Kiwis chase Bonneville speed record glory

By Teuila Fuatai

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

A team of Kiwi car enthusiasts, who have converted a 48-year-old old Mini Cooper into a sporty racing machine, have two days left to break a speed record at the Bonneville racing flats in Utah.

The seven member Project 64 team, who are based in Nelson, first began working on the 1964 British original in 2010.

"It basically arrived as a rusty old Mini shell, but with a very special engine," said spokesman Mike Wilson.

So far, they have managed to clock one run on the salt flats which exceeded the 205km/hrecord for its competition category.

But for the speed to officially register, the compact racer must be able repeat its performance.

Mr Wilson said the Project 64 Mini, driven by 26-year-old dirt car racer Nelson Hartley, clocked a speed of 223km/h last Saturday - the first official day of the speed week - but was yet to do it again.

"The way it works is that when you break a record, your car is impounded until the next day, then you have to try and do it again."

The Nelson photographer said the team, which is led by mechanic pair Garry Orton and Guy Griffiths, are constantly tweaking their speedy red car to ensure it runs smoothly.

"When you first get here, you have to pass the tech inspection before you can race.

"We had been told not to be too upset if we didn't pass the first time round, as as many cars fail.

"But we went straight through, which just shows how well the car has been built.

"Even so - we constantly have to make adjustments to it, especially as it is relentlessly hot and we are at a higher altitude over here."

Temperatures at the speed week hover around 35 degrees Celsius during the day, which in combination with the Bonneville altitude of about 1280 metres makes it incredibly difficult to maintain the cars and speed, Mr Wilson said.

"But we have a superb team with a wealth of racing knowledge behind them."

The team's engine designer, Bryan Hartley - whose son Nelson is the Project 64 driver - was heavily involved with Motor Sport NZ when it was first established. His younger son Brendon also inherited his love for cars, but was unable to be part of Project 64 as he is a Formula One driver, based in Germany.

The Project 64 team will have until the end of Friday, local time, the final day of the race meet, to surpass the 2004 record of 205km/h.

- APNZ

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