What A 136mph Brake Failure Looks Like

It has to be every driver’s worst nightmare.

Imagine you’re behind the wheel of an Unlimited Class R35 Nissan GT-R and you’ve just started accelerating onto the longest straight of the course. You’re absolutely pinned, and pulling gears like they’re going of fashion. Limiter, shift, boost, limiter, shift all the way towards the braking point of the downhill right-hander.

Except you’ve passed the braking point and the brake pedal has just gone to the floor. You’re driving an extremely valuable race car with over three years of development in it, and you now know that the only thing that’s going to stop you is the tyre wall. What do you do?

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-4

This is the exact situation that Cole Powelson found himself in at the recent Speed Ring event in Detroit.

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The grey, black and orange GT-R of Lyfe Motorsports has proven itself to be one of the fastest GT-Rs on the planet around a circuit. Last year, it sent the HKS R35 GT-R, driven by none other than Nobuteru Taniguchi, packing at the inaugural Speed Ring event.

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-1

In the process, the team collected a $20,000 bounty that the organisers offered to anyone who could take down the famous Japanese team.

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-2

The car has seen action at countless events around North America, including the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. This is far from an amateur operation, although it is a privateer entry from the Utah-based outfit.

I’d been stood at the end of the back straight for about 10 minutes, slowly dropping shutter speeds in an attempt to capture something abstract when the Lyfe GT-R took to the track for its touge battle.

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-5

Having watched the previous Unlimited cars, I had a rough idea where the braking point was. With one eye through the viewfinder and the other open to maintain an awareness of my surroundings, it was immediately obvious that something wasn’t right and the GT-R took off across the grass on the in-field at huge speed.

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The car bucked and bounced across the grass, before pitching sideways across the track and then disappearing into a cloud of dust at the far side of the last rumble strip. The silence was deafening.

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There was a brief moment of optimism as the silence continued, before a sickening bang as the car finally came to an abrupt stop. Alongside two other photographers, I waited for the dust to settle. Slowly the GT-R reappeared, showing itself resting sideways in the tyres. With no safety marshalls stationed nearby, we headed over to the car as the driver began to climb out.

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-8

As we got there, Cole already had the bonnet (at least what was left of it) off and was searching for a cause as to what had just happened. “Well, that was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he casually announced from behind his helmet. “I tried to put it in backwards once I knew what was happening. Funny the things you think of in the moment,” he continued, in the most surreal conversation I’ve had with someone in quite a while.

2017 Speed Ring Lyfe Motorsports GT-R Crash Speedhunters by Paddy McGrath-9

Later, Lyfe Motorsport would diagnose a failed brake pressure switch as the cause of the accident. The car lost complete front brake pressure and only retained around 40% at the rear when Cole pressed the brake pedal at 135.6mph (218.2km/h), according to their own data-logging.

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No matter which way you look at it, 136mph is fast. The fact that Cole walked away from the crash, completely unharmed, is testament to the three months of chassis preparation that went into the GT-R. When cars are built to this level, you always hope that the relevant safety devices are never needed, but when they are, that they do their job above and beyond expectation. The car was still able to roll and be towed back to the pits, which should tell you everything that you need to know.

For Lyfe, the goal remains unchanged for their GT-R. It will be the fastest time attack GT-R in the world, although their timescale for that has been extended slightly. Still, at least they have a car and driver to work with thanks to quick thinking and proper chassis design. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s to never cheap-out on something that might save your life.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos
paddy@speedhunters.com

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22 comments

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1

Wow, that's insane! Super glad to hear that the driver was okay.

2

That's a frightening story tbh. Brakes should 'just work'. Glad he is okay and cool enough to hop out and start troubleshooting on the track haha.

3

Yes, they should. But a) sh%^ happens, and b) sh%^ really happens when you're pushing the bleeding edge of everything. Props to the team and cage builder as well as the driver for keeping his head in the game, and his car as unwrecked as possible!

4

Lol I hear ya. This could have been even worse.

5

"If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s to never cheap-out on something that might save your life" - True, but it seems that team isn't paying full attention to this - wasn't it last year when for famous battle they came with only one set of tyres? Run out and then had to borrow some previously untested on GTR from Essa and went flat out hoping it will be fine...

6

Curious to know what the impact speed was. Cages and car safety have come so far in the past few decades thank God. Very smart of him to think of the angle of impact in the moment. That will kill you faster than anything. Dale's crash was all down to angle. Look at Alex Zanardi's incident. Glad to hear everyone was ok and went home safely. Sounds scary.

7

Scary stuff but glad the driver walked away, from that opening image it even looks like the car has held up pretty well where it took the impact.

8

When will Lyfe Motorsport not have any major setbacks at any event they compete in. I feel bad for them.

9

What is remarkable is his ability to gather himself up and start looking for the problem as soon as he got out. I would have needed a sit down.

10

Adrenaline is a strong drink.

11

This might sound dumb but do time attack cars equipped with hand brake though? Should've tried hand brake as well if things happens....

12

So in addition to the vehicle crashing into a wall, they also grenaded an engine the day before. Sounds like an expensive weekend...

13

Nobody grenaded the engine, a oil line from the dry sump system had a failure, a line we install a race ago. It's funny how the wrong information goes around

14

So glad the driver wasn't badly injured!! Cars can be replaced, not people.

-Alex

15

Been there, done that (at 145mph), got the mangled car.

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16

Good thing you had that cage in there or that imp would look like a crumpled beer can

Author17

Heck.

18

My mate did this at 60mph. Differens in car development in 20 years.

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19

Brake failure at 136mph looks pretty severe! Car was looking a lot better at the start of the day :|

20

Is the GTR brake by wire? How does a pressure switch cause loss of front brakes?

21

Switch probably mechanically failed and bled fluid pressure.

22

who needs brakes those just slow you down haha jk I'm glad that the drive was ok

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