Competitor: Rocky Robinson
Hometown: Auburn, California
Competitor: Alex Harvill
Hometown: Kent, Washington
Motorcycle: Top 1 Ack Attack: turbocharged, dual 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa-powered custom motorcycle, fully streamlined
FIM World Record Goals: 1. Rocky Robinson to be the first rider to reach 400 mph on two wheels; 2. Alex Harvill to seek maximum speed of Top 1 Ack Attack
Current FIM World Record: 376.363 mph / 605.698 km/h (Rocky Robinson, 2010)
Heading to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni for the 2018 Cook’s Top Oil Land Speed Shootout, all eyes are on the Top 1 Ack Attack. The famous motorcycle streamliner already holds the all-time two-wheel land speed FIM World Record at 376.363 mph (605.698 km/h), which they reached at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (2010), but there is more left on the table for Mike Akatiff and his dual Hayabusa-powered creation. Akatiff and his crew are gunning for 400 mph.
Tired of dealing with the limiting conditions at Bonneville, Akatiff searched the world for the ideal setting to launch their attempt, and found the perfect conditions at Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. At over 4,000 square miles, the Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world—plenty big enough for a course 20 miles long, if needed, for the Ack Attack to reach top speed. What its top speed is, no one knows, but it’s what Akatiff intends to find out. The team has a two-prong plan of attack for Cook’s Top Oil Land Speed Shootout: With pilot Rocky Robinson at the controls, the team is gunning for a new FIM World Record, and aiming to be the first to break the 400-mph barrier on two wheels. Then, with rookie rider Alex Harvill, the team hopes to really stretch the Ack Attack’s legs and see how far beyond 400 mph they can reach.
Why two pilots for the Ack Attack? Mike Akatiff and Rocky Robinson talk about the decision to bring in 24-year-old Alex Harvill, a rookie land-speed racer with a background in Supercross racing and a few Guinness World Records to his name for distance jumping a dirt bike. We also chat with Harvill to find out more about his background and how he plans to prepare for his first-ever land-speed racing attempt.
The upcoming meet in Bolivia marks a return to the Salar for Akatiff and Robinson, who made the trek in August 2017 for the Top of the World Land Speed Trial. With shipping delays, altitude complications from the 12,000-ft elevation (3660m) and odd mechanical issues, the team was stymied in the attempt to reach their goals, simply running out of time in the end. But this time, Akatiff asserts that the team, and the Top 1 Ack Attack are ready—also vowing that this will be the last attempt for his streamliner. “This is it! This is the last time that bike’s gonna run,” Akatiff said. “We’re just getting too old.”
Armed with last year’s experience, ample prep and two riders, the Top 1 Ack Attack is poised to make its Hail Mary attempt. Expect to see some fireworks in Bolivia, July 10-15.
FIM: So this is it? Your final attempt at an FIM World Record?
MA: This is the Hail Mary! [laughs] We learned a lot the last year of what we needed to do. We spent a lot of time the whole crew and I worked on it over the last four weeks just going over every single thing on the bike. We made some major changes on tires and stuff that I think will get us what we need. I think, I always say this, but I think we’re really ready to go there and drop it on the ground and go 400+, but we’ll find out.
Tell us about the decision to bring in another rider.
Rocky emailed me and said, ‘You know what, I don’t want to go any faster than 400. I just want to go 400 and that’s it.’ And I kinda had the feeling he was worried about riding the bike. I emailed him back and said ‘Look Rocky, I understand your position… And if you don’t feel comfortable with this, that’s fine.’ But I said, ‘The problem is that if we go there, we drop it on the ground, you go a little over 400, we’re going to have to sit there for five days with a bike we know will go a lot faster with nobody to ride the thing.’ I said, ‘You’ll always be my friend and you did a wonderful job setting all these records. So if you want 400 mph, we’ll take you to Bolivia, just get 400. We’re behind you 100%. But we want to have a backup rider that wants’ to go as fast as the bike will go.’
