A few weekends ago, I was part of a 12-man team that drove a Vauxhall Astra diesel flat-out for 24 hours.
I don’t just mean driven quickly. I mean genuinely flat-out, as fast as it would go, foot pinned hard to the floor until the tank ran dry.
Why? To try and grab a world record for the fastest average speed over 24 hours. It’s never been set before for a 2.0-litre diesel car and Vauxhall fancied a shot.
No easy mission. A year of planning went into it. Turns out that if you want FIA homologation for your record, everything needs to be done by the book (understandably and reassuringly so). This includes someone keeping an eye on the car from the moment the first piece of metal is stamped – yes, really. There’s not a more production-spec Astra on the planet, suggests Vauxhall…
So everything I did that day at Millbrook was planned, watched and recorded. On my part, this made it easy: simply get into the car, accelerate hard and then steer left for two hours with the magic 131mph showing on the digital speedo. Sometimes, 132mph. Sometimes, 134mph, if I encounter the sister car also running (thank you, aero). Slipstreaming’s banned though, making this the only time I swapped lanes to drop back.
I did this twice, once at 7pm, the next at 6am. It’s a hairy thing, driving in the top lane of Millbrook in the pitch-black darkness at 131mph, believe me. Think how sensitive cars are at motorways speeds: near-double this, add in slight but constant cornering and the need for total precision to minimise forces and, well, you’ve no chance of becoming bored.
I did glance down at the fuel economy average: 20mpg. I did try to get as near to the yellow line as possible to see what difference it made to the top speed: nothing. These Astras really were being driven as fast as they would go.
I also made sure the eco stop-start was turned off when I entered the pits. Why? Because running for 24 hours, hard and almost non-stop, generated quite some heat in the turbo. Turning it off would fry the oil. So the Astra remained ticking over.
An engine running for more than a day? Indeed. The car itself was only stationary for 22 minutes out of 1440. Problems? None. Not a single thing went wrong or hinted at going wrong. Total reliability. Remarkable.
As was the average speed recorded: 125mph, over 24 hours’ running. It’s never been done before and its’ quite a benchmark Vauxhall’s hopefully set. It also means we’ve hopefully broken the British endurance speed record, by a healthy margin: that’s stood at 100mph for two decades.
It was a superb thing to be involved with and the camaraderie at Millbrook throughout the weekend was fantastic. Now, though, we wait: nothing’s official until the MSA and FIA ratify it.
Fingers crossed. Because the idea of being a world record holder is rather appealing.