Jamie Whincup finds out what it is like to rip a handbrake turn in a two-storey building. James Stanford reports from Arizona
V8 ace Jamie Whincup upgrades his ride by 10 cylinders, a few thousand kilowatts and a few hundred tonnes.
V8 SUPERCAR ace Jamie Whincup is like a kid with a new toy, a new toy that weighs 249 tonnes and has a 78-litre engine.
He’s about to board the Komatsu 960-E dump truck, the largest mining truck serving in Australia.
Whincup and I are in an abandoned mine near Tucson in Arizona, which Komatsu uses to tests its trucks. The Japanese maker of heavy equipment sponsors him and wants the two-time champion to check its product.
He’s only too happy to oblige. ‘‘How cool is this?’’ Whincup says as he climbs up 17 steps to the cabin, which is about the height of a twostorey building. Mining trucks like this cost about $7 million, each tyre is about $80,000 and they run around the clock, so to be able to just take one for a spin is a real treat.
Whincup turns the key and the giant starter motor whirs as it tries to fire up the big V18, which can belt out 2610kW (3500hp).
After several seconds, the huge powerplant, which weighs 10 tonnes on its own, finally roars into life. The big turbo diesel doesn’t actually drive the wheels but acts as a generator.
The electricity it creates is then fed through huge electric motors in each wheel. A key advantage of this system is that the electric motors can be used to slow down the truck too. That’s important, especially when you are heading downhill with a full load and a gross weight of 576 tonnes.
At the moment, all the energy generated by the electric motors under deceleration is lost as heat from big fans on the deck to the side of the driver. But Komatsu is working on a way to capture the energy and store it in a battery, like a hybrid car.
Whincup floors the throttle and the big yellow beast surges forward. It isn’t fast compared with a car but feels like a big freighter running at four times the pace.
‘‘You can appreciate the awesome power. Unloaded, this thing just wants to keep on going,’’ Whincup says. The big Komatsu is 9.6m wide, equal to five Hummer H3s running side-by-side. Its cab is on the far left side, which is strange, and there is a huge blind-spot.
He manages to keep the truck off the walls and we arrive at a large open area.
I hop out of the cab so Komatsu’s Don Lindell can explain the features of the big truck to Whincup and, within a few seconds, he is generating more dust than a Deep South twister. He’s driving the mining truck like a rally car, flinging it around with complete faith it will stay upright.
Lindell shows Whincup a button on the dashboard that operates the rear brakes, for emergencies, and he uses it to do handbrake turns. My eyes
Duel in the desert: Jamie Whincup in Arizona and (facing page) getting sideways at Komatsu’s proving ground