Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Richard Noble's February 1997 Update

Richard Noble

Jeremy Davey: "Er, Richard we need your piece for February."

Noble: "Hell's Teeth, Jeremy, I forgot again!"

Frankly I dreaded January. We had not done very well in Jordan - not because of poor team effort, but because we had been cut short with the unexpected rains. In England very little happens in December and so January is the first month in which can we test the market. January is also the month when the industrial companies wake up after the Christmas sleep (often it seems to a major re-organisation!) and their emphasis must be on their immediate mainstream activities. This is therefore not the best time for us to test the market!

But there is a conflict - we have to meet our financial committments: keep the car build moving ahead strongly to completion to supersonic standard by March 10th; and we have to fund the return to Jordan - so something has to give!

Every Monday morning we have the planning meeting with everyone in the project around the table in our small conference room. Reports are read, decisions are made quickly and we can usually be out and on our ways in under an hour. The pressure is really on Nick Dove and the workshop team to carry out the changes to a tightly programmed schedule - with the planning programming work being handled by Jerry Bliss. The rear suspension and steering has had to be redesigned and rebuilt and Ron's amazing aerodynamic devices incorporated. While the engines are out Robby Kraike is incorporating the Kidde Graviner water mist fire prevention system in the cockpit and Robert Atkinson has created the distance run computer - this critical cockpit instrument enables Andy to know exactly where he is on the course without the need for such archaic devices as course flags. But the real pressure is on Glynne who has to redesign the rear suspension and struts so that we never get wheel shimmy again - or if we do, we have plenty of adjustment left to clear it.

Ever since George Simpson, the Lucas Chairman, seconded Glynne to the project, Glynne has been under enormous pressure: creating his usual faultless drawing on his laptop in the peace of his home and then getting the drawings to Nick and Peter Ross to get the parts sourced for almost immediate manufacture. It hasnít helped that the engineering industry was decimated by the Thatcher Government and hasnít recovered. The demand hasnít changed so the prices and lead times have increased - and we canít wait! The main gear cutting industry is quoting 8 weeks delivery on the new steering gears - we have to get the job done at a sensible price in 4! Once the contracts have been agreed Pete Ross phones the suppliers daily to check progress - and in his inimitable cheery manner, he gets the job done quickly and without hassle. Owen Walsh of R.L.Walsh & Sons in Coventry generously agreed to meet the target and if all goes weal we get our gears on February 28th. Later in early March, the active suspension has to be commissioned. Jerry Bliss has all the software written and operational - but will the hydraulics work? Can we have all that together in time?

And then ThrustSSC has to be painted in the special BASF Supersonic Black - have we got enough paint - are the Porsche painters going to be able to come on time? Can we borrow the Chinook spray shop at RAF Odiham when we need it? And what about the signwriting - can we get that done in time - will the sponsors actually agree their logos in time? How many sponsors will we have?

The first two weeks go badly; one sponsor who seemed so promising drops out and another who has long term rights decides not to put any further money in. I canít believe this when there is so much for the sponsors this year - but sponsorship can be a political decision and so anything but anything is possible. You can take absolutely nothing for grantedÖ

In the middle of all this is the Mach 1 Club Days schedule. We plan to offer the Club Members a series of special days which will allow them to look around P8 Shed at Farnborough, see ThrustSSC, and attend a series of lectures from the Team. The first day is planned for the 19th. John Lovatt and the Mach 1 team take a whole weekend loading and addressing the 4,000 envelopes which go out on the Monday. The Mach 1 Club is the nearest thing on earth to lightning communication - and when 7 days later there are no responses we fear the worst. The Farnborough on site postal system has gone wrong and the 4,000 letters were never posted. By now the first open day has to be rescheduled, the letters rewritten and copied, and the whole process tried again - except this time Sally Noble is taking the letters direct to the post. Nick Dove explains that with the whole team working we can load and address 4,000 letters in 2 hours. Having worked the whole weekend on the previous mailing, I find it difficult to believe and bet him £5.00. Sixteen people work like demented lunatics on a production line from Hell and the letters are completed in well under two hours: now Nick is sporting a wide grin! Now we know how to do it! - that was worth £5!