How did you come about choosing Alex Harvill to join the team?
Alex Harvill is a Supercross rider, X Gamer, he’s also a guy that jumped 425 feet on a motorcycle. He wants to be the first person to jump over 400 feet and go over 400 mph on a motorcycle. We met with him and we liked him very much. He’s a smart kid; he’s very thoughtful. He reminds me a lot of Jim Rice—I used to tune for Jim Rice. Jim was a really thoughtful racer; he was really good and he didn’t crash a lot. We put Alex in the bike, went through a whole lot of stuff and how it works. He had a lot of questions. He’s a smart kid. We were impressed with him.
Is it true that Alex is working with a virtual reality video game of the Ack Attack to prepare for this?
Yes, we’re getting Alex an upgraded package that we’re running the iPads now. He’s going to practice on it. Rocky said it’s really realistic. I can go about 100 feet before I crash. [laughs] It’s really hard! Rocky, he’s gone 400 mph on the game and he said it’s pretty realistic. We’re also going to have to train him when we get there. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble picking it up. He’s a very experienced rider and racer. We’ve got some tip-over wheels on it; in case it does go over, it won’t damage it. We’ll just have to take him out there. That will be interesting.
And how about the Ack Attack? What have you done to prepare for this attempt? Have you made any changes to the design?
Yes. We have an air scoop at the top to bring air into the turbo, and one thing we realized is the air is so thin up there, it was designed for Bonneville, and it was just not big enough. We made a scoop that was way bigger. We were only able to make about 24 pounds of boost last year. So with this hopefully we can get quite a bit more boost in it.
There was some damage to the Ack Attack after its final run in Bolivia last year. Did you figure out the cause of that?
The [rear] tire failed. I thought it was the chain hitting the tire and it wasn’t. It was a Mickey Thompson tire. That tire that we’re using, the 30-inch that we put on, is very rounded. It’s like a road race tire. And it only has a patch in the middle about an inch and a half wide at speed. So it just ate through the cords and the cords came apart and they started going around like a weed eater. It cut the side off of the turbo boot and we lost all the boost. It also cut a hole through the carbon-fiber body. It was pretty amazing what it did. And that’s why we’re going back to the other tire we used, which was nine inches wide and it’s pretty flat.
The other thing we noticed, and Rocky mentioned it, the bike kinda wants to stray a little bit. If you look at the cockpit videos, Rocky was hunting back and forth all the way up. It’s not real solid. You go back and look at the cockpit videos of the 2010 run, the 2008 run, the bike is like it’s on a railroad track. I think it’s about that tire. That rounded tire, you’re riding in the very center of it, and this other tire is pretty flat and it works better. So we’re going to go back to that.
The bike easily would have went over 400 if that tire hadn’t come apart on that last run. He was about 385 and still had a mile and a half to go to accelerate. He would have been over 400; I don’t have any doubt. But it was the end of the story at that point. If we had other tires and if we had another day we probably could have done it last year. We just ran out of time. Hopefully we’ll have better luck this year.
Last year there was also an issue with the turbo fixings popping off due to the low atmospheric pressure at that altitude. Did you address that?
We fixed that. Double clamps; they won’t come off again. I guarantee you! [laughs]
After having experienced the conditions at the Salar de Uyuni last year, how confident are you in this year’s attempt?
I can say this, the bike is a lot more prepared. We went through everything. All the little stuff on this bike, we went through everything with a fine-tooth comb. I hired Shane Tecklenburg. He’s a Motec guru—probably the most renowned guy on the West Coast. I had him come up and he spent a day at the shop working on the Motec with us. I think we’re in pretty good shape to go do this.
FIM: Talk about the lead-up to this trip and joining in the attempt with a new rider.
