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Emirates Team New Zealand set to sail in Australia on next stage of record hunt

by Richard Gladwell 24 May 2022 19:28 PDT 25 May 2022
Project Speed - hits 120kmh Emirates Team New Zealand - Test run - Whenupai -May 20, © Richard Gladwell -

For the past 35 years, Emirates Team New Zealand has been synonymous with competing on the water in boats which are at the leading edge of professional sailing and technology.

But in a few weeks, the current America's Cup champion's next challenge will be ashore, and conducted in Australia, chasing a wind-powered land speed record that has been broken only once in 23 years.

"I tried every year for 10 years - all day, every day to break this record," current record holder Richard Jenkins (UK) said in 2009, after adding just 10mph to the previous world land-speed record for a wind-powered vehicle. "It is an incredibly difficult record to break. In any other record, more power means more speed. Here more wind doesn't mean more speed. Everything has to be technically spot-on."

Jenkins moved into what was initially the "Windjet" project after leaving school and worked as a boatbuilder for Green Marine before moving on to complete a degree in mechanical engineering at the Imperial College, London. Over that decade, Jenkins working mostly alone and living in a van at the venue chosen for the next record attempt. The breakthrough came in 2008 when he refined the wingsail and tailplane concept. During that decade Jenkins designed and constructed five different wind-powered craft, drawing heavily on F1 technology. His latest design, and the current record holder appears to be a very close cousin to that being used by Emirates Team New Zealand. Both use carbon composite wings, controlled by a vertical tailplane and aileron.

After setting the new world speed record in 2009, Jenkins turned his design and engineering skills to what became the Saildrone project with a fleet unmanned yachts sailing the planets oceans in what has become the worlds largest data collection of information above and below the water. The now including spending 17,000 days undertaking tasks such as mapping the ocean bed, and sailing into the eye of a hurricane to get images and data. The latest project is a 72ft USV (uncrewed sailing vessel) intended to replace expensive survey vessels, and measure water depth of up to 7,000 metres. A company was formed with the assistance of venture capitalists, and is now based in Alameda, San Francisco.

Team New Zealand freely admit that besting Jenkin's mark will not be easy, and while the four-time America's Cup champions have a public expectation of being able to deliver excellence with ease, Jenkins' comment that "everything has to be technically spot-on," sums up the degree of difficulty and dedication in setting a new mark, which has only been broken once in 22 years.

Project Speed is Emirates Team New Zealand's second Green project. Earlier this month the team launched a foiling hydrogen powered chase boat capable of 50Kts and with a greater range than the teams regular outboard powered chase boats. The Chase Zero boat project received substantial technological assistance from Toyota Corporation, and the wingspar of the land yacht carries sigange from Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota's motorsport/performance brand.

Both projects have served to keep the team together and working during what would normally be a period of downtime for the team between America's Cups. Both have crossover into the America's Cup program, for a team which has been highly reliant on simulation and modelling as well as the use of artificial intelligence in prototype and design testing.

Hoping to dodge a weather bomb

Emirates Team New Zealand have chosen Lake Gairdner, Australia's third largest a salt lake, about 500km NW of Adelaide, as the site for the record attempt. Ivanpah Lake, a dry lake in California's Mojave Desert, was used to set the two previous world record marks. Record holder Richard Jenkins lost one complete year of record attempts when Lake Lefoy in Western Australia was hit by an unexpected weather event and flooded.

To be a valid record attempt the run must take place on a natural surface. Artificially prepared runways aren't accepted. To set a new record mark, the GPS speed must be achieved for a minimum rolling period of just 3 secs at any point over the course of an 8-10km run, and officially observed by a representative from FISLY, the world governing body of land yachting who certify and maintain the official records. The old mark must be exceeded by 1mph to be considered as a new record.

To power Horonuku, Emirates Team New Zealand say they will be reliant on the NW frontal systems that come through in June-October plus the SW across the Australian Bight close to the course.

The normally dry Lake Gardiner is still holding water from an unusual rain event in January, but is expected to dry out by the time of the team's arrival. The Project Speed team will be based at a station at Mount Ive, SA, in some concrete-floored out-buildings, which avoids the need to set up prefabricated structures for a six week stay. An internet connection will be established from the Outback location back to the design and engineering systems and specialists at the ETNZ base in Auckland.

