Few people outside of the UK would have noticed that last year, a new land speed record was set on the famous Pendine Sands beach. Pendine Sands is a flat seven-mile stretch of beach on the shores of Carmarthen Bay on the south coast of Wales. It stretches west to east from Gilman Point to Laugharne Sands, the village of Laugharne being the home of the famous Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas, so the whole area is steeped in history. The village of Pendine is a laid back, unassuming looking coastal village, except when life is interrupted by the Ministry of Defence who also use this stretch of coast as a firing range, which stretches out to sea.
On 25 September 1924, Malcolm Campbell set a land speed record of 146.16 mph in his 350 bhp Sunbeam car, Bluebird at Pendine, and in 1927, he set a new record of 174.8 mph in his Napier-Campbell Blue Bird. This record of stood for nearly 90 years.
They say that the quest for speed is something that is in your blood, and for multiple speed record holder Zef Eisenberg, the temptation to have a shot at the record set by Idris Elba at Pendine, was just too tantalising. Elba’s ‘flying mile’ speed record of 180.361 mph was set in a twin-turbo W-12, 6-litre Bentley Continental GT Speed at Pendine in 2015.
Building the car
For the attempt, Eisenberg purchased a 2015 Porsche 911 Turbo S for the record attempt. In standard trim, the Turbo S is powered by a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo, 6-cylinder horizontally opposed engine with VTG (Variable Turbine Geometry) producing 640 hp and 516 lb-ft. of torque. The standard Turbo S can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds using Launch Control and has a top speed on tarmac of 205 mph. That is for the standard car, impressive by any means!
Eisenberg’s team, together with ES Motorsports, spent a year modifying the Turbo S to be fit to run on sand, an altogether different surface in so many ways. The engine was bored out from 3.8-litres to 4.1-litres, and it now develops 1200 hp at the rear wheels, that is over 1400 hp at the engine! It has got bigger Garrett turbos with bigger intercoolers, and a water methanol spray system was installed to keep the charge temperatures down to stop it overheating and detonating. “We are running a full Syvecs 6 ECU which allows us to go into limp mode if it starts to go lean or rich, which could risk detonation,” Eisenberg elaborated.
The gearbox was upgraded and a Dodson clutch was fitted, allowing 1000 lbs. of torque to be put through the PDK gearbox. The driveshafts were also upgraded and the car was fitted with BBS Superlight wheels to reduce unsprung mass. The tyre selection was an interesting one, as Zef explained, “The tyres that we have used on the beach are actually normal road Pirelli Zeros, the new ones, because they have got very good water channels and they disperse water quite well. The problem with 20-inch wheels is that there are a limited number of tyres available that are designed specifically for this kind of surface.”
An FIA full roll cage was fitted, racing seats were installed and a 6-point harness fitted with a safety net on the driver’s door. The interior of the car, which was crammed with digital measuring equipment, video gear, cables and other paraphernalia, looked more like a cockpit of an Airbus A380, than a roadgoing Porsche 911. “We kept all the interior trim, because on sand weight is your friend. It is road legal you know, it still has the cup holders, it has still got the air conditioning and the heater, everything is still on it because you want the weight,” Eisenberg pointed out.
The record run
The date for the (first) record attempt was set for the weekend of the 6-7 April 2019. However, at the last minute, the manufacturers of the titanium valves fitted in the engine issued a product recall just before the said date, and so Zef’s record attempt in the Porsche had to be postponed. He did though, still do the run on his motorbike where he set the flying mile record of 182.49 mph on his ‘Green Monster’ supercharged Suzuki Hayabusa. The next available tidal date for the Porsche attempt was planned for 5-6 May, but this too was missed and the run was eventually scheduled for 18 May 2019.
The day produced rather typical overcast and windy conditions, but such is the weather you get on the Welsh coast. Over the preceding few months, Zef had been shadowed by a film crew, capturing both the car’s and Zef’s preparation for this run. As a result, there was a strong presence on the beach by the video team, as well as a fairly healthy turnout of journalists from local newspapers. In addition, there was a large contingent of bikers present who were all very patient and well-behaved as Zef was given priority on the day, even though the bikers were there for the normal Straightliners weekend action.