RR: My goal all along was to be the first to set the record over 400. Mike [Akatiff] is on this new thing about just how fast it’ll go. He thinks it can maybe go as fast as the fastest cars. And maybe it can. But that was never my goal. Our game plan is I’m going to run the bike and then try to get the record over 400 miles an hour; whatever it takes to do that. Once we succeed at that and hopefully we will, then we’ll put Alex in the bike and I’ll help mentor him and see just what he can do.
You would be content with being the first guy over 400 and then immediately mentoring someone to potentially break your record?
Well, it wasn’t something that would be my first choice to do, but I understand the team and the sponsors and the commitment and all that. They agreed to do everything for me to try to get this record first. So yeah, I’m okay with that.
He may go real fast right off the bat. He may be a natural; he may struggle with it. But no one’s ever broke the ultimate two-wheel land-speed record—nobody has—that hasn’t gone down first. Unfortunately that’s kind of part of paying the dues. Even Chris Carr, who is just unbelievably talented, he went out on a few private runs and he went down, as well. [Don] Vesco, [Dave] Campos, all of us have. When you’re trying to go those speeds, you gotta push the limits and find out just what it’s like at the very edge, and sometimes part of that is finding the edge and going past it and falling down. All of us have done that and I don’t know why it would be any different for him so… that’s something we’ll have to deal with when we get there.
Mike has said that this will be the final attempt for the Ack Attack. Does that amount to any added pressure for you?
I don’t know if there’s any added pressure. I do believe this is the last time. Mike made that clear. But I also think that just having gone there once last year and the changes we’ve made and all that, I think our odds are really good. So unless something unforeseeable happens I’m pretty confident that we have a real good chance of reaching our goal. When we ran there last year, we had nothing but problems. We missed the first couple days of the meet and unofficially on one of my passes, on the data acquisition, we ran 378 way before the measured mile before I blew the intake manifold off. So we were tracking pretty good back then and the bike’s only faster now so I’m pretty confident, barring any unforeseen things, that we’re going to reach our goal.
FIM: Tell us a little about your background.
AH: I’m a dirt bike racer. I’ve been riding dirt bikes my whole life. I was racing pro and then when I was 19 I jumped the world record for ramp to dirt [landing]. Then the next year I did the dirt [to dirt landing] record, which is the Guinness Book of World Records. Then the next year after that I did a jump at the AMA Pro Hillclimb in Washington, and those guys had a relationship with Top 1 Oil. Then they became a sponsor and I’ve been working with them since then. [Earlier this year] when the Ack Attack was in the Air & Space Museum in San Diego, I went down there and met the owner, Mike Akatiff. After the meeting he asked if I’d be willing to drive the Ack Attack and I said, ‘Well of course I’d be willing to drive it!’
This is a completely new challenge for you, and you’re coming in at the very top level. Were you at all hesitant at all?
No, not at all. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to do this sort of thing. I’m really fortunate to be able to be a part of something that other people have worked so hard towards. It takes so much time and effort to set up things like that, or set up your own world record [attempt] like I have done. To be able to jump in is really a dream come true. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. I think it fits perfectly with what I do—to go as fast as possible on a bike. I wasn’t hesitant at all. I was really excited that they thought of me to drive it.
You cited your experience with setting up your own world record attempts, and much like land-speed racing, it takes a lot of calculation and preparation that not everybody sees. Talk about that.
That’s what decides whether it goes good or bad—whether you took the time to make sure everything was safe. I’ve unfortunately made the mistake of not [doing so] and just going for it. But I like to think you learn from your mistakes. Hopefully they just make you better. Sometimes you end up with some broken limbs, unfortunately. Tough learning pains. But it’s important to keep it safe. It’s easy to stray from what you’ve intended and that’s where I’ve gotten in trouble—I knew what I thought should happen, and then I let someone change my mind, and then I got in trouble.
Like learning to trust your instincts?
Yeah, definitely. Because they’ve always been right.
Text and Pictures by Jean Turner, FIM