The car attempting to break the world land-speed record – the British-engineered Bloodhound SSC – will require bulletproof, aluminium wheels if it is to have a chance to reach its target of 1000mph (1609 km/h).
Weighing 97kg, the 90cm diameter discs will be forced to spin faster than any wheel in automotive history – up to a staggering 10,200rpm, or 170 revolutions every second.
The man leading the wheel research, Dr Glenn Miles, said the pressure at the edges of the wheels could reach as high as 150 megapascals, or 1.5 tonnes per square centimetre.
One of the greatest challenges faced by the engineers is ensuring the wheels keep their shape while racing along the surface of the Hakskeen Pan, the site in South Africa chosen for the 2012 record attempt.
To be officially accepted as a world record, the wheels will have to sustain at least two full-speed runs within an hour of each other, with the aggregate of the two taken as the official time.
To test the prototype wheels, scientists at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory have designed a helium gun to fires pieces of dirt and rock at various alloy samples at between 450 and 500m/s (1620 and 1800 km/h).
Images taken every 20 microseconds (that is, 20 million images every second) will then be analysed under a microscope to determine if any cracks develop along the aluminium surface that would make a second run dangerous.
The engineers say it would be merely a matter of seconds before a standard rubber tyre disintegrated if fitted to the Bloodhound on a full-speed run.
The current world land-speed record is held by the Thrust SuperSonic Car, which set the record of 763mph (1228 km/h) in 1997.