JCB's Fastrac hits 218kph to become world's fastest tractor

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 20 Nov 2019

British multinational J.C. Bamford Excavators (JCB), which manufactures equipment for construction, agriculture, waste handling and demolition, has set yet another record – this time a Guinness World Record. A JCB Fastrac has stormed into the record books after being crowned the world’s fastest tractor with a speed of 135.191mph (218kph).

The Fastrac, designed and built by a team of engineers in Staffordshire, secured the title at Elvington Airfield in York with motorbike racer and lorry mechanic Guy Martin at the wheel. The feat was officially ratified by Guinness World Records.

The achievement comes after JCB set its first Guinness World Record for the fastest tractor at Elvington in June 2019. Called Fastrac One, it recorded 103.6mph (167kph) with Guy Martin in the driver’s seat. The company then embarked on an ambitious plan to break its own record and developed Fastrac Two – which was 10 percent lighter and even more streamlined than its smaller brother. Fastrac Two hit a peak speed of 153.771mph (247kph) on its way to recording an average of 135.191mph at Elvington.

Guy Martin said: "This has been a massive undertaking, and I was a very small cog in the machine. It was a proper privilege to be involved, so thank you very much to JCB and its engineering team, who got this tractor absolutely spot-on. Just look at it, they get stuff done, it’s brilliant, and it is still a working tractor, so could have gone straight into the nearest field to put in a shift."

Fastest tractor on road and on field

A team of JCB engineers has been working on the project to further develop the tractor over the last few months, for which JCB chairman Lord Bamford praised their "amazing achievement.” He said: “When we reached 103.6mph (166kph) with the Fastrac in the summer, I was convinced we could go even faster, and the JCB team has risen to the challenge by setting this new record.”

JCB Chief Innovation and Growth Officer Tim Burnhope said: “Fastrac One really proved to us that there are no limits to what a young and dynamic engineering team can achieve. So we pushed boundaries and ideas, and looked at all aspects of the project to find solutions and make improvements. The biggest challenges have included aerodynamics, reducing weight and improving performance – getting a five-tonne tractor to safely reach 150mph (241kph), and stop again, is not an easy task, but we’re all so proud to have not only reached these goals, but to have exceeded them.”

JCB is no stranger to land speed records. In 2006, its Dieselmax streamliner set a new diesel land speed record when it reached 350.092mph (563kph) on Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA, using two JCB Dieselmax engines. It’s a record that still stands to this day.

India's BKT among suppliers to record-breaking Fastrac Two
A strong connect with its component and technology suppliers enabled JCB to build the record-breaking Fastrac Two. They comprise eight prominent suppliers including India's BKT (Balkrishna Tyres), Ricardo, Williams Advanced Engineering, Delphi Technologies, Denso, Federal Mogul, ZF and GKN.   

Fastrac Two maintained the same design principles and packaging, but would be 10 percent lighter than its predecessor, reducing its weight to less than five tonnes. The tractor’s bonnet was changed from steel to aluminium; non-structural material was removed from the chassis, while the cab and roll cage mounts would be incorporated into the chassis design.

Streamlined bodywork also had a role to play, with aerodynamic analysis and development conducted by Rob Smedley, ex-Williams head of vehicle performance, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) used by Williams Advanced Engineering, to give Fastrac Two a 10 percent reduction in drag over Fastrac One.

This saw the development of new cab air deflectors, a new rear cover, re-designed radiator covers, new side panels, front bumper and cab roof, would also help the tractor to cut through the air, en route to the new Guinness World Record.

An extra shot of power was needed, and the 7.2-litre, 6-cylinder JCB Dieselmax engine produced at JCB Power Systems in Derbyshire, also received some extra attention. A new, larger turbocharger was accompanied by water injection and charge-air cooling through ice tanks, reduced intake temperatures by 50deg C.

An electrically driven supercharger system was again used, while a revised exhaust manifold contributed to improved flow. The adoption of a sophisticated anti-lag system would also keep the larger turbocharger delivering its maximum boost pressure while gear changes took place. The result of the powertain improvements was a peak output of 1,016hp at 3,150rpm, and over 2,500Nm of torque.

Despite the tractor developing 1,016hp, it achieved over 5mpg / 2.12kpl and needed only a tiny 20-litre fuel tank to make its high-speed runs. And while it has the capability to run on vegetable oil, a special formulation of high-performance racing diesel was used.

Fastrac Two’s driveline was also updated to cope. A multi-plate wet clutch was developed to improve torque management and create smoother gear changes for the six-speed manual transmission. An air-shifter reduces effort for the short-throw gear-lever, encouraging speedy shifts between ratios to encourage the Fastrac up to those record-breaking speeds. The tractor’s final drive capabilities were also improved.

Tim Burnhope said: “We still managed to use over 50% of standard Fastrac parts in the record-beating tractor, though tyres were an altogether different challenge. At 1.3m tall and weighing 80kg, and usually rated for 40mph (64kph), there was a lot of work to do to prevent them growing and heating up, from high-speed use. Modifications to BKT’s tyre design ensured high-speed capability, and repeated rig-testing would validate the Ridemax tyres’ capability at the much higher target speeds required for the World record attempt. The tyres were also equipped with sensors that also monitor heat and vibration in real-time.”

But the record-breaking Fastrac also needs to be stopped too, and given the 3,094m (10,151ft) Elvington runway, and the requirement to pass through a 1km speed trap to determine an average speed, the demands of braking also had to be met.

Tim Burnhope said: “The Fastrac’s advanced split-type air/hydraulic braking system was uprated with different brake pads and discs, but still using the tractor’s standard callipers. We also added a parachute on this version as an extra level of safety. Fortunately, we didn’t need to deploy it as all our engineering calculations meant that Guy Martin could comfortably stop the tractor from speed, after each run.”