Speedweek 2021 - Revenge of the Sud

By: Phil Radoslovich, Photography by: Phil Radoslovich Sports Photography

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Not to be defeated, the Alfa Sud is back on the salt

Two years have elapsed since the disappointment of Speedweek 2019 at Lake Gairdner for Tim and the Baling Twine Racing Team. For those unaware of the back story here is a very brief recap. 

Tim Guinness from Orange in NSW has been racing Alfa Romeos for many years owns a rural property which runs about 250 sheep, 15 lambs and a similar number of Alfa Suds! Tim and partner Frankie had a relatively rare and straight 1985 Alfa Sprint that, as Frankie puts it, was "too good to wreck and too expensive to restore". After wondering what to do with it they decided to turn it into a land speed car with a class record for production cars under 1500 cc of 125mph in mind.

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Alfas and salt are not happy companions so the choice was unusual, but Tim had a distant relative, Kenelm Edward Lee Guinness MBE (KLG), who set a world land speed record in 1922 of 133.75mph at Brooklands so speed was in the blood. This was the last land speed record ever set at a race circuit. KLG had determined that spark plugs manufactured in the early 20th century were very unreliable and had set up his own company to produce plugs reliable enough for use in aircraft in WW1. After the war he went on to build a racing career on the back of his KLG spark plug business.

The Team visited Speed Week in 2017 to observe and better understand the rules, environment and likely issues they would encounter. In 2018 they made their first attempt and, despite detonating the race engine on the 2nd pass, set a very respectable time with the 1700 cc road motor they hauled across from NSW as a spare.

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In 2019, they were back for a second attempt, this time armed with two race motors and some experience. Both motors unfortunately suffered the same issues, with fuel leaning off to one bank of the boxer engine’s cylinders and no record was achieved. After extensive investigation, the Team discovered that it was a fuel delivery issue to the right bank which was causing the engine to lean out at high speed and the problem was resolved for future attempts. A successful test on a dyno in Sydney confirmed that the car would be more reliable at the next event but as Speedweek was cancelled for 2020 due to COVID19, 2021 loomed as the year they would try for the record.

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Sunny one day, sloshing around the next, but the Sud went well

Speedweek 2021 was held from in March with good forecast weather of mid 30s temperatures and negligible prospects of rain. Numbers were down on previous years due to COVID19 which meant fewer interstate competitors and no international teams were able to make the trip. Lake Gairdner is highly regarded in the US and NZ, in particular, and many competitors have made the trip in past years. Likewise many people from Australia have made the trip to Lake Bonneville in the USA both to compete and spectate.

The team was quite mean and lean this year as both of Tim’s sons (Murray and Rory) and respective partners were expecting their first child within a few weeks. Frankie stayed behind to manage the farm. So, the Team for 2021 was Tim (driver, owner and chief mechanic), Greg Hurst (chief engineer, wise head and part time camp cook) and me (photographer, part time camp cook, sommelier, logistic support and author of this article).

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The Sud getting its safety check, before attacking the salt

After settling in and having the car scrutineered (thankfully without significant issues) Tim lined up on the first morning for a shake down run in the car, with a speed limit of 150mph imposed for a minor issue the scrutineers found. Tim was a bit unsure if the speed limit was a restriction or a challenge as 150mph is a lot more than the car is currently capable of doing!

Once Tim was under way for the first run he quickly found that all was not quite right with the car and he backed off at 110mph. Up to 5000 rpm it felt fine but beyond that it wasn’t keen to go further and importantly the air/fuel sensors were showing, once again, that the engine was lean on one bank.

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Once back in the pits for investigations, Tim quickly discovered the problem was a loose emulsion tube in one of the Weber IDF44 downdraft carbies. A plug inspection showed a few particles of metal on the plug electrodes so despite the compression test giving the motor the all clear, it had been a close run thing to killing another engine. Sustained flat out speeds over several miles in the middle of a salt lake are brutal tests of cars and people. To be on the safe side, the plugs were swapped out for a colder set of race plugs and, after a quick check of other vitals, the car was good to go. A couple of further runs later in the day confirmed that the car was performing capably with speeds of 123.9 mph tantalisingly close to the objective speed of 125.2 mph.

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Tuesday morning was bright, fine and there was also a modest tail wind all of which are ideal conditions for a speed record attempt. On the first run, Tim managed 125.9 mph, which was just above the speed required to secure the record. Success at last! But under the Dry Lakes Racing Association Rules (DLRA) for a record to be granted the driver, has to back it up with a second run above the record speed within 4 hours.

On the backup run, the car ran well but not quite well enough to secure the official record in the class. Analysis of the data from the sensors revealed that the fuel air ratio still could be made a bit richer to develop a little more power. Likewise, increasing the tyre pressures might also reduce the rolling resistance. These are fine adjustments but at this stage, the Team are literally looking for the 1% to crack the record.

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Wednesday morning dawned cloudy, cool and there had been a light sprinkle of rain during the night which had not been forecast. Tim had his first run early in the day and achieved a very pleasing speed of 128.9 mph – well above that required for the class record.

As the weather was rapidly closing in, Tim had to move fast if he was to have a chance at the record before the track became too wet to drive. He raced back to the impound area for officials to briefly compliance check the car and then back to the start with a priority record run attempt card to ensure as little waiting time as possible. Alas, however, the weather intervened and time ran out for the Team. The yellow Sprint was two cars back in the queue from having the record confirmation run when the track was closed, initially for several hours.

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Unfortunately, the rain persisted until late afternoon and the salt pan became a salt lake with about 20mm of rain, which on a flat lake equates to about 20mm of water. After waiting for several hours in the pits on the increasingly wet lake, the team did the only sensible thing and gently drove off the Lake. They spent the remainder of their time taking photos of the unusual sight of the Lake with water and then at the DLRA bar for a couple of beers from the Prancing Pony Brewery. And there it ended for 2021.

Thursday was dry but cool with no wind. Tim and Greg, having decided overnight that there was very little prospect of any activity on the Lake on Thursday, drove the 10km from camp to pack up the pits and retrieve the car from the lake only to be told that the Lake was closed until it dried out enough for vehicles to safely drive onto it.

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Two wheels and four, feel the need for speed

As Greg had a plane to catch, he and I drove the 600km back to Adelaide leaving Tim to wait and pack up the car for the long drive back to Orange. Tim finally managed to get back to the pits at about lunchtime after walking the 3km from the edge of the lake as cars were still not allowed back on until the National Park staff had reopened it. He left the lake at 6.00pm and, after a tricky drive out on the now quite muddy road to Mt Ive, eventually made it to Yunta at midnight.

This is a story created over four years of persistence and determination. There have been many laughs and a few frustrations along the way. Tim, although not officially the record holder, is safe in the knowledge that the car and he bettered the record speed twice and drove to a very respectable result in the process. He is contemplating another tilt to knock off the family land speed record of 133.75mph from KLG. Thanks to Baling Twine Racing for having me as part of the team and thanks to DLRA for organising a great event, despite the trials of distance, the pandemic and weather.

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Some of the younger drivers on the lake this year were veterans of 12 years on the salt, despite only being 15 years of age, so "Grandpa Tim" may be back sooner than he thinks fettling the Sud for another generation of Guinnesses going places in a hurry.

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From Unique Cars #458, Oct 2021

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