‘Tordoff drives an 850bhp beast’
BTCC battler gets his hands on something a bit more... agricultural
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