‘Tord­off drives an 850bhp beast’

BTCC bat­tler gets his hands on some­thing a bit more... agri­cul­tural

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

Ca­reers are rarely straight­for­ward, and of­ten in­clude the odd junctions here and there. Mine reached a cross­roads re­cently, and brought with it some pretty tough de­ci­sions.

This year was my best ever in mo­tor­sport. I nar­rowly missed out on the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship ti­tle, and re­sults like that open doors. I’m now ready to step away from the BTCC, and in­stead head into GT rac­ing in a Lam­borgh­ini.

But I’m a firm be­liever that it’s al­ways im­por­tant to keep your op­tions open, so when Mo­tor­sport News’ deputy editor Rob Lad­brook called me up to of­fer me an insight into a to­tally dif­fer­ent ca­reer path, I was in­trigued.

How­ever, I didn’t know I was go­ing to be farmed out, so to speak.

So, with bad joke­book in hand I headed for a field near Gran­tham, and I had no idea what was in store for me. It wasn’t the eas­i­est of lo­ca­tions to find, but I trac­tor down in the end – brace your­selves folks, there’s a lot more of this to come...

Now, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a farm in my life, let alone driven any of the heavy ma­chin­ery as­so­ci­ated with work­ing on one. And this beast is about the heav­i­est go­ing – about 17.85 tons in fact.

The Fendt Katana 85 is the big­gest for­age har­vester of its kind in the UK. And it is huge.

Stand­ing in the mid­dle of a field of seven-foot tall crop you can bar­ley see a thing, ex­cept when this rolls into view. It re­ally is a sight for sore Ryes… sorry.

Any­way, back on topic. Lo­cal farm­ing ex­pert Mark Bates owns the ma­chine. Fendt’s own Andy Davies ac­com­pa­nied him, and was go­ing to be look­ing af­ter me dur­ing the test.

I was pretty calm at this point, right un­til five ex­tra lads in trac­tors ar­rived, all pulling 16-ton trail­ers. Only then did the re­al­ity re­ally hit home. I was go­ing to be do­ing some proper farm­ing. Proper farm­ing, stuff that’s worth a lot of money to these peo­ple. This wasn’t a prac­tice run.

This field is the last of their batch af­ter four weeks of solid har­vest­ing and I’m ba­si­cally stand­ing be­tween them and a well-earned af­ter­noon off in the pub. I’d bet­ter not cock this up. OK, pres­sure on. Andy walks me around the har­vester, and it re­ally is enor­mous. Mea­sur­ing over 24-feet in length and al­most 13-feet tall, the scale is pretty daunt­ing. It’s safe to say this is the only thing I’ve ever had to climb a full stair­case to get into. The front tyres alone stand 70-inches tall, dwarf­ing the 17in’ rims we ran on in the BTCC.

At the heart of this beast is a 21-litre – yes, you read that right, 21-litre – V12 diesel en­gine made by Ger­man firm MTU. That com­pany is a divi­sion of Rolls Royce and built its name mak­ing train en­gines, so it’s safe to pre­sume it’s got some grunt. Ac­tu­ally it’s got 853bhp of grunt – al­most three times what my WSR BMW 125i M Sport tour­ing car pushed out. Mind you it does have 10 times the en­gine ca­pac­ity.

The en­gine is mounted right over the rear axle to bal­ance the weight against the much wider front end, and the in­ter­nals eas­ily fill the en­tire rear of the chas­sis.

It needs all of that power too, as it drives a host of dif­fer­ent mo­tors in­side, in­clud­ing one hy­dro­static mo­tor for each front wheel and one for the rear axle. This thing ba­si­cally has four en­gines.

To­gether with that it has an ar­ray of pul­leys and slave pumps used to drive the tremen­dous cut­ting blades, or ‘header’, at­tached to the front. When un­folded that’s a stun­ningly en­gi­neered bit of kit. Mea­sur­ing 30-feet wide, it has a level of de­tail that puts some For­mula 1 team’s front wings to shame.

It has 12 spin­ning discs of blades that slice any crops in their path and drag what’s left into the six feed rollers, which shift the crop into the ma­chine’s in­te­rior where it’s chopped, cracked and com­pressed into the mulch. This par­tic­u­lar crop is be­ing used for

bio­fuel, so needs to be well ground-up. The blades are en­gi­neered to each cut within 0.1mm to the sheer bar and are all made from tough­ened steel. They could prob­a­bly use with some Gardx paint pro­tec­tion though… (sorry, shame­less plug).

It’s time to get mov­ing, but the first part is the trick­i­est, so Andy jumps in first to ‘open’ the field. This in­volves skirt­ing around the edge of the 15-acre site to al­low eas­ier ac­cess to the cen­tre of the crop.

Sat above the top of the plants you get an amaz­ing field of vi­sion, and it’s easy to ap­pre­ci­ate the skill with which Andy uses the ma­chine. Fields don’t tend to be straight lines, so we’re dip­ping in and out around hedges and trees. It’s easy to lose your­self in the sea of green – it re­ally is like a maze of maize.

The other as­pect I didn’t re­alise is where the har­vest ac­tu­ally goes. The crushed crop gets fired out of a huge, ex­tend­ing spout mounted be­hind the cab, which ide­ally needs to be aimed into a trac­tor trailer at all times. It ro­tates 210 de­grees around the rear and ex­tends to six me­tres tall, and is fully con­trolled by the driver.

With the trac­tor fol­low­ing be­hind as we go, it’s a real won­der to watch Andy work as he drives es­sen­tially in the rear view mirror and cam­eras, as well as over his shoul­der, at all times to make sure the crop isn’t wasted. We don’t use the mir­rors half as much in the BTCC, they’ve usu­ally been knocked off any­way.

