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The Land Speed Record

The land speed record is, rather simply, the highest speed possible achieved in a vehicle on land. That means no pimped up planes or boats - we're talking wheels to the ground, strictly on-land automobiles.

To achieve this record the entrant must perform a speed over a fixed length, twice. Each run must be within an hour of one another, and performed in different directions. The average over the two passes is taken, and to beat an old record you have to exceed by a minimum of 1%. As for getting your record validated? There is no one single body of regulations, though it is usually regulated by local organisations affiliated with the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) .

The first official regulators were the Automobile Club de France. In 1902 Léon Serpollet of Nice, France, claimed a record of 75 mph in a Gardner-Serpollet. Unfortunately, different automobile clubs had different views on what constitutes a record, and would often refuse to recognise a record as a world record.

In 1924,  Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus had had enough and decided to stipulate a few non-negotiables. The passes in opposite directions were to ensure nobody got a helping hand from mother nature. They also insisted that the average gradient of the terrain was no more than 1%, and that the timing gear used had to be accurate within 0.01 second.

The first controversy arose in 1963 when 'Spirit of America' was denied victory for being a three-wheeler, and not wheel driven, so the FIA did not grant it official record privilege. The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) decided to class it as a three-wheeler motor cycle, and thus it was at least given one record.

It seems being a speed demon wasn't a male only trait, not even in 1906. Enter the 'Fastest Girl On Earth', otherwise known as Dorothy Levitt. She broke the women's world speed record for the flying kilometre, managing a speedy 91 mph in a six-cylinder Napier motor car in Blackpool. Things have stepped up a notch since the turn of the century, and the current women's record is held by stuntwoman Kitty O'Neil. She drove a staggering 512.710 mph in a jet powered vehicle in the Alvord Desert.

As for today's official overall land speed record, that goes to UK man Andy Green, who in 1997 drove 763.035 mph in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Green drove a Thrust SSC, the first car to ever break the sound barrier.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that things have moved on since the 90s, and the Americans are trying their hardest to do just that. Check out the North American Eagle, whose mission is to: " bring the world land speed record back to America." So far they've run 44 tests and are keen to beat the current world record by the required 1%.

Watch out Blighty!

Offbeat  25/11/2014 09:14:21

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