Finally the ThrustSSC Team were in a position to attempt record speeds - although an actual record attempt on the short Jafr Desert was uncertain. At the end of October the HeavyLift-VolgaDnepr Antonov 124 air-freighter lifted off from the runway at Stansted - on board were the team, car and equipment bound for the King Feisal Air Base, Al Jafr, Jordan.
As the technicians got into action to prepare the car for the first runs, the remainder of the team headed out onto the playa to begin the 'fodding' - picking up the stones. The number of stones on the Jafr would prove a huge handicap - and thousands of manhours would be expended in picking them up. It was while the team were out on that task that news came in of Craig Breedlove's crash on the Black Rock Desert thousands of miles away. He was unhurt, but after Spirit of America turned onto its side at 675mph before describing a huge U-turn, running was over for 1996. Back in Jordan, the ThrustSSC team were glad to hear he was unharmed.
Fodding on the Jafr continued for some two weeks, while the team continued to check out and prepare the car. Tie-down tests revealed a problem with the car's non-return valves - this was to delay the project even further. Difficulties were experienced getting the car on and off its trailer with the solid desert wheels. Eventually, two weeks after arriving, the car was taken out to the desert to make its first runs. A quick dash to 260mph finally satisfied the doubters.
The difficulties loading and unloading ThrustSSC meant a rapid change of plan, however. Instead of moving to and from the air base each day, the team decided to set up headquarters on the playa itself - using a huge inflatable hanger flown out by Aireshelta from England.
Runs continued in Jordan - but problems with 'shimmy' of the rear wheels began to plague the team. The rapid and powerful oscillation of the wheels was damaging the steering and measures were taken to control it. The hardness and bumpiness of the desert wasn't helping either - particularly at the points where the Bedouin desert roads crossed the racetracks.
The days passed by as the team worked long, long hours - eventually a break had to be called while everyone took a rest. Back at work bad weather threatened the car's progress too as the wind picked up and rain turned the desert surface to mud. The Jafr proved to have remarkable self-healing powers and dried in a matter of hours - but another run revealed that the shimmy had not yet been cured.
To cure the problem the steering geometry was altered and the damping increased, but before the work could be completed and the modifications tested, a night of horrendous rain on the surrounding hills brought the hundreds of tributaries that run onto the Jafr back to life. As the water advanced across the surface the team hurried to pack their car and equipment and evacuated the camp. Inspections of the desert next day showed that running was over for 1996 for ThrustSSC too.
There was nothing else to do but fly home and raise the funds for another go.
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