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‘Trojan Thunder’ clocks 206 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway

Designer, driver Stan Settles, SAE director, insists it can go faster

September 13, 2007 —

Stan Settles, director of the Viterbi School’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program, started his fall by hitting 206 miles per hour at Utah’s famous Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway in his Trojan Thunder race car.  That satisfied his first goal of driving faster than 200 miles per hour on the salt flats.  

Stan Settles' race car, 'Trojan Thunder," is positioned for its maiden race.       -- Photo montage courtesy of Mark Gerken, MG Photo/Graphic.

But it wasn’t enough.

By 2009, he wants to officially qualify for the exclusive 200 MPH Club on the famous salt flats. That means he will have to set a world record of over 274 mph for the class in which he is racing, the A Gas Lakester class. (Classes are based on the size of the engine.) 

Settles, who keeps Trojan Thunder in his garage in Phoenix, believes his current engine can approach speeds near 250 mph. But in case that doesn't happen, he is also working on other alternatives that will still let him enter the 2009 competition. One thought is to let "some of our AME students take a crack at it,” he said.  That would give them an “opportunity to study the tradeoffs that are a part of architecting a system."

"Most engineering students will never get a chance to design an entire system in their professional lives, so this is a way of giving them that opportunity,” Settles said.

If the students find that the engine isn't alterable, Settles said he'll either "get a new engine or alter the car to run in a different class."

Trojan Thunder is a customized race car that Settles and his associates designed and built. He said he was "just breaking the vehicle in" at this year’s race.  “The car does have potential to go faster," he noted.  

Stan Settles

"I purchased this basic vehicle and did some work on the body, and with a great deal of help, essentially built a new engine," he explained. "This phase provided a baseline for the future redesigns and allowed me to get the license to drive at up to 250 miles per hour at Bonneville.”

His primary crew members were Neil Thompson, who earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at USC, and Gerry Gerken, who earned a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering. 

Settles said TT did pretty well in its maiden race.

“...it started rattling some at the end of the run,” he said. “So I’m going to want to take a look at that, and I want to address a few other design flaws.  For one, the seat is a little too low, so I want to redesign the cockpit.”

Settles, who holds the IBM Chair in Engineering Management, is professor and associate chair of the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.