Microsoft generously agree to provide us with a copy of the MS Merchant Server software which will allow us to create a totally electronic shop on the Web Site - and one with safe electronic card validation and cash transfer. Digital goes one better and loans us another £60,000 Alpha 64-bit server to handle the Merchant Server. Jeremy Davey raises his eyes to heaven and plunges into the software: I canít see Roger McCann do the same thing as he is running his advertising business in Northampton, but he agrees to do the new site graphics. Target operational date is March 15th. Our Internet sales are good - and if we can make this work then the Internet will start to generate serious revenues. Since we have at least two overseas operations this year - we are going to need every pound we can find.

From now on the financial pressures build remorselessly - it has to be a deal a day! And the response is good: it appears that the ThrustSSC PR machine is thought to have done well - so we have a chance. But the situation is becoming highly complex as all the deals all start to overlap - and very shortly I have 100 actions on my office white board. And every one of those 100 has secondary actions - vital if the primary deals are to be brought home.

Martyn Davidson is putting together the plans for Jordan 2. We want to try to run with a much smaller team - there is less work to do on the car, and according to Jerry Bliss the Jafr desert is drying without a new influx of new stones.

The Monday meetings are going well - we seem to be on schedule and in with a chance. I explain that we have to be very pessimistic and beat the plan by a huge margin at the start in order to be in with a chance of completing on time. The others think I am being far too negative!

Another new Good Thing happens. I have known Bob Pearson for many years, ever since I tried to sell him one of our ARV aircraft as a traffic spotter for Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton. At a hurried meeting we at long last hit on the way to run the Thrust radio station - which is simple and very credible. We shake hands on what I believe to be a magic ground breaking deal, and Hughes Network Services believe in it too for they agree to give us additional satellite capacity. This is very good news, for ever since BBC Radio 4 published nonsense about Andy walking out we really have to provide specialist radio support service. Bob reports that two major UK radio networks and a French station want to take up the deal, so it looks as though we may have the concept at least part right.

ICL phone to say that they are planning to come back which is superb news, I hadnít expected any response for at least a month since they were into a major reorganisation (January, remember!) but it seems they got that one together fast - in the usual ICL manner. This is actually a tremendous situation because some said that the ICL management team took flyer with the original deal, especially when there was reluctance further upstream to have anything to do with motor sport. I am really thrilled by this as it is a huge vindication of their original decision and it also means that we are creating real value for our sponsors.

Then there are our old friends Paris-Match who have just signed the Duchess of York for some vast sum. The driving force behind our deal is a great journalist, Bertil Scali, who has fought all kinds of internal battles to pull this through. And almost everything we touch which relates to Paris Match seems to go wrong! I jump the Paris Eurostar at some ungodly hour in the morning and have prepared for a tough meeting. I find myself in front of the Editor Didier Rapeaud: my French is very poor and they find it easier to talk in English. I explain the plan for 1997 and they whistle. Didierís comment is memorable: "Richard, we have seen what your team has been through - and we believe you are going to achieve your supersonic record. Now tell me exactly what do you want!" It's like a scene from a black and white movie - we part firm friends determined not to let each other down. The French seem to grasp the ideas and potential of the project much faster than the British - and I catch the last Shuttle back. There is only one possible comment Ė "Bloody Marvellous!" [unusual phrase for Richard, that... Ed] How do I say that in French?

Next in is our vital healthcare sponsor BUPA. The BUPA travel insurance was an asset of huge importance to us. In the heat of the moment these details tend to get overlooked until Robert Atkinson suffered a serious hand injury in Jordan when the pneumatic comms aerial took off from the end of the Pit Station Trailer like a SaturnV.

The Jordanian Air Force and BUPA moved fast to repair Robert, airlifting him back to Amman. Back in UK the Jordanian surgery is much admired. David Bryant from BUPA spends a happy afternoon with us all and we all hope that he is able to continue.

And in the middle of all this are the deals - which commit the company to all kinds of operational gymnastics in return for the essential financial lifeblood. Our good friends DERA would like us to bring ThrustSSC to the NEC and display it on the Year of Engineering Success stand at the BBC Tomorrowís World live exhibition from March 19th-23rd. We also plan to bring the DERA simulator so that we can demonstrate ThrustSSC driving. It will be a close run thing, but we will be there. It will be a great opportunity to show ThrustSSC in its fully painted form - and renew our friendship with BBC Tomorrows World, who did so much in the early days to get he project airtime.

