The F1 world spends so much time in airports that traditional summer holidays rather lose their appeal. The creature comforts of one's own home are vastly more appealing than another night spent sleeping in a hotel bed, or another pass through airport security. But even a staycation has its excitements...
This August, mid-way through the break, I found myself in an airfield in Yorkshire, watching fellow F1 journalist and dear friend David Tremayne attempt to break the British land speed record.
For as long as I've known him, David has been working on his land speed record project, finding sponsorship and technical experts to help him run the Duo STAY GOLD jetcar despite a long-running series of engine problems. It is a passion project, one inspired by his childhood admiration of Donald Campbell, and of those men who had attempted and broken water and land speed records.
Two summers ago, I spent a day watching the STAY GOLD team testing at Kemble, but running was cut short: something wrong with the fuel pump, I think, and not enough power delivery. A lot of blood, sweat, and expertise later, August 2017 was nominated for the first attempts at timed runs, this time at a disused airfield in Elvington, also the site of the Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Forces Memorial.
It rained overnight before we were supposed to run, and conditions were unpredictable when we gathered at Elvington on Thursday. A jetcar is a delicate beast, and all manner of tinkering and tweaking was required before GOLD was ready for launch. Once the car was ready, the driver had to be prepared, and Tremayne practiced getting out of the car in a hurry under the watchful eye of an ambulance crew.
Those of us present as observers signed the obligatory 'motorsport is dangerous' waivers, and it was time for the initial run. Out on the runway, the air behind the jetpipe started to shimmer as heat began to build. Then, with a pop and the roar of a jet engine firing up, GOLD was off, leaving nothing in her wake but dust and ringing ear drums. It was fast, but not fast enough -- the reheat hadn't worked at full capacity, and Tremayne had managed an average of 'only' 192mph and a peak of 206mph.
The record to beat was 301.670mph, set by Colin Fallows in July 2007 at the longer RAF Fairford, where bureaucrats wouldn't let Tremayne run.
The rhythms of a land speed record attempt are not dissimilar to those found at a drag race: 45 minutes spent preparing the car for a run that lasts much less than a minute. Repeat, until the fuel runs out. By lunchtime on Thursday, the STAY GOLD team had run once, and we had taken endless comedy photos of trainered feet sticking out of the engine as investigations were made of the 'bishop's hat' within.
By late afternoon, GOLD was ready to roll again, and it was time for the second attempt. With the five o'clock curfew drawing ever closer, one run was definite and two was ambitious but possible.
The engine began to whirr, the heat haze began to shimmer, and with a massive bang a jet of flame spurted out of GOLD and the car rocketed forward. But despite the spectacle, the speed just wasn't there. Major engine work was needed overnight, as pieces warped by the ferocious heat needed reshaping to ensure maximum performance on Friday. Day one was done.
As for David, the day had proved frustrating -- not enough runs, not enough speed -- but the experience had been anything but. Speaking after the event, Tremayne told me that he'd felt nothing but calm in the cockpit -- no peaks and troughs of adrenaline, no nerves. Just sheer focus and absolute calm. Looking at him, it was easy to believe.
The second day of running started well. The engine had been improved overnight after heroic effort as the team returned to their Darlington base, and the first tests of the engine and power-boosting reheat were looking good. Run one saw a dramatic launch, but again early loss of the reheat meant another average speed of 195mph and the same peak of 206, more than 100mph behind where we wanted to be.
GOLD was rolled back to the pits -- a canopy next to the runway -- for some more prodding and tweaking, and by 11.30 we were ready to run again. I crouched down beside the car, a safe distance to the side, and started recording the launch on my phone. Ear defenders on, GOLD burst to life with such a guttural roar that a full hour later I could still feel the echoes of her start in my eardrums.
This was it. This was the run. There was no doubt that GOLD was going as fast as she'd ever been. But down the two-mile stretch of runway, something wasn't right. Trouble developed as Tremayne deployed the braking parachute.
Over the radio, a call: "275.260mph, I repeat -- 275.260mph". We cheered. That was a solid average, an 80mph improvement. And then we saw the ambulance heading to the far end of the runway. GOLD had rolled over two and a half times.
It was a tense few minutes before the news started feeding back, first over walkie-talkie and then on our WhatsApp group. Incredibly, David was okay. A sudden crosswind had attacked the parachute and generated terminal and uncontrollable oversteer at 248mph, after he had hit a peak speed of 296.6mph as he exited the measured distance. There were some bruised unmentionables for the driver and scraped hand, but GOLD bore the brunt of the damage and her rear end and front suspension were twisted and damaged. There would be no more running today.
As if to underline that fact, the heavens opened and rain poured from an otherwise blue sky. Better luck next time, whenever that may be after an expensive rebuild...
Watch the run in full below...