As Zef was readied for the run by his team, there was much arm-waving and talking into radios before finally, the Porsche was fired up and it made its way to the start line. The wind was blowing pretty hard by the time Zef was brought under the starter’s orders, and with an absence of fuss or formalities, the starter simply pointed down the beach with his radio, and Zef pulled away from the hastily-drawn start line in the sand, in an almost sedate manner. There was, of course, no point in doing wheel spins on the start line as that would simply have chewed up the sand, and sunk the Porsche up to its axles. Instead, Zef pulled away in a controlled manner and built up his speed progressively, increasing to his maximum entry speed at the start of the measured mile.
As the Porsche pulled into the distance and became increasingly smaller and smaller, there was almost an anti-climax that hung over the area. The object of everyone’s attention, Zef Eisenberg and his purposeful looking 911 Turbo S, had disappeared into the distance without any hooters or fanfare and now all we could do was wait to hear through the radio, what Zef’s time was on his first out run. It was a good run, because the shouts went up a few moments later and there was much punching of the air, as Zef had hit the 2-mile mark from a standing start, being clocked at 210.332 mph.
It was when speaking to Zef after his first run, he mentioned casually, that just after he had cleared the measured mile, he tapped off but felt that he had tapped off too quickly, as the car had gone into a slide. As he was able to correct the slide, he thought nothing more of it. Afterwards he elaborated for me, “I went through the 1-mile trap at 210 mph and my immediate reaction was, ‘wow’ what a speed, I will obviously slow down now so I took my foot off the throttle. This lightened the load on the front tyres, and there is a very slight bend at the end of the 2-mile mark, which immediately made the car go into a four-wheel drift. That was very scary because that was the first time that it had happened, but I managed to counter steer and correct it, got it straightened up again and made it to the paddock, and I thought nothing more of it. My team came back to me and said, ‘Zef, did you have a little moment back there, we have just seen a 300 metre four-wheel drift in the sand.’ So I said, ‘Wow 300 metres, that is some drift!’ So they said, ‘Yes you did pretty well to catch that one!’ But remember at that speed, you are doing 330 feet per a second.”
The return run on his first outing produced a lower speed because the east-west direction was now into the stiff wind. “Well the biggest problem with that is,” Zef explained, “the first mile is on a bend and you enter the measured mile at about 150-160 mph. You’re going around a bend, it is not much of a bend at 30 mph, but at 160 miles an hour it feels like a U-turn and the danger of that is that the car starts to slide underneath you because of the sand. So, that reduced our entry speed on the east to west run, but the most important thing is your average of the two. The average of the two runs was 187.96 mph which is the fastest ever wheel powered flying mile.”
This achievement made Zef Eisenberg the only person in history to hold the flying mile and fastest speed records at Pendine Sands, on both bike and in a car. But being a self-confessed speed freak, he was not satisfied, and I could see this in his demeanour as he was more like a caged lion than one well-satisfied with a job well done. There was more work to be done, and later in the day he was champing at the bit again. Some lively discussions were held with the Clerk of the Course, as it was felt that the course was getting a bit too chewed up from the bikes, and one rider had just had an off at high speed. The Clerk was not keen to see the Porsche hit soft sand with unpleasant results. But Zef was having none of it, he was there to set speed records and ultimately he won the argument and was allowed to saddle up for a last run.
The Porsche was once again prepped for the run and the gladiator climbed aboard his steed and moved up to the start line. This time, there was a bit more urgency in Zef’s pull away, as the wheels spun ever so slightly because this time, he wanted to enter the measured mile on the west-east run at a higher speed, to ensure a higher exit speed. Once again, the area around the start line fell silent as we waited for the report to come back over the radio, but it seemed that we waited for much longer this time, and still no report over the radio. When the Straightliners’ van pulled off down the beach, followed by Zef’s Land Rover, it dawned on the folk that there was a problem.
About 10-15 minutes later, all the vehicles returned to the start line, with the Porsche in tow, looking a lot worse for wear. Fortunately, there was no physical damage to the Porsche which indicated that the car had stayed on its wheels, but clearly there had been an incident. Zef and his team formed a close huddle at the car, and there was much talking and analysing what had happened, but the main thing was that Zef was uninjured. At the end of the day, Zef had claimed a bunch of records and that was what the intention was, and so once the serious discussions were over, there was much hugging and back slapping.
