SALTY SUD

DRY LAKE ALFA

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHO­TOS PHIL RADOSLOVICH

There are some brave and mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als among the Al­fisti and my good friend, Tim Guin­ness, of Orange, NSW, is one such per­son. I re­cently took a trip to Lake Gairdner in north­ern South Aus­tralia in sup­port of Tim’s at­tempt to break the speed record for un­der 1500cc pro­duc­tion cars on the salt at Speedweek 2018. Tim and his part­ner Frankie are long time mem­bers of the Alfa Romeo Own­ers Club of Aus­tralia NSW (AROCA). Alfa ad­dic­tion runs in the fam­ily as Frankie is the daugh­ter of Tony McKone, whom many mem­bers in SA know through his for­mer busi­ness sell­ing Alfa parts and his na­tional 105 Reg­is­ter work. Frankie is cur­rently ed­i­tor of Ama­tori Alfa in NSW. Their sons, Rory and Mur­ray, are also Alfa boys and were in­te­gral mem­bers of Tim’s small team of six. Greg Hurst, a for­mer mem­ber of AROCA in NSW, pro­vided en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise to com­ple­ment Tim’s im­pres­sive me­chan­i­cal skills, and I made up the num­bers of Bal­ing Twine Rac­ing Team with some lo­cal lo­gis­tic sup­port. An un­der­tak­ing of this sort re­quires sig­nif­i­cant prepa­ra­tion and plan­ning. Tim and Greg drove to Lake Gairdner 12 months ago to ob­serve and un­der­stand how Speedweek works.

Speedweek is run by Dry Lakes Rac­ing Aus­tralia, based in Vic­to­ria, and is Aus­tralia’s ver­sion of the Bonneville Speed tri­als. In­deed, there is reg­u­lar at­ten­dance by highly cre­den­tialled US teams who bring some very se­ri­ous ve­hi­cles to the event. This year, Va­lerie Thomp­son set a new speed record for the Lake at 305mph on her pur­pose built V4 mo­tor­bike,

a record which she held for about 20 mins un­til ‘Tar­get 550’ set a new record for the lake of 345 mph. The 550 in the team name ref lects their goal of do­ing a 550 mph pass in the not too dis­tant fu­ture. At the other end of the spec­trum, there are also a brave group of com­peti­tors rac­ing 50cc Postie bikes at speeds of 75mph plus, as well as a large group of road bike rid­ers do­ing speeds hov­er­ing around 200mph. I over­heard one car driver com­ment that he was “much hap­pier to be in the car than be­ing a hu­man roll cage.”

Tim is a sheep farmer (among other oc­cu­pa­tions) and col­lec­tor of Al­fas – es­pe­cially Al­fa­suds. He has al­most as many Suds as sheep and in fact I think he may be breed­ing both! So, as Frankie so elo­quently puts it, when you have “a car too good to wreck and too ex­pen­sive to re­store” and a ship­ping con­tainer of en­gines and spare parts, why not turn it into a dry lake racer? This is no easy task to achieve, as apart from be­ing busy peo­ple, there are sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent rules and safety re­quire­ments for Speedweek.

Like all such ven­tures it al­ways takes longer than ex­pected and of­ten there are some teething is­sues. This be­ing his first year, the scru­ti­neers were f lex­i­ble enough to al­low Tim to run while pro­vid­ing guid­ance for the fu­ture to en­sure the car fully com­plies. He was lim­ited to 125mph – fig­ure he ul­ti­mately came very close to achiev­ing.

Speedweek cars are, as I said, quite dif­fer­ent. No front brakes are re­quired, and disc brakes are swapped out for drums on the rear where pos­si­ble to re­duce drag and like drag rac­ers, many have one or more parachutes to slow progress af­ter their run. Tun­ing is about sus­tained top end power rather than seek­ing the mid-range grunt re­quired of cir­cuit rac­ing cars. Lake Gairdner has two tracks. Track 1 is longer at 12 miles in­clud­ing runoff, and Track 2 is sig­nif­i­cantly shorter at ap­prox­i­mately 5 miles. Speed records are es­sen­tially about sus­tained av­er­age speed, which on Track 2 is a f ly­ing quar­ter mile start­ing at the 1¾ mile mark. There is about 2.5 miles of run off, and speed on Track 2 is lim­ited to a mere 175mph. Track 1 is where the big kids play! with Tar­get 550 and Va­lerie be­ing among the fastest ever.

