On 24 August 2020, the Nordschleife (“North Loop”) of the Nürburgring witnessed a spectacular premiere: For the very first time, a large modern 4WD tractor travelled its length – and it did so in reverse!
Since it was launched on the market in 1997, the CLAAS XERION has stood for maximum tractive power coupled with its familiar and unrivalled versatility of use. The permanent all-wheel drive and multipass effect of the four equally large wheels ensure maximum traction under all operating conditions. Despite this, the large footprint, selectable offset diagonal crab steering and the 4-wheel steering ensure that the most powerful tractor to roll off a German mass production line is agile and gentle on the soil. After travelling across fields and green spaces around the globe, large-scale construction sites and airports, forests and high-altitude mountain passes, the XERION 5000 Trac VC was faced with a completely new task on 24 August 2020: conquering the notorious Nordschleife on the Nürburgring.
Naturally, the aim of the 20.6 km long route was not to set a new record. The challenge for race driver Christian Menzel, who is a lot more used to driving super sports cars with several hundred horsepower under the hood, was rather different: to manoeuvre a supertractor weighing a good 17 t with 4-wheel steering, 2.15 m high wheels and a high centre of gravity through the 73 curves of the “Green Hell” and the dreaded “Carousel”. And because the initiators from auto motor und sport didn’t think this task was difficult enough, the FAST LAP Supertest was also performed in reverse. After all, no one can tackle this task better than the XERION Trac VC with rotating cab, which reaches its top speed of 50 km/h not only when travelling forwards, but just as well in reverse. The high seating position was also a challenge for the experienced race driver, who prefers to sit behind the wheel of the Porsche 911 on the race track – as low as possible. Hence, despite an instructional briefing and short training drives, there was still a great deal of respect for the machine before the starting signal, particularly since the view of the tarmac when reversing is from a sheer height of 3 metres.
At 12:20 pm local time, it was time to put the pedal to the metal. While the first curves were rounded rather hesitantly, Menzel quickly overcame his apprehension, and the 49-year-old guided the seed-green machine expertly around bends, up slopes, and through depressions. In typical racer style, he also made sure not to miss out on taking the odd kerb too hard, which was no problem at all for the XERION’s 2.15 m wheels. Things got interesting in the “Carousel”, one of the last steep bends on European racetracks. While the inclination would not have prevented the race driver from navigating this passage at top speed, the bumps feared by many drivers forced him to ease off his right foot a little. However, the pedal remained pushed to the limit on almost all other sections of the route. The reward for this came in the form of an unexpected lap time. Exactly 25 minutes, 50 seconds, and 57 tenths of a second was what appeared on the GPS measuring device upon crossing the finish line. This equated to a respectable average speed of 47.85 km/h, which significantly exceeded the expectations of the auto motor und sport editors, whose prediction was 40 km/h. Apparently, the 2,600 Nm of torque and 530 hp of the 12.8 l Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder engine had pushed so hard even on the uphill sections that the time lost in the sharp turns could more or less be compensated for. “In a race car, I would have lapped the XERION three times,” explains an impressed Christian Menzel at the end of the Supertest. “Despite that, I have the utmost respect for the tractor. After all, it was originally designed to pull heavy loads at low speeds. Still, it was more than able to hold its own on the Nordschleife.” But Christian Menzel couldn’t resist a small dig at his colleague, the racing legend Walter Röhrl. In 2012, Röhrl raced on the Nordschleife in a Porsche Diesel Junior – it was his slowest lap ever, for charity. “I think I clearly beat his lap time,” says Menzel with a bright grin on his face. “Although, I did have a few more horsepower under the hood!”
You can watch the video from auto motor und sport on YouTube, where it got more than 350.000 views within the first three days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVSTaAf5Ick