After a public unveiling on Monday, May 13, Emirates Team New Zealand's challenger for the wind-powered land speed record had its first run less than 24 hours later on the 2,000-metre runway at the still operational World War II military airbase in West Auckland.

Quick out of the Box

Later in the week, media were invited for a first look at the land yacht being put through its paces - in between RNZAF operational landing and take-offs and ahead of a vicious 40kt front that hit Auckland in the early afternoon.

Ashby says the wind was in the 12-23kt range with Horonuku hitting speeds of 120kph on the main runway, before hitting the brakes about 400 metres from the end of the runway and the boundary fence.

"It's like flying, driving a car, riding a bike and sailing all rolled into one," was how Ashby described piloting the radical craft. "To date, I could count the test runs down the runway in seconds, rather than minutes," he added.

"It is a lot better than we expected and it's brilliant for having just come out of the box."

"On a puffy, westerly day like today, there are some huge power changes in the wing. You drive it like a high-powered car and have to be very gentle with the throttle. In slippery wet conditions, you have to be on your toes to keep it in the middle of the runway."

"The craft is extremely powerful, there is no doubt that it will keep accelerating if we have the wind."

To set a new speed record, Emirates Team New Zealand will have to coax another 100kph plus out of Horonuku over and above what was achieved on the short runway at Whenuapai. From Ashby's other comments, it is clear that the team's computer simulation has predicted 250kph, maybe more.

The physics of land sailing are similar but different to more conventional sailing. In a land yacht the tyres, take the place of a centreboard to provide side force resistance from wing spar on the land-yacht.

Getting weight and balance optimised on the land yacht is one of the keys to getting the maximum grip or sideways resistance from the tyres - but not at the expense of increasing the rolling or forward drag from the wheels - which would slow the land yacht's speed.

At full speed the land yacht has a lot of sideslip. The effect is that the nose of the land yacht points in one direction, while travelling at 200kmh in another.

"The unbelievable side of this craft is that in 30kts of breeze you are doing over 200kmh (108kts)," says Ashby.

"We don't have any cavitation issues with tyres, like we do with foils in the America's Cup boats, and the land yacht just keeps accelerating. In the end it is the aerodynamics/drag that holds you up."

"The frontal projected area of this is like a pencil," he adds.

"The wing produces about 250kg of thrust at 250kph (135kts). Tyre choice and setting the whole craft up is a huge learning curve for us. It is something of which we have learned a huge amount over the past year. There are a lot of things we didn't understand, which will feed directly into the next Cup."

The wing angle is controlled by a tailplane. It is a design concept that has been around for years.

"We start the run with the wing at 90degrees to the wind, and in a feathered or neutral position. I will then pump the tailplane to windward, which will start sheeting, or rotating the wing, gradually. Hopefully, that will generate enough lift for us to start rolling forward slowly.

"It's like a gas turbine winding up. As we get more and more wind going over the wing, it starts generating more power or thrust. Our computer simulation says the craft will spool up very quickly to 100-180kmh. It does take a little while to get going initially, but once the wing starts to load up it accelerates quickly.

"We've only got about 10sqm in the wing - that's about 2.5sq metres less than an A-Cat sail, or only 1sq metre bigger than an iQFoil board. It is small, but at 200-250kmh, it generates 1.7tonnes of sideforce.

Much of the basic design of high speed wind powered land vehicles was done by Richard Jenkins Saildrone is the world’s leading collector of in situ data via uncrewed vehicle, above and below the sea surface.

During testing at Whenuapai, Horonuku is stored in a hangar with the wingsail erected. The craft is towed to start to get maximum use from the full length of the 2km airfield runway. For the official record run the craft can only have an unassisted standing start, or push-start using human power.

Wind and grip reliant

The team is targeting winds of 30-35kts for a successful the record attempt.

Richard Jenkins set the record in 2009 in winds of 30-40mph and a gust of 47mph. It was witnessed by four official observers, including Bob Schumacher who set the previous record of 116mph in 1999, and around 100 spectators. For ETNZ's attempt they will have one official observer from FISLY (Federation International de Sand and Land Yachting), who will be in attendance when the team have completed their testing and development and wish to make record attempts.

