The SSC Tuatara’s 331-MPH Run Almost Ended In Disaster Thanks to a Little Gust of Wind [UPDATE]

The 1,750-horsepower car didn't even hit its final gear.

Narrowly avoiding an accident can induce what feels like a mini heart attack. You start sweating, swearing, shaking—and it doesn’t matter if that accident was almost hitting a deer or sliding on a patch of black ice. Now imagine that same feeling but piloting a 1,750-horsepower supercar on a hot and dusty Nevada road at 331 miles per hour. That’s exactly what happened to 29-year-old racing driver Oliver Webb when a slight wind gust during a record-breaking top speed run in the SSC Tuatara kept it from reaching its full potential.

UPDATE 10/31: SSC CEO Jerod Shelby released a video admitting the ongoing controversy over video inconsistencies and a lack of data regarding the top speed run have made it impossible for the company to make a legitimate claim to a world record. Shelby claims SSC will make another attempt in the near future, this time with “undeniable and irrefutable” safeguards in place to ensure proper recording. The original story continues below.

Webb will go down in the history books as the man in the driver’s seat who broke a record held by the mighty Bugatti Chiron. But the title of fastest production car wasn’t as easy as driving the car in a straight line. As told by Motor Authority, Webb had to constantly wrangle control of the Tuatara and battle crosswinds to prevent even the slightest disruption in the car’s momentum and trajectory.

As it turns out, the entire experience was nothing short of nerve-wracking

SSC CEO Jerod Shelby discussed the run in-depth with Webb, and the two agreed that if winds were in excess of 10 mph the attempt would be called off. Fortunately for Webb, the wind was light enough to proceed with testing. 

The warm-up runs were just in excess of 100 MPH and were meant to prepare the tires and drivetrain components for the stress they were about to endure. Webb confirmed that the car felt great and allowed SSC’s team to clear it for the GPS-tracked runs.

His first official run clocked in at 285 mph, followed closely by a barrier-breaking 301-mph sprint. But there was a problem—not with the car—but with the environment. Crosswinds were starting to pick up, meaning that the 2,750-pound car would be threatened at higher speeds. Webb reportedly pulled Shelby aside to express his concern over the small gust of wind that pushed the car over a complete lane. Webb was admittedly worried that it could make the car unstable. However, the team wanted to break the 500-kilometer-per-hour (312 mph) barrier, so Webb agreed to run just once more.

After another safety and functions check the Tuatara set off down the asphalt. Once it had reached the end of its run, Webb opened the door and sat down on the dusty Nevada pavement in front of the Tuatara.

“I’m done. I can do no more. I’m never doing that again,” Webb told Shelby while shaking with his head in his hands, according to Motor Authority.

As it turns out, the car had again been hit by a gust of wind but this time it was pushed across the tarmac onto the rocky shoulder. The car touched the gravel enough to spook Webb into waving the white flag. It was a close call.

Shelby was said to have thought the run went poorly until Webb spoke up again, telling him to check the car’s data and that he had seen “a big number.” Indeed it was, it was 331.15 mph: the record run.

Moreover, the car hadn’t even climbed into its highest gear. The Tuatara’s robotized seven-speed manual transmission had only reached sixth gear and it was still rapidly accelerating. If it weren’t for environmental conditions, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of record the car might have set.

“The car was not (at) the limit. I was the limit today, due to conditions,” said Webb.

SSC is done setting records for now. Shelby himself reckons that the bar is set high enough for someone else to chase, and when they do, the Tuatara will be right behind them, ready to reclaim its spot as top dog.

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