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VIDEO: A behind the scenes look at how JCB set the new British tractor speed record

Though many would like to see this tractor pull a grain trailer, JCB’s record-breaking Fastrac tractor had one goal and one goal only; to set a new a new British speed record for a tractor.

 

James Rickard was there to witness the momentous occasion...

 

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VIDEO: A behind the scenes look at how JCB set new British tractor speed record

Twenty eight years to the day since the first Fastrac tractor rolled off the production line, on June 20, 2019 JCB celebrated in style by setting a new British speed record with a tractor.

 

Achieving a speed of 103.6mph, the record cements the tractor’s original ethos as a fast tractor. However, the day started rather ominously as a sudden shower engulfed the ex-World War II Elvington Airfield. Thankfully, the only thing resembling the sound of thunder was the tractor hurtling towards its record. And at 3.22pm it was official, JCB had set a new British record with a British-built tractor.

 

Behind the wheel, the tractor was piloted by non-other than tea-loving truck mechanic and engineering enthusiast Guy Martin. Here’s his reaction:

 

 

The ambition by the company to set a speed record with the Fastrac has been a long time coming. JCB’s chief innovation officer Tim Burnhope explains; “Ever since the Fastrac was conceived in 1984, we have always wanted to emphasise what the Fastrac is capable of. For us, setting a record underlines that capability.

 

“More importantly, we wanted to do it properly and keep the tractor as true to its roots as possible. There are many records out there, but most are achieved with machines that at best vaguely represent a tractor.”

 

Full video coming soon


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It may be recalled that recent speed records include BBC’s TopGear which ‘loosely’ created a tractor that achieved 87.27mph, and prior to this Valtra which set a speed of 80.88mph.

 

JCB is also no stranger to land speed records. In 2006, its DieselMax Streamliner set a new diesel land speed record when it reached 350.092mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA, using two JCB DieselMax engines. It is a record that still stands to this day. Crucially, this attempt was only made possible by the use of a Fastrac which had to push start the car for every run.

 

With this vivid memory still fresh in the mind of JCB engineers, and encouraged by its recent collaborations with Guy Martin’s TV shows, most notably the restoration of World War I tank, the company began work on a high speed version of the Fastrac last autumn.

 

Working on the project was a core team of 10 people, drafted in from several different departments throughout the company. “One of the big aims of the project was to give our young engineers in particular, our future talent, an opportunity to work on and experience something incredible,” says Mr Burnhope. “It was really great to see the design team follow the project through and become the performance test team.”

Several notable partner companies were also brought in to help with the modifications including Williams Advanced Engineering, which aided in the design of the aerodynamics package, and Ricardo, which was heavily involved with the tuning of the engine.

 

So now JCB has set a new British speed record, what is next? Technically, JCB has already beaten the official Guinness World Record for a tractor speed record set by TopGear, however, it really wants to put to bed any unofficial challengers too. Mr Burnhope comments; “When we go for the world record, it wants to be undisputed.”

Tractor specificitions

  • Model: Based on a JCB Fastrac 4000
  • Engine: JCB DieselMax, six-cylinder, 7.2-litre
  • Power: Capable of 1,000hp
  • Rated rpm: Capable of up to 3,800rpm
  • Torque: Maximum torque of 2,500Nm available between 2,000 and 3,000rpm
  • Transmission: six-speed, ZF truck gearbox
  • Weight: Five tonnes
  • Tyres: BKT, 400/80 R28 road tyres

Guy Martin – driver

Guy Martin – driver

Having been involved in several record attempts, including fastest speed on a gravity-powered snow sled, fastest speed in a soapbox and highest speed on a wall of death, Guy was the ideal candidate to take on the challenge.

 

Like many of his endeavours, Guy’s involvement will be aired on TV later this year, which follows him and JCB throughout the tractor’s development, taking in design, manufacturing and testing processes.

Technical detail

Technical detail

While by its very nature the standard Fastrac is a fast tractor (up to 50mph depending on markets), it has taken quite a few modifications to get it to the top side of 100mph. Size-wise it is based on a Fastrac 4000 Series, but draws upon the heavier-duty components of the 8000, as well as parts and expertise throughout JCB.

Having worked on the DieselMax world record in 2006, JCB’s group director of powertrains, Alan Tolley talks us through the finer details of the tractor.

  • Engine: Needing more power, the firm replaced the stock tractor’s AgcoPower engine with its own six-cylinder, 7.2-litre, DieselMax motor. Capable of 1,000hp and revving up to 3,800rpm, maximum torque is delivered between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. Fitted with an enlarged turbo, extra boost, particularly for gear changes, comes in the form of an electrically-driven supercharger. Running on normal diesel, expert tuning comes courtesy of Ricardo, which sees a large common rail fuel injection system from Delphi added. Amazingly, all castings; block, crank, head and pistons are standard. And no it does not meet Stage 5 emissions regulations.
  • Cooling and airflow: Cooling and packaging was a massive challenge for the engineers, which sees radiator cores relocated into side pods – much like a formula one car. This leaves room for three massive air scoops at the front of the engine to feed the hungry turbo and super chargers and keep the engine’s viscous damper cool. On top of this, Denso created a bespoke water to air charge cooler, located in the nose of the tractor.
  • Transmission: Though it would have provided seamless speed transitions, the Fendt-derived continuously variable transmission would not be up to the speeds involved, which sees a six-speed ZF truck gearbox fitted - though four were only used! Connecting the engine and gearbox is JCB’s own multi-plate wet clutch.
  • Aerodynamics: With the aid of Williams Advanced Engineering, drag of the tractor has been reduced by a quarter. To achieve this a specially built aero kit as to be designed. In addition, the cab is lower and narrower, and along with narrower tyres, this helps to reduce the tractor’s frontal area.
  • Weight: Excess weight is a speed killer, and as such the Fastrac was put on an extreme diet which sees about 40 per cent of its weight shed. Particularly from the chassis, which was designed to carry out heavy draft work, much of its strength could be taken out. Similarly, there is no need for hydraulics, link arms or a PTO.
  • Axles: Similar to the shape of a truck axle, the front axle’s ‘U’ profile allows the tractor to be lowered, making it more stable at high speed. It is only rear wheel drive too, avoiding parasitic losses. To maintain straight line stability, the rear axle has no differential, just a solid spool, adapted to handle the power and torque.
  • Brakes: Though the tractor is travelling much faster than normal, because of its reduced weight, the brakes are pretty much standard. However, to reduce weight and power requirements, the air compressor has been removed, with three pre-charged air tanks used instead.
  • Tyres: Supplied by BKT, tyres are more of an industrial heavy-duty type with a block tread pattern. However, a tailored compound was used to make the tyres, which were also ‘shaved’ to reduce any unnecessary weight.
  • Cab: taking inspiration from the truck racing world, inside the tractor has more of a racing feel, with minimal controls, racing seat, six-point harness, removable steering wheel and full roll cage. All glass is replaced with polycarbonate material.
  • The result: Mr Tolley explains; “Despite being focused on creating a faster version of the Fastrac, many valuable things were learnt during the development process, such as air flow, the importance of ride height management, aerodynamics and stability. This then starts to open up future possibilities.”
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