Ashby says the fronts come through very quickly, and only last a couple of hours - so the team has to be ready to race at anytime. "Sometimes the pre and post-frontal activity will last longer, depending on where the centre of the low comes through, " he adds.

Horonuku's weight can be optimised by using ballast in the range of 1700kgs to 2500kgs. Ashby says the 14 metre craft's power to weight ratio will be similar to the current record holder, which weighed 600kg.

"We have the ability to change the length of the craft by removing a section of the fuselage to optimise the balance point depending on how our grip levels are going," Ashby explains. "It's another gear in the gearbox to be able to find the correct balance we need for top speed."

All four wheels, including the pod wheel, can be loaded or unloaded with blocks of lead ballast. The two rear wheels provide most of the side-force resistance, and their grip on the salt surface is critical.

"We have about 6.4tonne/metres of righting moment. We can modify the ballast front and back on the twin rear wheels to get the loading correct and also on the pod wheel. By adjusting that accurately, we can adjust how the craft loads up and give some control on the drift angle.

"The tyre grip controls the top end speed. We want as much grip as we can but with as little rolling resistance as possible."

"The addition and subtraction of weight controls downforce, which improves the tyres' grip. That is typical for most land-speed vehicles, as any adjustable wing surface also contributes to extra drag."

"We have an array of different configurations we've simulated, which indicates the set up for different conditions.

"The biggest unknown for us is what the [tyre] grip coefficient will be on Lake Gairdner," Ashby continues. "We have done a lot of modelling on the craft, but there is very little data available on the lateral grip resistance of tyres on salt."

He notes that there's a lot of data available from engined cars and racing on salt lakes. But race cars have no sideslip, which is a critical part of the land yacht speed equation.

"We have done as much research and modelling as we can on sideslip, but ultimately we are only going to learn the real numbers when we get out of the salt lake. It will answer a lot of the unknowns for us.

"The checking of performance prediction against reality is the exciting part of this project for us. It is the same as an America's Cup design program where the sailing performance of the yacht is a validation of the performance prediction tools. The sharper the modeling, the more accurate the prediction of on the water performance."

"We have been using a simulator, and the validation of what we get out on the salt will be the validation of how accurate the simulation side is. So it is no different to the America's Cup. "

The wind direction and strength will be measured by some weather stations established by the team along the track. The team will also be renewing its long-standing relationship with Australian based weather guru Roger "Clouds" Badham, to get wind predictions 8-10 days out, and start tracking those opportunities nearer to the time.

"Once we know the wind and weather, we can predict the salt's condition," Ashby explains. "The salt grip characteristics can change from morning to midday to the afternoon. We will need to understand very quickly what tyres we should be using over the course of a day. Tyre pressures and suspension setups will be extremely critical to top-end performance, plus we need a decent weather window to come through as well."

Confident on safety

One of the surprising aspects of Project Speed is that Horonuku isn't riddled with stress gauges, and other measurement devices, other than GPS recorders. The cockpit is surprisingly devoid of dials and readouts.

"This craft is a bit more old school, " Ashby explains. "We didn't bother putting optic fibre into it because weight wasn't an issue for us - weight is actually our friend.

"Guillaume Verdier and his team have been able to build in good safety margins - we're not right on the absolute edge like we would be with the America's Cup structures."

"Generally, the craft is set up to be quite robust. It is like a car in that it needs to be able to handle some big bumps and quite a lot of vibration - so it is solid construction with plenty of safety margin.

One of the concerns with the project has been the prospect of a very messy high speed crash.

The team will have a track of about 10km long on Lake Gairdner that is 160km long and 48km wide. It was part of an inland sea that stretched to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Space is not a problem. The area is one of three salt lakes used by the Dry Lakes Racers of Australia the official organisation for Land Speed Racing in Australia.

"We will take it really easy initially and just ease into it," says Ashby. "The beauty of the salt lake, is that we are not going to hit a tree, or a ditch or another car.

"By far it is the safest thing I will ever sail in my life. Things might get a bit loose and wobbly, but it is no different to anything we have seen on the water."

