FIM Land Speed World Record racing saw another week filled with incredible feats and unforgettable moments at the 2019 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials (BMST). Once again taking place at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States, August 24-29, the meet had its moments of highs and lows, with a total of 15 new records for multiple racers, disappointment for others, and disaster for a few.
Hunter Sills Domination
Summer storms earlier in the month left the Bonneville Salt Flats a bit wet and somewhat soft coming into BMST, making the racetracks difficult for the bigger bikes to negotiate. But teams such as Hunter Sills Racing BMW were able to truly shine.
Erin Sills piloted her nitrous-powered partially-streamlined BMW S1000RR (dubbed “Snoopy”) to multiple FIM Land Speed World Records throughout the week, setting the bar higher and higher in the class. The record stood at 229 mph (368 km/h) coming into the week, and by the time Sills was finished hammering on the seven-mile international course, the record had been elevated to 235 mph (378 km/h).
When the Hunter Sills team was finished with the partially streamlined division, the they took the fairing off of “Snoopy” and ran him in the non-streamlined class with rider Trev Richter. Two strong runs gave Richter his first-ever FIM Land Speed World Record at 196 mph (315 km/h), reclaiming a record previously held by Sills’ late husband, Andy Sills.
“We were able to reclaim the FIM record that Andy had set,” Sills explained. “Andy had it and Nick Genet got it in Bolivia in 2017, and I was there to congratulate Nick and tell him what his speed was. Today, Trev qualified and backed it up to be able to gain that record back for us and for the team in honor of Andy, so it’s pretty special for us. It’s very cool that Nick Genet, whose record it was, was the first one to come out of the tower and congratulate me and made it a point to come over and congratulate Trev and tell him how happy he was for him. It’s Trev’s first World Record. It’s been a good meet for us.”
The week ended with Sills claiming the fast time of the meet, with a one-way pass of 238 mph (383 km/h).
The Japan Connection – Yoku Yatta!
FIM and BMST were proud to host a strong contingent of international racers, with racers and team members coming from Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Japan. A total of four Japanese teams competed at BMST—three all the way from Japan along with Hiro Koiso of Red Rock Harley-Davidson in Las Vegas. And while Koiso’s week ended in disaster with a frightening high-speed crash, the other three teams went on to claim FIM Land Speed World Records.
Takushi Chikakane and the NS Tool team brought their “Super Minimum Challenge” to Bonneville all the way from Osaka, Japan, featuring two special-construction turbocharged Honda-powered motorcycles (50cc and 125cc). Chikakane and his team spent much of the week chasing mechanical issues, but on days four and five of the five-day meet, Takushi-san was able to claim two FIM Land Speed World Records, one on each machine.
Hideki Kusunoki and his Harley-Davidson team had a successful week at BMST, racing to two FIM Land Speed World Records. But like Chikakane, personal goals remain on the horizon. Kusunoki came to Bonneville with the goal of reaching 200 mph aboard his nitrous-powered Harley-Davidson FXD, but ended the week with a new record of 197 mph (317 km/h).
Ryuji Tsuruta from Nagoya, Japan made history by piloting the electric Mobitec motorcycle to over 200 mph on Day 4 of BMST, reaching a new FIM Land Speed World Record of 204 mph (329 km/h). It has been a five-year effort for the Mobitec team, and their dream turned into a nightmare in 2018 at BMST when rider Kaz Mizutani went down at 184 mph. Mizutani sustained a wrist injury in the crash, from which he still hasn’t fully recovered, but he was there to cheer on new rider, Tsuruta, to the FIM Land Speed World Record.
As for Hiro Koiso, he suffered a crash at over 200 mph (321 km/h) on Day 2 at BMST, and was taken to the hospital. Koiso suffered shoulder injuries and broken fingers in the crash, but was otherwise okay and in good spirits. In true hero style, Koiso incredibly returned to Bonneville after his short stay in a Salt Lake City hospital to wish the other teams well. Koiso will hopefully be back to achieve his record of racing the world’s fastest Harley-Davidson next year.
Less-than-ideal conditions on the salt made it difficult for the larger motorcycles seeking speeds over 250 mph (402 km/h) to complete any successful runs. As it stands, Ralph Hudson and Al Lamb remain locked in a battle to become the first to ride a sit-on motorcycle to over 300 mph (482 km/h). After a few runs on Day 2, Hudson opted to call it quits. While Lamb made more runs throughout the week, he also found the conditions lacking.
“I had high hopes that we were going to be able to chase the 300 record here, but the conditions just don’t allow it,” said Hudson. “I talked to Al Lamb and he said he was having the same handling issues I was, that the front end kinda pushes and it doesn’t go where you put it. [laughs] It needs to be a harder surface. It’s much better than it was two weeks ago, but it’s still not what we need.
“I think I’ve probably done enough. So, I think I’m just going to be satisfied and go home happy.”
Al Lamb was one of the first to the start of the international course each morning of the event, with each day offering a drier course. But it still didn’t amount to the conditions he had hoped for. “Salt was not quite up to where we thought it would be this year,” said Lamb. “Little bit wetter, little bit rougher. They’ve worked very, very hard to make it smooth and nice, but even the bikes are putting ruts in it.
“The long-tail bikes, Mike [Garcia], Hiro [Koiso], myself, Ralph [Hudson] have all been fighting, struggling all week. The salt is too soft and we’re skating around on it too much. But we had a great time here. We’ve all had a good time and got to experience some things, so no complaints.”
World Records Abound!
The FIM’s own Ralph Bohnhorst made his return to Bonneville with the unique “Auralija” sidecar streamliner. Bohnhorst, an FIM Steward for MotoGP and five-time German National Sidecar Champion, can now add a new FIM Land Speed World Record to his collection. Like several other racers, however, the record came without the added pleasure of reaching his personal goal. Bohnhorst put together two modest runs at what he called “50% power” to claim the record at 179 mph (288 km/h), but like Lamb and Hudson, Bohnhorst is chasing 300 mph (482 km/h)!
Corey Bertelsen of New Zealand was a first-time contender at an FIM Land Speed event, and put his name in the world record books with two records throughout the week. The modest Kiwi claimed the first record of the week aboard his GSXR750 at a speed of 165 mph (266 km/h), but Bertelsen instinctively knew his Suzuki had more to give. His speeds increased as the conditions improved throughout the meet, and he bumped up his own record on Day 4 with a speed of 168 mph (270 km/h).
Jay Allen made his return to FIM Land Speed World Record racing a successful one despite the touch conditions, battling his way to a new record of 192 mph (309 km/h) on Day 4. It wasn’t a huge gap over the previous record, but Allen was proud to put his name in the books.
“Bonneville 2019 is gotta be one of the most humbling Bonnevilles in a long time,” Allen said. “Everybody out there was struggling. The smaller bikes, it’s a little easier on, but the big fast guys were spinning and sliding and they couldn’t grip. But hey, I stand here so grateful to pull out a 192 mph (309 km/h) record. Knowing what these conditions were, and what we had to ride this year, I’m proud of myself. To leave here with something is amazing!”
Text and Photos by Jean Turner