Fountain team faces new challenges
New engines seen as key to setting new kilo world record
By LAWRENCE KEECH, Staff Writer
When Al Solaroli first aligned himself with Fountain Powerboats to showcase his new race engines, there were more than a few skeptics.
Five months later, there’s little doubt the turbo-driven engines perform well, perhaps a little too well.
As if 1,000 extra horsepower and four to eight times the fuel mileage is not enough for engineers to contend with, the engines have nearly doubled the torque load created by previous engines, resulting in a new series of challenges.
“The biggest problem we have now is the technology is no where near where we are right now,” Solaroli said after a Friday-morning test. “Right now we’re having an electrical problem. The electrical technology for marine applications is — well it’s like comparing a Model T to a Porsche. They’re not even up to where today’s cars are.”
Solaroli said he has taken it upon himself to develop a new electrical system. That is the least of his worries with the kilo world-record attempts less than two weeks away.
Transmissions for the race boat were not designed to take the 2,800-pounds-per-foot of pressure exerted by the new engines.
“The crash boxes in these drives want to separate under the pressure,” Solaroli said. “These are not like commercial drives, which are straight drives and can handle the torque.”
Solaroli and his engineers have attempted to modify a drag-boat transmission to handle the load, despite intentionally limiting the 4,300-horsepower-capable engines to 3,000 horsepower. That creates the problem of getting the boat up on plane.
“It’s like having a six-speed car with a manual transmission,” David Knight, Fountain Powerboats president, said. “You start off in first to get the car rolling, then shift gears as you build speed. These boats only have one gear. It’s like trying to start off in sixth gear.”
The first test, despite the electrical problems shutting down one engine, produced speeds of 100 miles per hour.
“That’s pretty good considering the other motor wasn’t turning and we were dragging that dead weight,” Solaroli said before he talked about the transmission issue and noting that the crash box remains a back-up option.
The drawback to that option is a lower engine-to-propeller power ratio and reduced speed, he said.
Fountain Powerboats founder and CEO Reggie Fountain said the crash box only offers a 1.5:1 ratio. The other power-train option provides a higher ratio and includes an overdrive, which would provide more top-end speed.
But even the crash-box transmission should results in speeds faster than the existing world record of just over 171 miles per hour, Fountain said.
“The boat will easily got 180-185,” he explained. “We’re going to go our there and add 5,10 maybe 15 miles per hour to the record, but the thing to remember is that we already have the record. We’re just trying to up our own record.”
If everything goes according to plan, the 47-foot boat is capable of 200 miles per hour, Solaroli said.
Fountain is less optimistic.
“We’re not going to push it,” he said. “If we get to 185 without pushing it, we will go for 190. If I’m not pushing it, we may go 195 or higher. That’s a decision I’ll make that day, on the water, once we’re going.”
“We’re dealing with potentially dangerous stuff here and I’m not going to push it beyond where I feel safe,” he said.
Fountain also stressed the safety issue, adding that his youngest son may likely be driving while Fountain works the throttles for the world-record attempt, which is set for Feb. 8-10.
Aside from a new record belonging to father and son, another milestone could be achieved.
Typically, Fountain said, race engines for world-record attempts have used alcohol to produce extra horsepower. With the Solaroli engines already producing far beyond what has been previously achievable, Fountain will be using regular gasoline. Adding alcohol to the fuel “would be too dangerous,” Fountain said.