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‘Feat of engineering’: Richland’s $1.9 million hyper car shatters world speed record

It took a jet, several drones, nine months of planning, 7 miles of empty road and one very fast car, but now Jerod Shelby and his Richland hyper car company have a new world record.

The Richland native and his 24-employee company’s newest car, the Tuatara, is now officially the fastest production car, according to Guinness World Records.

Race car driver Oliver Webb reached an average of 316 mph along Highway 160 in Pahrump, Nev.

The new record is nearly 40 mph faster than the previous one held by Swedish car company Koenigsegg Automotive.

The world record takes the average of times driven during the attempt. Webb reached a top speed of 331 mph during his last passes.

“There was definitely more in there,” Webb was quoted in a release from the company. “And with better conditions, I know we could have gone faster.”

It was a triumphant moment for Shelby, who grew up racing go karts and dreaming of building his own car.

“This has been the majority of my adult life that has gone into this,” he said. “This is a monumental time for us.”

Richland-based SSC North America announced the accomplishment Monday after setting the record on Oct. 10.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made this a tough year for the small car company. It had just moved into its new manufacturing facility in Richland with plans to continue production on the Tuatara, and had just delivered the first customer car when the virus hit.

“We were just ready to start opening dealerships when the world shut down,” Shelby told the Herald. “It couldn’t have been worse timing.”

SSC initially announced the Tuatara, its second model, in 2011, and started production in 2019. It comes with a $1.9 million price tag and only a dozen or so are expected to be produced this year.

Shelby spent nearly a decade as one of the founders of Advanced Imaging Technologies in Richland before deciding to follow his dreams of starting a car company in 1998.

He wanted to design the ultimate super car. It’s a space that is filled with giants from Europe like Bugatti, Koenigsegg and Ferrari, but he was determined to show that he could compete on the same level.

“The more I had people say I was crazy the more determined I became,” he said.

There is a lot of talent in the area, and Washington state has strong ties to the aerospace industry.

That determination paid off when the company produced its first car, the Ultimate Aero. When it was brought to Road & Track magazine’s slalom course in 2006, it ended up breaking a record set by the Ferrari Enzo.

Then in 2007, the Ultimate Aero set a new record for production cars with 256 mph averaged across two runs.

At the time, the achievement grabbed national attention after SSC dethroned Bugatti. Shelby said it was reported as if it was a David and Goliath tale.

At the time, it bothered him because it focused on how small they were, he said. Now he takes it as a badge of honor.

The record was beaten by Bugatti in 2010, and then it was trumped by Konigsegg in 2017, when a driver reached 277.9 mph in the Agera RS.

With production started on the Tuatara, Shelby set his sights on another world record. They picked the same 7-mile stretch of road outside of Las Vegas that Koenigsegg used.

A documentary film crew is working on a movie about Shelby’s car company and his struggles. They expected to finish the movie with the attempt to break the record.

To capture the car speeding along the road, they needed empty air over the highway for a jet and several drones. And they needed to work with the highway patrol to clear the roadway.

Webb, a 29-year-old British driver with several wins under this belt, arrived days before the attempt and tested the car, reaching 270 mph.

When Shelby arrived, the pressure was on. Not only would a record help his company, it would also either be the triumphant end to the documentary or a disappointing finish.

They put the equipment into the car, and on the first pass Webb reached 287 mph.

On the second pass, Webb went even faster and reached 301 mph. It was a wholly different level, Shelby said. They had the world record, but he still wanted to see if they could reach 312 mph, which is 500 kilometers an hour.

So they decided to take one more pass. But before they started, Webb came up to Shelby and said he was only going to make one more pass.

“He said, ‘I had a scary moment out there with a crosswind,’” Shelby said. “Our main priority was his safety.”

So they prepared the car, and Shelby and his sons got into their vehicle to follow him. When they reached the finish line they saw him crouched next to the car. They learned that he had a moment when the wind hit him hard enough to nearly push him off of the road and he was shaken.

They were happy that he was safe, but they were also worried that the wind slowed him down. They found the opposite. He had reached 331 mph, making the new average speed 316 mph.

“As I approached 331 mph, the Tuatara climbed almost 20 mph within the last five seconds,” Webb said. “It was still pulling well. As I told Jerod, the car wasn’t running out of steam yet. The crosswinds are all that prevented us from realizing the car’s limit.”

Now that the Tuatara has set a new speed record, Shelby wants to demonstrate the car’s handling and braking, he said. Though if someone does challenge the record, he is up for trying to take it back.

“We want people to understand how amazing this car is,” he said. “We’re extremely excited.”

©2020 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

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