That was the end of the day’s action on the beach, and the small crowd, the remaining bikers and the assorted media and hangers-on all made their way back along the beach to the car park. My work wasn’t done though, as I needed to have a one-to-one with Zef, so after giving him the space that he needed with his team, I tracked him down.
Debrief after the run
Sitting in his Land Rover Discovery afterwards, and out of the wind, I asked him what had happened on that last run. “In the measured mile, I was doing 215 mph on the GPS,” he started, “and I think what happened was, that as I went from fifth into sixth gear, at that moment of change in power settings, it unsettled the rear suspension causing the back to move out. But it didn’t re-grip again because you are on sand, it is a little bit like riding on ice or snow.
“Then the car went into a slide left towards the dunes, so I counter steered and ended up going towards the sea. As we know with Porsches, once they go beyond a certain angle they spin, and I had rehearsed in my mind what I would do if the car had to spin on the sand at 200 mph. If those tyres dig into the sand, you are going to end up digging in and flipping the car and doing 360° pirouettes in the air. I realised the safest way would be to keep my foot nailed, spin all four wheels, and keep the car spinning and not digging in. So I did exactly that, and everything went exactly to plan, I came to a halt and put it into first gear and drove forward. By then I think the differential had decided to come out of calibration and it threw all the wobbly lights up on the screen, but other than that, the car is fine. I think it went over quite a few potholes during the spin so it lost the front headlight which hit the deck and smashed into pieces. The headlight also knocked the fuel flap off.”
Three of the car’s four tyres were flat when it was towed back, but it was too early to know what had happened there. “I don’t know if the tyre being punctured was the cause of it going off track, or whether the tyres were punctured hitting the shells sideways at the crazy speed I was doing. But the great thing about the Porsche is its low centre of gravity, so when it goes into a spin, it is less likely to flip and here we are in one piece having a joke about it. But it has been an amazing day, everything we’ve planned for over a year, has been achieved,” Zef added smiling widely.
When asked which of the records meant the most to him, Zef replied, “That 210 mph is just phenomenal, I mean that is a speed on sand that is getting to defy the laws of physics. We will look on the GPS later and I think we will see a 215-mph quarter mile out from the finish of the mile. If we had managed to keep it in line without spinning out, that could have been a 220-mph run, and that would just have been beyond amazing!”
The Eisenberg records table
|The fastest sand speed record ever achieved by a wheel-powered vehicle at 210.332 mph|
|Fastest flying quarter (one way) wheel powered record at 206.492 mph|
|Fastest flying mile (one way) wheel powered record at 196.970 mph|
|Fastest flying mile (two way) 187.962 mph|
|The only person in history to have achieved over 200 mph on a bike and a car at Pendine|
|The only person in history to have achieved a flying mile record on a bike and a car in Britain|
There was so much power going through the wheels, that Zef was spinning all four wheels in a straight line and that was with just 1.2 bar of boost. “On the second run when we were doing 215 mph a quarter mile out from the end of the mile, we were running 1.4 bar. We can push this engine to 3.3 bar so we are not pushing the engine at all. People don’t realise that at Pendine, it is not about having a powerful car and putting your foot to the floor, you have got to deal with the fact that over the two miles, the surface is changing continuously. Where it’s wet, you do a bit of aquaplaning, then when all the bikes and the other cars have driven over that, it’s going to be dusty and all chewed up which means you lose traction. Then at the finish line, there was soft sand which means that the car obviously digs in making it unstable. So, it was a pretty interesting experience,” Zef elaborated.
It was a relieved Zef Eisenberg who sat in the Land Rover Discovery with me after the day’s activities. No doubt, he would have liked to have gone faster, but he was also realistic and happy that things hadn’t gone wrong in a big way. He was able to analyse with his team what could have been done better and what caused the car to become unstable. “So, the Porsche has seen the end of the sand, it has done its job, it wants to be on tarmac! We are going to go to Elvington Airfield probably, which is the longest usable speed runway in the UK,” Eisenberg said in closing.
I am certainly pleased to have been on the beach, that cold and windy day back in May, when Zef Eisenberg set his speed records on sand. Porsche Road & Race wishes him every success in his future record making endeavours.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale