Passion is a hard taskmaster. When you ask Richard Noble what he does in his spare time, he soon sets you right. He has no spare time.
In Noble’s life, there is no golf, no fishing, no sport at all and definitely no hobbies. Even a quiet evening is a rare luxury, especially of late.
His life’s passion, setting land speed records, has reached a point at which it requires the maximum number of waking hours to manage.
Noble is the spindle around which the latest world land speed record attempt revolves.
He and his team of scientists and engineers, as well as driver and record-holder Andy Green, hope to field a car called Bloodhound SSC in 2015 that will break the current record.
The existing record, interestingly, also partly belongs to Noble because he led the development of the car with which it was set - Thrust SSC, which set the record at Black Rock in the United States on 15 October 1997 at 1228km/h, and became the first car to officially break the sound barrier.
The Bloodhound SSC attempt will be made at Hakskeenpan salt pan near Mier in the Northern Cape.
For Noble, the passion grew from a chance boyhood encounter with speed in his native Scotland.
“I was about five when my family went for a drive near Loch Ness,” he said during a recent interview. “We came upon John Cobb, who was preparing to go for a water-speed record on Loch Ness.
“When I saw his boat, I was caught up in it all. There was no turning back.”
The boy grew into a man who had to make a living and he became good at sales, a skill that would later stand him in good stead as he sold his projects to financial backers.
THE CAPE TOWN CONNECTION
He also qualified as a pilot and for a while operated expeditions through Africa before settling in Cape Town and working at a hotel for a brief spell. After that, he returned to Britain.
And the record attempts began.
In 1983 he built a “simple jet car”, called it Thrust II and drove it himself to a world land speed record of 1018km/h, whic stood until Thrust SSC’s historic sonic boom in 1997.
Living this particular passion has proven to be a tough calling.
“Thrust SSC was a hell of a time, a nightmare,” he said. “People simply would not believe that it could be done.”
But the eventual huge success of that programme didn’t line the Bloodhound SSC project’s path with roses either. Thorns, rather.
“Raising the funds for such attempts is difficult. The aerospace industry doesn’t do this kind of thing. Neither does Formula One. You have to find the right partners. Bankers don’t like this kind of thing.
“You more or less give up everything else.”
“I have a grown-up family, so that is no longer an issue,” he explained. “You also never know how you will cope moneywise. You have to be reliant on amazing people to support your cause.”
In South Africa, he has been able to recruit cellphone service provider MTN to the cause and the company responded with a flood of technology.
As a result, the whole world will soon be able to watch Bloodhound SSC streak along the 19km track laid out on the pan and study the information that comes with it.
And that is an important aspect, because part of Noble’s sales pitch was that school pupils should be involved in the project.
Already 5500 schools have joined the programme, with teams building schoolground land speed record model cars.
A record of 320km/h had already been achieved, Noble said proudly.
“Britain does not produce enough scientists and engineers any more and that was one of my concerns,” he said. “I hoped to change that by involving the students in this programme.”
In October, MTN’s contractors finished building four masts at Hakskeenpan that will be used as antennae with which to send the images and other data around the world in real time.
Video and data will be streamed live and shared with audiences in 220 countries, supporting what will become one of the biggest news stories on the planet.
The team hopes to have at least three live video channels with live data coming off the car. Each will provide 3.5 meg/s (3 500 000 bits per second) of data – enough to ensure you can watch a high-definition movie on YouTube without it buffering.
For Noble, rest may only come after 2016. He hopes that Bloodhound SSC will break the existing record by 33 percent and become the first “car” to break the 1 609km/h mark - 1000 miles per hour in the old language.
If that is the case, the new record will stand for a while at least. But how soon after that will the passion burn again? - The Argus