Field ac­cess is sorted, and now it’s my go. And my job is def­i­nitely spelt out for me as the ac­com­pa­ny­ing Fendt trac­tor pulls up along­side.

Swap­ping seats you do get an over­rid­ing sense of power sat in the driver’s seat. Be­ing 12 feet up is a very dif­fer­ent sen­sa­tion to be­ing sat in a low-slung rac­ing car. And, while you do have a steering wheel in front of you, how you drive is also very dif­fer­ent.

There are no ped­als. In­stead you have an in­ter­ac­tive arm­rest to your right where the ma­jor­ity of move­ment is con­trolled by a sin­gle joy­stick. It’s hy­draulic, so you push it for­ward to ac­cel­er­ate, and pull it back to brake and there’s only one gear in the field, no heel-and-toe re­quired here.

It’s a sim­ple con­cept, push the stick for­ward quickly and you’ll go fast – this ma­chine is ca­pa­ble of 25mph on the road, which is pretty im­pres­sive for its bulk, but won’t be threat­en­ing any lap records any­time soon.

The tricky part is con­trol­ling the spout at the same time us­ing the small thumb stick on the top of the ac­tual joy­stick. So, you’re steady­ing the steering wheel to avoid crash­ing, con­trol­ling the speed with one stick, and try­ing not to waste a sum­mer’s work with an­other. Talk about multi-task­ing…

It’s like tak­ing a race start with ev­ery inch. In the BTCC the race starts are so fran­tic, ev­ery­thing comes at you at once and at high speed and you have to an­tic­i­pate so much, pass­ing chances, pos­si­ble col­li­sions, the lot. You need eyes ev­ery­where, and it’s the same feel­ing in the Fendt.

You have the trac­tor run­ning a few feet along­side you at all times, so you have to watch for where that is, where its trailer is and where you’re shooting the crop too. It’s like try­ing to high-five your race en­gi­neer when you pass the pit wall on a hot lap.

The level of ad­justa­bil­ity is also stag­ger­ing. In a tour­ing car you have thou­sands of dif­fer­ent set up op­tions from sus­pen­sion, brakes, ge­om­e­try and such, but when you’re on the move you can only re­ally ad­just your brake bias. You get plenty of alarms telling you if stuff is go­ing wrong, but you have to learn to drive around any is­sues... Continued on page 35

Continued from page 33... The Fendt’s handling also takes some get­ting used to as it’s rear-axle steering. You move the wheel in the same way as any­thing else, but the ro­ta­tion comes from the rear. Com­bine that with hav­ing 10-feet of cut­ting blade each side of you, and hand­brake turns and hair­pins re­ally aren’t a strength for it.

In the Fendt ev­ery­thing is ad­justable from the com­puter panel on the arm­rest. Things like en­gine speed, which can be set at 1900 or 1500rpm de­pend­ing on your crop yield, or the infinite dif­fer­ent set­tings for cut­ting length and header height con­trol. It also has real-time teleme­try to record how much has been har­vested and all as­pects of ve­hi­cle con­di­tion.

The cabin isn’t sparse ei­ther. It’s got dig­i­tal dis­plays for rear-view cam­eras, guid­ance, a handy lit­tle fridge un­der­neath the pas­sen­ger seat and even a dig­i­tal ra­dio and MP3 player! I won­der if Alan Gow could write any of those into the BTCC tech­ni­cal regs…?

It’s a good job it’s com­fort­able, as har­vest­ing can be an all-night job. The Fendt there­fore has 22 ul­tra­bright LED lights all around, mak­ing it a real en­durance har­vester. I’ve only ever done one night race, which was the Le Mans Classic this year with a 1955 Austin Healey 100M, and I had to do that with es­sen­tially a few can­dles for head­lights…

How­ever, all that tech doesn’t ex­actly make the Fendt the most fru­gal ma­chine around. It’s got a huge 1500-litre fuel tank but will empty it en­tirely in around 14 hours. Sounds OK, but it costs around £750 to fill with red diesel each time.

Amaz­ingly, we’ve cleared the en­tire field in lit­tle over an hour, even with me driv­ing. Such is the power of this thing that it can com­pletely fill a sin­gle 16-ton trailer in just 2m30s.

This is def­i­nitely no diet-fo­cused ma­chine, more a full-fat all-you­can- wheat mon­ster!

With the field now bare, my work is done, and I can def­i­nitely put it down as a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me, and one I en­joyed mas­sively. I can now ap­pre­ci­ate the skill this type of har­vest­ing takes, and also the tech­nol­ogy in­volved.

It all comes down to ex­pe­ri­ence. Andy jumps in and drives the Fendt like I jumped in and drove my tour­ing car. Straight on it, no ques­tions asked. I think I’m bet­ter off stick­ing with rac­ing cars though for now.

Is farm­ing a sec­ond ca­reer choice for me? Prob­a­bly not. Real­is­ti­cally though nei­ther is stand-up comedy… un­less you like corny jokes that is… sorry, I’ll get my oat… n

Vis­i­bil­ity in the field is helped by the pink lid... Tord­off was stag­gered by the size of the Fendt Katana

Har­vest­ing takes team-work and a lot of co­or­di­na­tion

Driver has to be very aware of his sur­round­ings No ped­als, it’s all in a joy­stick

Tord­off and Fendt’s Andy Davies For­age Har­vester has huge 30-foot front wing, err... blade Andy Davies walks Sam around huge en­gine Huge trail­ers can be filled in min­utes Open­ing the field is the trick­i­est part

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.