A Com­modore known as Bronze Aussie achieved 270mph shortly be­fore spin­ning and sub­se­quently rolling at 267mph (over 430km/h). The stan­dards set by scru­ti­neers and or­gan­is­ers clearly work as the driver was shaken but not stirred! The pits and start ar­range­ments are also quite dif­fer­ent. The pits are over four km away down the track (and off to one side) from the start line. This is pre­sum­ably to fa­cil­i­tate spec­tat­ing from the pits and also makes use of the large amount of space on the lake. While the sur­face looks solid (and is rock hard once away from the edges of the lake), there is a rel­a­tively thin crust of salt over squishy mud which has to be man­aged care­fully in high traf­fic ar­eas such as the

“TO­DAY’S RUN ONLY REACHED 95MPH”

ac­cess track on and off the lake. For those in­clined there were also up to three light air­craft of­fer­ing scenic f lights.

Back to Tim’s at­tempt on the record. Tim and the boys ar­rived on Sun­day of the first week­end of the event, which was held from 12th-16th March 2018. Once es­tab­lished in the camp­ing ground (about 20 min­utes by car from the lake), they pre­pared the car, had it scru­ti­neered and had com­pleted the first run at 111mph by the time Frankie, Greg and I ar­rived on the Mon­day af­ter­noon. Tues­day dawned as a beau­ti­ful day, but re­gret­tably the highly de­vel­oped 1500cc race en­gine was los­ing power and Tues­day’s run only reached 95 mph with a sus­pected blown pis­ton.

This is why the spare stan­dard 1700 en­gine had been brought over, so once the di­ag­no­sis was pretty much con­firmed, the race en­gine had to be re­moved and the spare en­gine in­serted. The week was now about ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and data as the class record for up to 2000cc was over 140mph, which in turn was much faster than Tim was per­mit­ted to go un­der his re­stricted scru­ti­neer­ing. Valu­able in­for­ma­tion was gath­ered on jet­ting, and on gear ra­tios and “slip­page” – losses in the­o­ret­i­cal speeds due to tyre slip­page on the lake sur­face. Wed­nes­day saw the com­ple­tion of putting the car back to­gether, and some rea­son­ably en­cour­ag­ing speeds were achieved. Thurs­day was a great day for the team. Tim achieved a max­i­mum speed of 124.189mph (199.853km/h) us­ing the stan­dard 1700 en­gine, which apart from be­ing very en­cour­ag­ing also achieved his li­cence up­grade from Rookie to 125mph Li­cence. You have to do the speed with­out in­ci­dent to achieve the li­cence rat­ing to do the speed!

A re­view of the rules also re­vealed two other classes into which the Alfasud could be en­tered with ei­ther en­gine and in which it would be most com­pet­i­tive. Tim’s driv­ing suit was also used by an­other com­peti­tor to achieve 176mph in an LPG-pow­ered Fal­con panel van – a speed for which the wind­screen mould­ing rub­ber was not de­signed ap­par­ently, as about 30 cm parted com­pany with the glass. As for many oth­ers, Fri­day was time to pack up and leave day, and we said bon voy­age to the boys for their two-day drive home.

Speedweek was, de­spite the high speeds in­volved, a re­lax­ing week at a beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion. The usual fre­netic ac­tiv­ity of a one or two day race meet­ing was much less in ev­i­dence and there seemed to be time aplenty to com­pete, so­cialise and re­lax. Thanks to the team for hav­ing me. ex­pe­ri­ence. As usual the Alfa at­tracted much at­ten­tion and many peo­ple stopped to rem­i­nisce about their past en­coun­ters with Al­fa­suds and other Al­fas. And for the record, the mighty Sud sur­vived its close en­counter with a salt lake with­out dis­solv­ing into a pile of fer­rous ox­ide.

ABOVE Nope. No en­ergy po­lariser in this one.BELOW The race en­gine cried enough and was re­placed with a roadie.

LEFT Rollcage and race seat with stan­dard dash and door cards. Nice mix.

RIGHT The Alfasud in full flight at Aus­tralia’s ‘Bonneville’ event.

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