the satellite tracking was engaged, Webb strapped back in and set off on the final run heading northwest toward Pahrump.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

Shelby, his sons, and the data analytics guy who was pulling the satellite data all jumped in the chase vehicle to follow as soon as the Tuatura took off.

By the time Shelby pulled up to the Tuatara after its run the team was doing a check over the car and checking tire temps.

Webb was sitting on the ground in front of the car. “It didn’t look good,” Shelby told Motor Authority.

“I’m done. I can do no more. I’m never doing that again,” Webb told Shelby.

Webb, shaking, explained that the car got hit with a blast of wind that blew it across the asphalt where it touched the gravel shoulder. “It was a close call, I’m done,” Webb said.

Shelby, getting emotional, figured the run didn’t go so well, but Webb told him, “I saw a big number. I had to look away (from the display) to save the car, but we need to check the data.”

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

The satellite tracking data said Webb had hit 331.15 mph.

The two runs averaged to a speed of 316.11 mph. The Tuatara had broken the 500 kph barrier and set a new speed record.

Oliver Webb after becoming the fastest guy on the planet in a production car

Oliver Webb after becoming the fastest guy on the planet in a production car

Webb was safe and at age 29 he was the fastest guy on the planet in a production car. He simply laid down on the ground in the middle of the road.

“It was such an amazing moment, unbelievable,“ Shelby said.

SSC Tuatara record run

SSC Tuatara record run

It’s not over

The Tuatara hit 331.15 mph, but it wasn’t out of steam. The car had more to give.

Seventh gear in the automated manual transmission was never reached, the car was still accelerating at the end. Acceleration hadn’t slowed to the point that the car was gaining 1 mph every couple of seconds. It was still pulling.

“The car was not (at) the limit. I was the limit today, due to conditions,” Webb told Shelby.

Shelby has no intention of trying to break his own record, but that doesn’t mean the company won’t ever try another record attempt.

However, Shelby noted that Koenigsegg now has a car that can theoretically top 300 mph. Koenigsegg had hinted at a goal of 500 kph, though a top speed hasn’t been confirmed.

“I think we’ve set a bar right now that somebody else could potentially get to at some point. It’s nice to know that we’ll be ready when that day comes,” Shelby said.

Should that day come, expect SSC to try to recapture the record. Let’s just hope it isn’t as windy.

READ MORE: https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1130010_the-inside-story-of-the-ssc-tuatara-s-harrowing-land-speed-record-run

shares