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The long wait for a 1000MPH car

Bloodhound faces many technical challenges, but its biggest problem is funding. The record attempt isn’t a pet project of a larger company with near-infinite cash reserves. Nor is it being bankrolled by a billionaire like Tesla’s Elon Musk or Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The team relies on external sponsorship and fan donations to continue. Without these, it can’t pay staff, keep up with the rent on its Bristol warehouse or buy the parts required to complete the car.

It didn’t help that the project launched in 2008, just as the stock markets crashed. “We couldn’t have picked a worse moment in recent times to start a project like this,” Parraman said. “Whenever anybody asks me, ‘What are the biggest challenges?’ I always say ‘Raising the money.’” Companies can choose to sponsor Bloodhound with free product — crucial parts for the car, or free merchandise to sell — or with cold, hard cash. The product part isn’t a problem, according to Parraman, but extracting money was always difficult.

“Whenever anybody asks me, ‘What are the biggest challenges?’ I always say ‘Raising the money.’”

“Everybody is trying to squirrel some cash away,” he said, “because they don’t want to be exposed like they were in 2008. So even big companies have got a big mattress, and they’re storing a lot of cash underneath that. Getting that out of them is quite tricky.”

Advertising and marketing strategies have also changed since the last land speed record attempt. Companies have switched to targeted advertising online, where Facebook and Google promised to find their perfect customer. An enormous logo on the side of a fast car, while useful, is often seen as more expensive, or less effective. “Richard [Noble] can go knocking on all the doors he wants to raise money, but if nobody says yes, that’s not his fault,” Elvin said. “There just seems to be a general apathy through large chunks of not just the UK but the worldwide industry, in getting involved with something that’s seen as risky.”

The Bloodhound team has been forced to adapt to the project’s inconsistent funding. There have been months, for instance, when the company couldn’t afford to pay its staff. (Parraman said, however, that “nobody has never been paid.”) That might sound frightening, but it’s a way of life that most of the Bloodhound crew is used to. “If you look at the CVs of the majority of people who work on this project, there is a very particular, almost, type of person,” Parraman said. Most have been self-employed for large portions of their life, for instance. Many have worked abroad or in the armed forces. They are, therefore, used to earning money inconsistently.

“That allowed them to be able to go, ‘Well, actually, no, you don’t need to pay me for the next couple of months while we get more cash in,” Parraman explained. Everyone, of course, needed a certain level of security. But there’s an understanding among the team that the project always comes first, and fresh sponsorship was hard to come by. “It’s about achieving the goal, not about us earning the money,” Parraman added. “We all need the money, but that’s not what it’s all about. That’s not the driver.”

In addition, the team can scale up and down to match whatever funding it has left. If money is tight, employees are notified and some will leave temporarily to work on other projects, such as Formula 1 and Formula E.

The focus on sponsorship has affected the design and development of the vehicle. Every time some new funding comes through, Holdsworth thinks, “So what can I do with this that will give me the most chance of getting more?” It’s a peculiar way of thinking, but one that has proven vital to the long-term survival of the project. At all times, the team has to consider its end goal, rather than the part or vehicle section that it wants to complete next. If the money dries up completely, after all, the team will be forced to go on a permanent hiatus.

“I try not to acknowledge it too much, because if I thought about it for too long, it might do my head in.”

“I want to see [the project] continue,” Holdsworth said, “and, in a really selfish way, get a record. So what can I do to give myself the best chance of securing more funding and getting that record?”

Noble and Parraman have a responsibility, therefore, to bring in more funding at a steady clip. “I try not to acknowledge it too much, because if I thought about it for too long, it might do my head in,” Parraman said. But he remains upbeat. Bloodhound is a smaller, nimbler organization, so it can offer more creative and flexible marketing opportunities than, say, Formula 1. That’s alluring for companies in the defense industry, which are often tied up in secretive government contracts. If they contribute to Bloodhound, however, they can talk about their work and association quite freely.

Most Bloodhound sponsors are classified as SME (small and medium-size enterprises), though. Often, these companies decided to support the team “because of heart, rather than head,” according to Parraman. They have a general interest in cars and want to see a new land speed record, or they understand how important it is for young people to pursue careers in science, engineering and math.

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