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Ohio State's electric streamliner sets new international land speed record


Despite difficult track conditions for a third year in a row, Ohio State’s Venturi Buckeye Bullet team has successfully chased down yet another international record for electric land speed vehicles at Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah.

On Friday, August 21, 2015, professional driver Roger Schroer guided the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 (VBB-3) to an average two-way speed of 240.320 miles per hour (386.757 kilometers per hour). The new record set by the VBB-3 is pending certification by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the worldwide motorsports governing body, in Category A Group VIII Class 8.

Buckeye Bullet
Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 team at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
This is the second year the team has competed in this new competition category, which during similarly weather-challenged tests last year set a record in the same category at 212.615 mph (342.171 kph). The ultimate world record for electric vehicles, set by the Ohio State-Venturi team in 2010, is 307.6 mph (495 kph) in FIA’s Category A Group VIII Class 4.

The VBB-3 was required to make two speed runs in opposite directions and within 60 minutes in order to be considered for the international record. While the record is officially determined by averaging the speed of the two runs in the middle of the course, the fastest time the VBB-3 exited the timed middle mile—known as the flying mile—was 288 mph (463.4 kph).

Considering the track conditions, the speeds are impressive. An unusually rainy summer left the Salt Flats wet and muddy. However the crew was able to partly groom 10 miles of the track, which was reduced from the typical 12 mile course. The salt surface, best for racing when it is compact and dry, was left bumpy and wet from the precipitation. This resulted in intense vibrations in the vehicle, disrupting the electronic system and eventually creating weld cracks in components, including the front cooling tank.

"We went faster than we have ever gone with this vehicle, but it was a very difficult week on a very bumpy track and we have done some damage to the vehicle from extreme vibrations,” says David Cooke, mechanical engineering graduate student and Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 team leader. “Still, I am confident that with a smooth track the VBB-3 can reach its target speeds."

Buckeye Bullet
Welding crack in cooling tank, due to bumpy track.

Roger Schroer, team driver, described the intensity of driving on the track. "In eleven years here I have never driven on such a difficult track. The vehicle was sliding on the surface from one side to the other due to soft spots and bumps."

“Trying to best our ultimate record on the Salt Flats requires not only the ability to develop reliable, custom technology, but also necessitates that the correct environmental conditions coincide,” says Giorgio Rizzoni, team advisor and director of the Center for Automotive Research. “The performance expected of the vehicle—vehicle handling, aerodynamics and propulsion—is very intricate. During this event all factors did not converge to accomplish our primary goal, yet we are very pleased to have achieved another outstanding world record in the process.”

The electric streamliner has been designed and built by undergraduate and graduate students over the past five years at The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research, in partnership with Monaco-based electric vehicle manufacturer, Venturi Automobiles, which lends its 10-year expertise in electric vehicles and significant sponsorship funding to the students. It is propelled by two custom electric motors developed by Venturi Automobiles, and is powered by over two megawatts of lithium ion batteries produced by A123 Systems. The vehicle was piloted by Roger Schroer, veteran team driver from Transportation Research Center, the nation’s leading independent automotive proving ground and vehicle testing organization in East Liberty, Ohio.

The team has set numerous other speed records in the past decade. In 2004, Buckeye Bullet 1, which ran on nickel metal hydride batteries, set a national land speed record with an average time of 315 mph (506.9 kph). Venturi Buckeye Bullet 2, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered land speed electric vehicle, set the international record of 303 miles per hour (487.6 kilometers per hour) in 2009.

In addition to the entry in the FIA competition, the team also had prepared to participate in this year’s Southern California Timing Association’s famed Speedweek event, which was scheduled for August 8-14, on another part of the Salt Flats. However, poor salt conditions resulted in the annual competition’s second consecutive cancelation. The private FIA event, held on a different area of the Salt Flats.