And there is more complex news. For 4 years Glynne Bowsher has worked day and night to hold down his job as a brake designer at Lucas and also keep the ThrustSSC mechanical design and drawing work moving using his small laptop computer. Its been a formidable effort which was eventually recognised by the Lucas Chairman George Simpson who last year announced that Glynne was to be seconded to the project fulltime. This was a fantastic situation for us and knocked months off the build time, but time moves on, Mr Simpson moved on to become Managing Director of GEC and Lucas teamed up with the American company Varity. At the end of January, Lucas Varity decided to make Glynne redundant after 40 years of service with the company. It was a bitter blow for Glynne, but a great opportunity for the project. Whilst we have to find yet another monthly fee, if the project is# successful then Glynne will find himself highly sought after with his own design house. Seems rather short sighted of Lucas Varity!

I have to stray into February to report one fascinating meeting. Castrol have been the project's founder main sponsor and were the first in with support when we started the research period in 1992. At a recent meeting to discuss plans for 1997, I asked Peter Ball, Castrolís Motor Sport Director, now that we had had one overseas operation and the international publicity behind us, how did he rate the project in promotional terms, especially as Castrol are now sponsoring the Williams F1 team? His answer was memorable:

"I think ThrustSSC is generating a broader overseas interest than Formula 1"

Thatís a fascinating insight into how a major motorsport sponsor views ThrustSSC - and after all this struggle, it gives us very real credibility.

New sponsors are starting to appear - the word is getting around that Thrust delivers and represents good promotional value for money. There are more and more new faces and new deals around - this is refreshing stuff - the message is at last getting home that the Thrust type of sponsorship package really delivers when compared to the more traditional name-on-the-car-and-hereís-the-hospitality packages. But can we bring enough of these new people to the party in time before we get to Jordan? Our decision making process may be fast, but can the corporates really move fast enough to mesh in with the Thrust timescale?

In 1994 the BBC decided to go with a Tomorrowís World branded poster, using the Michael Turner ThrustSSC at Black Rock print as the main image. It has been hugely successful and we have now sold 25,000 units. But we now have ThrustSSC together and the problem with artists impressions is that they suggest the car is still on paper. So this year, working with our friends from the Army Technical Support Agency in Chertsey who had already designed the truck ramp system and Tim Tallent from Tallent Packaging in Hanworth, who seems to be able to get anything printed to impossible deadlines, we set about a new poster - using one of Alain Ernoultís amazing ThrustSSC Jordan pictures as the main graphic. A poster is a huge gamble, particularly if you are someone like me who cannot visualise the best way of presentation. Well the first copies arrived today and they go on sale today - weíll soon see!

Over in Australia, Rosco McGlashan is moving on to Lake Gairdner - not just going there, but establishing a complete operational village on site. He is in for the long stay - this is going to be the year of Aussie Invader 3.

Over in the US there is no communication from the Breedlove camp. I don't get my phone calls returned and he has stopped picking up the phone. This seems to me to be a huge shame, so lets hope he makes another effort - I certainly will. As far as we can gather he is into an extensive Spirit of America rebuild and there a number of British specialists whom he has contracted with to replace the skins. This should get him operational in May - will there be enough dry Black Rock Desert to support a run then - weíll see!

Also in the US the American Eagle people have changed their name to North American Eagle (now thereís a famous name!) to take account of the substantial Canadian following. Gary Swenson, the gritty and highly motivated driver, has set off to sail around the world, and the rest of the team are regrouping around the Edwards AFB location. Their marketing is much stronger and I guess we will see them operational on the desert this year.

So rather later than the end of January, the ThrustSSC project is progressing well. The completion to supersonic standard is on schedule and there are no major problems, just a hard slog to see us through to trials again in early March. But there is one major hassle (remember no hassles in this project, just opportunities!), err, opportunity: somehow we have to bring in enough finance to get us back to Jordan - and there is also that small matter of 240,000 litres for the Antonov. And, err, Brian needs two tractor units to replace the Scaniaís which have now gone back to work. So thereís just one or two more things to achieve!!




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