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Bentley breaks the ice – at 330km/h

2011-02-16 07:20

DELPOY THE RESERVE: Slowing down from 330km/h on ice, even the best anti-lock brakes are going to simply give up and just let you slide on forever. You need a parachute.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Bentley
Engine 6l W12 twin-turbo
Power 463kW @ 6000r/min
Torque 800Nm @ 1 700r/min
Transmission Six-speed auto
Land speed records are deceiving.

They may appear to be glamorous achievements but with everything from lawnmowers at the Pendine sands in Wales to supercharged V8 school buses racing down Bonneville’s salt flats in Utah, the glamour of those early 20th century speed pioneers has been lost.

Why then, is Bentley so excited to share its latest speed record with the automotive world? Well, that is because it has been achieved on the most forbidding surface of all – ice.

Indeed, Bentley commissioned a team of its finest engineers to prepare one of the company’s models to take the world ice speed record beyond the 200mph (321.86km/h) barrier.

Back in 2007 the company had attempted to beat the long-standing frozen surface world record, held by Bugatti’s EB 110.

Bentley succeeded; besting the Bugatti’s 296km/h, set in 1995, by racing past the timing device at 321.5km/h. Although this was plenty fast in metric terms, it ultimately failed to break the magic 200mph (321.86km/h) number on ice by a whisper.

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Bentley was keen to try again and make a corporate statement by attempting go beyond the imperial 200mph barrier in an alternative fuel car.

The environmentally-aware flipside to this record attempt? Well, the company’s hugely powerful – and thoroughly ostentatious – cars are configured to run on environmentally friendly bio-ethanol as well as unleaded petroleum. Consequently, the record run would essentially be powered by plant juice. In fact, the Koenigsegg CCXR is the only other notable performance car we can think of to boast this dual fuelling capability.

Beyond the record attempt’s corporate vanity (running a Bentley on E85 bio-ethanol hardly makes it any lighter on fuel), Crewe’s engineers did show a dash of indomitable Bentley Boys style by selecting a most unusual model to capture the ice speed record – a Continental Supersports Convertible.

Indeed, the world’s most powerful soft-top convertible, driven by 463kW of twin-turbo W12, made for a rather unusual choice to go record chasing in the arctic wilderness of Finland - in winter...

Finnish precision driving

If you are going to drive at suicidal speeds on ice you can’t really find a better venue than the Baltic sea this time of year.

Near the Finish coastal town of Oulu, Bentley’s engineering team found a nice 700mm thick ice pack, measured a 16.5km test circuit and then hired a Finnish driver to see how fast the Continental Supersports Convertible would go.

When you are planning to traverse ice in a wheeled vehicle at speeds beyond 300km/h it is best to let a Finn do the driving, as the world’s rally racing nursery breeds drivers with a sixth sense for keeping cars tracking true on a surface surface alllowing near-zero friction.

Bentley chose their Finnish driving consultant well. In fact, the man at the helm was also involved with the failed attempt to go beyond 200mph in a Continental GT during 2007.

SENSE OF SCALE: The little black spec moving at speed is Kankkunen building up speed in his Bentley across the frozen Baltic sea…

Strapping into the stock standard Continental Supersports Convertible was none other than Juha Kankkunen, former Dakar winner and four time world rally champion. Kankkunen remains the only rally driver to win his world titles with four different manufacturers, a feat establishing him as a legendary wheelman in his own lifetime.

Fuelled-up with E85 bio-ethanol supplied by the Iogen corporation, rolling 275/40 Pirelli SottoZero II tyres and featuring a roll-cage strengthened cabin, Kankkunen set off to break the magic 200mph barrier.

The Continental Supersports Convertible’s all-wheel drive system enabled a smooth take-off, with 800Nm shoving it on its way. When Kankkunen finally passed the radar gun on his return run, he had recorded a two-way average speed of 205.48mph, or 330.695 km/h in metric terms. The 51-year old rallying legend, after deploying a parachute to stop him (even the most sophisticated ABS is not going to help decelerating a car from 300km/h on ice), was ecstatic.

"There’s nothing to beat driving a Bentley at these speeds; the conditions may be perilous but the car responds so well to the slightest adjustment which gives you the confidence to push even harder."

Always keen to turn any achievement of the brand into a sales opportunity, Bentley is preparing its most powerful ever roadcar as a homage to Kankkunen’s achievement. This (as yet) unnamed derivative will debut at the Geneva auto show and be limited to a total production run of only 100 units.

Would the Bentley Boys have approved? Most definitely.

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