Image: Getty Images for Jaguar
Image: Getty Images for Jaguar
You’re in the driving seat. With the world’s media watching and the lights flashing past, you adjust your speed, ready to face the track. But this is no ordinary track; it doesn’t just stretch ahead but way up and round – and over your head and behind you.
And when you finally tackle the daunting track, your body will be subjected to g-force even greater than astronauts encounter – so let’s hope that all the grueling training pays off.
Indeed, months of preparation and perspiration have built up to this moment. And that’s not even taking into account the computation: the physics, perspectives, dimensions and velocity calculations have all been painstakingly checked and double checked by a squad of highly knowledgeable professionals.
But none of those whizzes are here to advise you as you grip the wheel and head into the loop. In a moment, you’ll be more than 62 feet above ground, driving a car upside down. And even though the vehicle will slow to a mere 15 mph, it will be held up there just long enough to ensure that you can come down safely again. Or so you hope.
In September 2015 this was the real-life experience of one brave man by the name of Terry Grant. Grant took part in the breathtaking stunt to help launch the new Jaguar F-PACE family sports car in Frankfurt, ahead of the opening of the German city’s famous Motor Show.
The giant, Hot Wheels-esque vertical loop stood at an incredible 62 and a half feet tall, making it nearly a whole three feet loftier than the track used to accomplish the then-current loop-the-loop world record. What’s more, the Frankfurt loop served as the “0” in a pair of structures depicting the number 80 that were created to celebrate 80 years since the birth of the Jaguar brand.
Looping around that track would, then, undoubtedly have proven a terrifying prospect for most. Grant, however, more than knows how to tackle perilous feats in a vehicle, given that the stunt driver can already lay claim to holding 22 motoring world records – among them, the fastest two-wheel mile and the narrowest gap ever negotiated on two wheels of a car.
And with a pedigree like that, it’s little wonder that Jaguar chose the Brit to traverse the record-breaking 360-degree loop at the Niederrad Racecourse.
Still, Grant would have a – literally – tall task ahead of him if he wanted to win the world record. And he could maybe have taken a few tips from the holders of the accolade at the time, Tanner Foust and Greg Tracy. Despite their considerable combined experience as a rally driver and a Hollywood stunt driver, respectively, both men trained for a year to successfully complete a nearly 60-foot-tall loop at the 2012 Los Angeles X Games.
The Americans completed the same loop in tandem and smashed the 2011 record of 42.9 feet held by the Chinese Li Yatao, who had accomplished the feat in a Youngman Lotus L5 Sportback.
Yatao’s loop-the-loop attempt was itself considerably more successful than another that took place in 2012 in Hefei, China. That one went sickeningly wrong when the car used appeared to clip one side of the track and crash nose-first into the ground, completely missing the safety net provided. Fortunately, the driver in that instance apparently survived.
Back in 2009, however, an altogether less glamorous car than a Jaguar claimed the loop-the-loop world record. In an event filmed for U.K. television program Fifth Gear, stuntman Steve Truglia took a humble yellow Toyota Aygo through a 39-foot-tall loop.
This attempt also came perilously near to disaster, however. Despite the fact that some of the front and rear of the Aygo had been shaved off in order to give it clearance to negotiate the curve, the rear bumper still caught on the track and came close to causing a catastrophe.
To avoid a calamity of potentially lethal proportions, therefore, Grant knew that he would need to drive with extreme precision – and at the carefully calculated speed of 54 mph.
If Grant went faster than this, he could risk blacking out. If he traveled at a slower velocity, though, the centripetal force of the car in the loop would not be enough to offset the gravitational force pulling the vehicle to earth. In other words – disaster.
It’s a fine margin, then, especially as the car is expected to slow to just 15 mph when it reaches the top of the loop – and the tires will just about come away from the track as the g-force drops to zero.
Despite all of the pressures, though, Grant is calm. After all, you don’t break more than 20 motoring world records if you’re the nervous type, even if the car is unfamiliar.
So, it starts. Grant enters the loop at 54 mph, guiding the vehicle perfectly into its arc. The car then slows to a mere 15 mph when it reaches the fully inverted stage, yet the stunt driver doesn’t falter. In spite of the some 6.5G acting on his body, he accelerates back down the loop, keeping the car in a perfect straight line.
And the fireworks erupt. He’s done it. The record is smashed. Grant leaps on top of his car to celebrate an incredible achievement – the culmination of pure physics, precise motoring engineering and steely determination.
“Driving the world’s largest loop was a very proud moment in my career,” Grant said after completing his triumphant task. But wasn’t he nervous about attempting such a daunting feat? “If I go into panic mode, then we’re all in trouble,” was his modest answer. One thing’s for sure, then: it’s going to take something – and someone – very special indeed to better this astonishing, record-breaking loop-the-loop.