Belfast Telegraph

Queen's University Belfast team seeks sponsors to help smash world record

Project Velocity has been inspired by a motorcyling legend in their bid to set a new land speed fastest time

Project Velocity team member Sam Marsden with John Munro (right), son of record-breaker Burt Munro
Project Velocity team member Sam Marsden with John Munro (right), son of record-breaker Burt Munro

By Clare Weir

A campaign by a team of young engineers, who are aiming to break a land speed record with a modified motorcycle, is gathering pace - with thanks to corporate sponsors.

The 'Project Velocity' team from Queen's University is inspired by New Zealander Burt Munro, whose exploits were the inspiration for the 2005 film The World's Fastest Indian, which starred Anthony Hopkins.

Munro's Indian Scout motorcycle helped him set numerous land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah from the late 1950s into the 1960s.

The team - Sam Marsden, Connor Morgan, Josh Logan, Ross Blair and Stephen Hackworth - is hoping to break his 1967 record and take their specially designed vehicle to the same location next August.

For the first time, Queen's University has accepted the "student idea" as an official project to be completed as part of the mechanical engineering degree.

While Queen's has been able to fund the project prototype, due to limited budget and resources the team has had to seek the funds that are required to bring the land speed record to Northern Ireland.

Since the record bid was launched, Project Velocity has secured sponsorship and support from Ballygowan-based company CCP Gransden Ltd, who specialise in advanced composites and water chemistry.

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The firm will be providing materials and engineering assistance to the project.

The team has also been sponsored with custom clothing by Shine Runner Kustom Apparel from Ballymena and is enjoying strong support from former road racer Phillip McCallen.

The Queen's team has also launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding appeal.

As the campaign accelerates, Sam Marsden is hosting an information evening at his home next week and has even had a meeting with Burt Munro's son John in recent weeks to inform him of how the project is progressing.

After making contact with John Munro, Sam was delighted when he agreed to come to Dublin for a meeting.

The interview was recorded by Chris Beck from the BBC for the an ongoing documentary on the project.

"John took the time to explain details about his father's bike and how he went about making parts he could not buy," said Mr Marsden.

"He explained that all his father had in the shed was a grinder, bench, two hacksaws, a lathe and a vice.

"His wind tunnel testing consisted of a model of the bike fixed to the front of the car and his father driving as fast as he could up the road to see what happened."

Mr Munro Jnr has given Sam his blessing for taking on his father's record and said that the speed the team must break is 184.087mph, which has prompted them to officially name the bike 'BURT MUNRO - 184.087 MPH'.

"After discussing the name of the bike, we agreed it was a fitting way to pay tribute to Burt Munro and ensure his name stayed in the record books," said Mr Marsden.

After their meeting, John presented Sam with a book about his father titled 'The World's Fastest Indian, Burt Munro - A Scrapbook of his Life', which he signed, "I carried this book from New Zealand, just for Sam".

In return, Sam presented John with a book entitled 'The Power and the Glory - The History of the North West 200' by Alastair McCook, in which Sam's grandfather Harry Turner features in a picture racing a 250cc Norton he built himself, at the famous event.

Mr Marsden was first inspired to break the record when he watched the movie about Munro with his mum, dad and three sisters - who all ride motorbikes - when he was 17.

Despite suffering from dyslexia, he was encouraged by the late professor of engineering - and keen motorcyclist - Gordon Blair, to secure a place at Queen's University Belfast to study mechanical engineering.

Professor Blair, originally from Larne and who lived in north Belfast, worked at Queen's University until he retired early in 1996.

He rose through the ranks from Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Head of Department, Dean of Engineering and finally to Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university, writing hundreds of papers and securing nine patents.

In 1971, Professor Blair helped secure a technical agreement where his department worked on the research and development of Yamaha's racing engines for many years.

Ironically, as a boy, Gordon Blair had watched in fascination as a diesel engine - which powered the milking parlour belonging to Sam Marsden's grandfather - blew smoke rings into the air.

"In his childhood he played with my grandfather on the farm and it was during this time through watching the plant used to power the milking parlour he was inspired by what would end up being the basis of his research into engine development," said Mr Marsden.

"During the many conversations we had, I told him about my dream to break Munro's land speed record and he encouraged me to make it a reality."

Following his conversations with Prof Blair, Sam also secured a year's placement with the Red Bull Formula One team.

Project Velocity will be holding a sponsorship information event where prospective sponsors can answer questions and meet the team.

The event will be held on Wednesday, December 3 at 7.30pm at Loughside Farm, 17 Island Road Lower, Ballycarry, Carrickfergus.

Parking and light refreshments will be available.

For further information contact Rachael Garret at info@project or on 078 0384 0849.

Belfast Telegraph