One of the most striking parts of Horonuku is the jet-fighter style canopy made from acrylic perspex by Atlas Plastics in Mornington Peninsular, not too far from Ashby's home in Melbourne.

Atlas Plastics have provided the team with three canopies.

"Graham Jones has done a brilliant job - it is so important to get the optics right - so I have clear vision through it."

It's a tight squeeze climbing into the carbon fibre F1 style cage between the fuselage and upraised canopy. And with the lid down, there's not a lot of headroom.

Ashby says he is positioned in such a way as to get a view over the steering wheel and can just see the horizon. The idea is to keep the fuselage as minimal as possible: "the less frontal area you have the faster you will go."

The cockpit seat is very individualised and built in a similar way to race cars. To create his custom moulded seat, Ashby says he sat on a plastic bag filled with pour in foam to get the perfect shape. When set, the foam seat is used as a foundation to become an insert into the cockpit which is covered with neoprene.

"It feels like you are sitting in a glove. Probably wouldn't be that comfortable for anyone else, but for me it is perfect," Ashby comments. "In the case of an accident I am fully locked in," he adds.

He is strapped into the seat and cockpit cocoon with a full racing safety harness.

As well as the lack of instrumentation in the cockpit of Horonuku, there are no cameras showing the wing, or the tailplane angle, and the pilot is effectively sailing blind.

"I can't see the wing at all," he says. "The two primary numbers I am looking at are the wing and flap angle. Without those I have no idea as to whether the wing is even there or not.

"I can't see it and just have to feel it and trust that those two numbers are calibrated correctly, as they are the only indication I have of the power."

Well credentialled

Horonuku has just a single element wing - unlike the two-element hard wingsails used on the AC50 and AC72 foiling catamarans used in the 2013 and 2017 America's Cups, and the soft wingsail used in the ETNZ designed AC75's for the 2021 America's Cup.

A sailmaker by trade, and four-times America's Cup winner, Ashby was wingsail trimmer for ETNZ in the last two America's Cups and was with Oracle Racing for their wins in the 2010 and 2013 America's Cups. The 2010 America's Cup between 120ft multihulls featured the largest wingsail ever built.

The solid wingspar, constructed by Southern Spars is carbon fibre shell containing many frames, with a substantial spar running through the middle with a foam top.

It is a free standing spar, with no rigging. The forces exerted by the spar on the deck and heel in 120kts plus of apparent windspeed, are mid boggling, let alone the engineering required to allow the spar to be turned under those loads.

Ashby says the structure has to be quite heavy so it can take the huge amount of side force - much more than a yacht wing because the apparent wind speed is so high. The bottom bearing is heavily loaded supporting 8500kg.

Horonuku can only sail on starboard tack in a speed run. However, the wing can be flipped to allow the land yacht to sail the 8-10km return at a more sedate speed to return to the starting point, ready for any weight adjustment before starting the next run.

Maintaining balance with the pod wheel out to windward shouldn't be too difficult for Ashby, a multiple world champion and Olympic Silver medalist in catamarans. He is well used to sailing with the windward hull in the optimum position of being just clear of the surface of the water.

He says that when the pod wheel lifts off that it is a good indication that they can take more ballast to generate more righting moment, and speed.

"Having the pod wheel loading up to the point where it is just touching is what we are after," he says. "That means all the thrust and power off the pod are going into the back wheels of the craft, which are the ones doing the majority of the grip."

"Getting that balance right is key and something we have to learn going forward," he adds.

To drop the pod wheel back onto the ground, the pilot adjusts the wing angle, with the same effect as easing the mainsheet on a yacht.

"It's going to be a bit of fun!" is Ashby's parting comment.

Project Speed will be testing at Whenuapai for another week, before packing out for Lake Gairdner.

Final word goes to the current recordholder, Richard Jenkins: "It has been an incredibly difficult challenge," he said after setting the current record on March 26, 2009.

"Half the challenge is technical, having to create a more efficient vehicle than the previous record holder, then the rest is luck, being in the right place, at the right time, to get the perfect conditions, with the right people watching. I must have been on record standby at some remote location around the world for at least two months of every year for the past 10 years."

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