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Speed Record S.A. ::: Locations/Pans  ::: Verneuk Pan

Verneuk Pan - the new Bonneville
Posted by :
Ray Wakefield - Date: 9 Oct 2003 at 13:28

A serious Land Speed Record contender with experience of the Bonneville Salt Flats has recently judged Verneuk pan to be superior in many ways to the American venue. It is now possible that two World Record attempts may be made in South Africa in the next few years.

Throughout the history of land speed record breaking there have been a number of venues that have become available, been used extensively then, as speeds have risen, become unsuitable and been discarded in favour of something better. In the formative years, when motoring was largely centred in Europe, almost all early record attempts were made on that Continent.

As speeds increased however, the traditional venues like Arpajon, Brooklands, and Pendine sands became too cramped. This coincided with the automobile boom hitting America, and with it, the passion for speed, and it soon seemed as if firstly the beaches, and later the Salt Flats of the New World was the only place to go if you wanted to re-write the record books. Indeed, since 1927, every World Land Speed Record except one has been set in the USA, by far the greater number of these at Bonneville Salt Flats.

In 1929 Malcolm Campbell travelled to Vernuek Pan in what is now the Northern Cape Province of South Africa in order to try to steal an advantage over his rivals Ray Keech and in particular, fellow countryman Henry Seagrave. History records that his attempt was unsuccessful, and any further thoughts of him or anyone else going there to make a future bid for the title were soon forgotten.
At the time of Campbell's attempt almost all of the roads between towns consisted of little more than cart tracks through the veldt. Communities were scattered, and communications were poor. It must have been a tremendous journey in itself to have reached the pan, let alone transport his record contender "Bluebird" and all of his equipment from the coast several hundred miles away.

Fortunately in the last seventy-four years Verneuk Pan has remained virtually untouched, whilst the infrastructure around it has developed such that today it can once more be considered a prime site for the setting of World Land Speed Records.

Verneuk pan is situated in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It lies at a longitude 21degrees East and a latitude of 30 degrees South, approximately one hundred and eighty kilometres South of Upington, and eighty km from Kenhardt, the nearest town. It is approximately 800 km (500 miles) from the port of Cape Town, and a similar distance from Johannesburg. There are good roads between the towns, and the airport at Upington can take any aircraft currently in use, including a space shuttle!

The pan sits at a height of approximately 857 metres (2800 ft) above sea level, and has an airstrip suitable for light aircraft.

The access road from the R27 Kenhardt - Brandvlei road is some 70 km (43 miles) long and though able to take any vehicle, it is untarred. It is currently rather rough but this will be graded at the request of any team, and I have been assured that this will form an item on the Province's road maintenance budget next year.


A general view of Verneuk Pan

The pan is quite vast - it is claimed to be 57 km long and 11 km wide. (35 X 7 miles).

Campbell's original track is situated near the South West edge. This has been extended since his attempt to a length of 17 km, and could with very little effort be further extended to well over 20 km. (12.5 miles). The pan is formed of a dry alkali mud, which is consistent and very firm. During our recent trials it allowed the ribs forming the periphery of the wheels of the rocket powered streamliner Maximum Impulse to cut sufficiently into the surface to provide lateral control without the rim proper impacting on the ground to cause 'tramlining'. It provides good traction for wheel driven vehicles, and there is very little dust present. In places the surface is scattered with small stones, but it has been shown that most of these can be removed by mechanical sweeping, and the track then fodded in the normal way.

Local labour can be hired at a ridiculously low cost to assist with this latter task.

Water can be made available, but as may be expected, there is no electricity. Cellular (i.e. mobile) telephone coverage is poor, but for any serious record bid this would no doubt be upgraded - probably at little or no cost - by one or other of the service providers in the country.

The best time of year for an attempt is between the end of May and Mid August. One can be assured of fine weather with little or no wind, and no rain. Temperatures can fall to below freezing at night, and reach around 25C (77F) during the day.

The pan remains consistently dry throughout the day.


Motivator on Verneuk Pan (please note the lack of dust)

Incidentally, Campbell's track has been lovingly preserved and is in excellent condition. Even today a couple of the original course markers still stand.

Accommodation: there are no restrictions on camping or Winibago type vehicles. There is even a site at one corner of the pan with flush toilets, showers, and cooking/eating facilities. Kenhardt could probably accommodate in the order of 100 persons. The only hotel is very basic. There are no Casinos, but the pub does serve good beer! A further 100 people could find accommodation in Keimos, which is 70 km (43 miles) distant from Kenhardt. The roads between the towns are flat, straight, and in excellent repair. Traffic is exceptionally light in these parts, and it is very easy to maintain average speeds between centres at or above the legal limit of 120 kph. (70mph).

One of the biggest plus factors is the enthusiasm of both the land tenant and the Provincial Government who one can feel confident will provide their utmost assistance and encouragement to foreign teams. This is further reflected by the friendliness of the local population.

 Furthermore, with South Africa being a less litigious society than others in the Northern Hemisphere, there are no pettifogging restrictions such as are commonly found at the more established venues. All of these factors, coupled with the very favourable Rand to Dollar/Euro/etc exchange rate makes Verneuk Pan worth very serious consideration by anyone hoping to get their name in the record books.

Accreditation. All record attempts in South Africa fall under the jurisdiction of Motorsport South Africa ( MSA ). This body is accredited by the FIA and FIM, and all applications to make an official attempt at a National or International speed record must be done through them. Copies of their regulations are available either through this site, or directly from MSA.

Speedrecord S A is already working with Richard Brown's Team Maximum Impulse, and Gabriel Uttley's Angelic Bulldog project, and will be delighted to assist any other teams that may wish to pursue the possibility of contending any form of Land Speed Record in South Africa.

 

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