It was 2001 - the year, when Colossos opened at Heide-Park, when at another park in the United States, literally at the other end of the world, a startling novelty among roller coasters was announced: a catapult roller coaster, where the train is shoot up a straight upright vertical hill, tremendously propelled by an innovative hydraulic motor. The figures on the paper showed a remarkable acceleration and top speed. Developed, constructed and manufactured by the very innovative company Intamin, the "Xcelerator" had its opening ceremony at the Californian Knott's Berry Farm in 2002. Beside the optically very impressive "Top Hat" (this obviously straight upright vertical construction), the actual revolutionary innovation wasn't recognised at first sight.
The cable winch of the catapult is revved up by a hydraulic motor. The propulsion methods at earlier catapult coasters often lacked efficiency, had a huge wearout on moving parts or were distinguished by incredible high power consumption. This was a huge topic on the launch coasters of the nineties with LSM propulsion, which offered impressing acceleration and top speed, but had a huge consumption of electrical power on the other hand. With the hydraulic winch launch system the engineers of Intamin were capable of developing a propulsion method with a steady and lower power input which doesn't overstrain the power requirements, on the other hand delivering such a huge amount of energy within seconds to achieve such an enormous acceleration and top speed. It's no wonder, that the fastest roller coasters of the world are powered by this hydraulic motor system. Since the opening of the prototype coaster in 2002, Intamin sold their accelerator coaster 15 times worldwide in different versions. Beside the United States, some installations went to China, Japan and Australia. But also Europe, with England, Sweden, Norway and Spain can be found on the delivery list of Intamin.
Since the 2007 season, another lightning Intamin Accelerator Coaster can be found in Germany, too. To be correct, at Lueneburg Heath at Germany's (in area) largest amusement park, Heide-Park, daring visitors can be shot through the heath since May 2007. "Desert Race - evil ride through the desert" is the name of the 2007 season's new attraction at Heide-Park. The evil ride starts right next to Colossos, the park's wooden roller coaster. Some park visitors may remember a problem with drifting sand which was blown into the faces of the riders when wind conditions and direction was inconvenient. This problem doesn't exist anymore due to grown grass around the area of the wooden roller coaster. 'Evil to him who evil thinks' when the association of the Desert Race theming (desert - sand) springs to mind.
You maybe remember an old rumour from 2003 about a water coaster at the same location, where Desert Race now races through the desert. This "Aqua Trax" water coaster, another Intamin creation, would have been a premiere in Germany and even Europe. Problems with some park residents and a financially tight cost calculation led to the cancellation of the attraction.
It will remain unanswered, whether a tight cost calculation or -running through the rumours- a stop on capital investment by former owner Tussauds Group was the reason for the plan change. Well, in the middle of the 2006 season, a new roller coaster for 2007 was announced. The drawings on early concept arts promised a large and interesting layout with a race through the desert. But at the laying of the foundation stone it became clear, that the new roller coaster would only be a slightly modified copy of an installation at Alton Towers in England, called "Rita - Queen of speed". The evil race through the desert would be the equivalent of the English speed queen in most parts. At the end of the track, the layout of Desert Race got an additional hill and a more inclined final S-curve. Also worth mentioning: the desert race is bit faster than the sister in England.
Ok, this should be enough of the theoretical part. Dry facts and mathematical acceleration figures are just one side of the story. How is the subjective experience of the ride through the desert? As with Rita, the first obvious part of the ride when you approach Desert Race is the launch track. Next to it lays a part of the queuing area and the walkway of the park. Unfortunately, it's not possible at Desert Race, to access the area inside the track-layout and take a walk below and next to the tracks. Some battered Jeeps and other theming elements can be seen on small boulder heaps. Speaking of theming elements, the largest element is the huge life-size red-yellow-coloured helicopter which is enthroned above the launch track and serves as control station of the roller coaster. The trains have competition numbers on each car to sustain the racing theme of the Rally Paris-Dakar. But that's all theming for the trains. The rest of the standard-chassis is held in plain blue or red. The over-the-shoulder restraints are slightly modified compared to older versions on other accelerator coasters. A small bead can be found on the inner side of the restraint. This absorbs some energy if the rider's neck or ears accidentally touch the clamp at sudden direction changes. The colour scheme of the tracks and supports, which could already be seen on the concept arts, looks really good. Slim supports with a desert sand like ochre tone, some of them artfully contorted, hold the glossy black tracks in their position. The station is held in a simple and plain way and serves mainly for efficient loading and unloading of the trains. The Desert Race trains are launched from the loading platform. So, the waiting passengers get an impression of what a racy surprise awaits them. Take your seat, lower your harness and lock it with the belt. As on other launch coasters, an announcement with a count down sounds through the station. If the count down should fail, the passengers should pay attention to a slight backward movement, when the train engages to the catch-car.
A split second later, everybody on board experiences the massive accelerating force of this speed-machine. The lightning vehemence and relentless power of acceleration is a sensational experience every time and without any doubt the characteristic feature of such catapult roller coasters. Sure, a slow tension raising lifthill is missing, but this is more than made up with the compressed tenseness just before the launch. If you ride in the first row, the wind adds up to the experience, blown into your face. You just don't realise, that the acceleration has stopped, when the train rushes through the first steep turn, followed by an incline to the first camelback with transition and drop down into the next steep turn. The track runs through the same elements again just in the opposite direction and leads into another steep turn on ground level, parallel to the first curve. The passengers realise the still high speed and a good amount of positive g-forces at this part of the track. Another incline and a last camelback follow. This last camelback is missing on the prototype installation in England, by the way. The train on Rita is braked almost to a stop here at roof-level of the maintenance shed and slips back slowly into the station. The finish on Desert Race is different. The train is slowed down a little bit by magnetic brakes after the last camelback, but it runs through the now following S-shape turn around the maintenance shed into the station at a remarkable higher speed, than the Layout-Predecessor in England. The chequered flag is waving and the short, fast race through the desert is over.
|Manufacturer:||Intamin Transportation Ltd.|
|Topspeed:||100 km/h (in 2,4 sec.)|
|Acceleration:||max. 5 G|
|Features:||Hydraulic launch system|
|Ride Time:||27 sec.|
5 cars with 4 people each
It was a tough act to follow for Desert Race and win the hearts of the coaster enthusiasts in Germany, when the roller coaster was first announced in 2006. Looking at the local conditions at Heide-Park, it was very elusive why the new attraction was just a copy of a roller coaster, whose layout was restricted by height and space limitations of a complete other park. Beside the cost pressure, there were indeed some restrictions, which had to be considered by Heide-Park, as well. To reduce the noise of the roller coaster, the supports are filled with sand, for example. There also have been some problems with neighbours of the park, who enforced a suspension of building work for a short time. It was a surprise for a lot of people to learn, that even the spacious Heide-Park has a noise-problem with its neighbours. After a short hurdle race, Germany's first catapult coaster finally opened on 15th may 2007. Desert Race is doing a really good job in catapulting its passengers through the heath. Fast and steep turns on ground level, direction changes and airtime on fast paced camelbacks characterise the track layout after the launch. Desert Race surely doesn't shine by achieving a list of records. If you search for records, just have a look at the adjacent roller coaster. Although Desert Race is not the fastest roller coaster in Germany, the subjective perception and fun on the ride tells a different story to every passenger. This is the winning point of Desert Race. After the upside-down rides on Big Loop and Limit and the airtime moments on the wooden hills of Colossos, Desert Race with its sensational launch and the fast paced ride through steep turns and hills fits very well into the range of rides and attractions at Heide-Park.