Driving the fastest truck in the world!
FABIEN CALVET, from French magazine France Routes, had the exclusive privilege of taking control of the Iron Knight – which recently set two new world speed records
In my life I’ve had the chance to drive a lot of beautiful machines … including all types and styles of trucks – some crazier than others. These include European champion racing trucks and Dakar monsters, but this challenge provided yet another dimension in terms of power and speed. With this truck, I moved the craziness up another notch.
It all started with my friend, Boije Ovebrink (yes Ovebrink is a friend in the true sense of the word; we have known each other for 30 years), who had already given me the immense privilege of letting me drive “Mean Green” – his green firecracker of a hybrid truck, with which he had already beaten a speed record back in 2011.
At that time, France Routes was already on the move, and I must admit I experienced huge pleasure in the drive. When Ovebrink offered to let me take control of his new baby, I was frankly overjoyed. What a mark of confidence! This time, though, it required the backing of the parent company, as the Iron Knight is a 100-percent Volvo project.
At first glance, it is easy to see that it is, indeed, a factory concept. The design department added its touch and, let’s face it, the truck is just splendid. The quality of finish is impeccable with ultra-light materials, such as carbon for the cab, a Lexan windshield and competition accessories worthy of Formula 1 … in short everything has been thought through and the result is perfect. On the scales the truck weighs only 4 500 kg with a distribution of 55 percent on the front axle.
Yet, I must confess (and it must remain between us) that nothing could have given me more pleasure than to take the wheel of such a monster. Imagine, 1 789 kW (2 400 hp) and torque of 6 000 Nm under your right foot!
During the age of super trucks, in 2001, when I was champion of France, we had about 1 500 horses under the hood, and even then the trucks were power monsters. So today, with 2 400 horses, I was apprehensive.
In addition to my friend Ovebrink, there were two engineers, who had come from the parent company specially to explain all the details of how to operate the machine.
Robin Karlsson is responsible for engine development and gave me an overview on the optimal engine speed, while explaining the specifics of the turbos… Imagine, the D13 is equipped with four Garrret competition turbos with the pressure set close to 6,5 bar! Yes, you read correctly!
On the intercooler side, the technicians have turned to an air/water system, which offers the best performance. In short, the engine encompasses all the development skills of a big company: Volvo.
Even more incredible was when Johan Fries, the gearbox specialist, briefed me on its functioning. Hang on – the box is standard! Yes, the same as on a lot of series trucks. When he first told me this, I thought he was joking…
The gearbox is actually a standard I-Shift dual clutch, just equipped with the reinforced clutch plates used in racing. It is crazy, but it proves the resilience of today’s gearboxes; this one is able to handle over 2 000 hp and 6 000 Nm torque.
I wasn’t about to be clever at the briefing … I listened and recorded everything said to me, because the truck is a monster of technology.
For this test in real conditions, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO, or Automobile Club of the West, which is the largest automotive group in France, and is most famous for being the organising entity behind the annual Le Mans 24-hour race) kindly lent us the Le Mans track to use as a playground.
Once at the wheel and well strapped in, Ovebrink threw a curve ball at me and asked me to memorise all the buttons in the cab. Fries accompanied me as passenger, so that he could answer any questions I might have had.
Starting up was really simple. Unlike the previous Mean Green record-setting truck, the Iron Knight has no hybrid systems. Operation is absolutely normal, as on an everyday truck. Once the gear had been selected, I simply pushed the gas pedal to drive the truck. Neither more nor less, like all the Volvos of today.
When we entered the track, I immediately felt the potential of the truck. For the first laps of the track we went slowly, because the photographer’s car was not far away and, frankly, an Audi S6 under the truck would have been bad. Attention and, importantly, precision were required; this is in no way a racing truck…
The Iron Knight is a truck made to set speed records and, especially, to prove the technological know-how of the brand. Moreover, it is, indeed, a truck intended for the straight-line speed record.
The true potential of the Iron Knight is pure acceleration. At first, I must admit to being a little shy with the accelerator pedal, but once the truck was at the right temperature, Fries beckoned me to put it all in.
The engine went up in the rev band and I took a real kick in the ass! Imagine, 2 400 hp! The acceleration was demonic; the speed increased steadily and the turbo boost was phenomenal. Initially, I even thought I was hallucinating. With six bars of turbo pressure showing on the boost gauge, I was glued to the seat.
At 180 km/h the tyres continued to spin slightly under the force of the phenomenal acceleration. At more than 220 km/h I urgently released the gas, because the first turns had arrived. The increase in speed was so rapid that it was difficult to grasp the extent of the distance we had travelled.
It’s no wonder that when Ovebrink shattered the speed records, the truck required an aeroplane runway. With him at the wheel, this baby hung on to 290 km/h without any problem!
To reach such speeds the truck is equipped with a Meritor diff especially manufactured with a ratio of 2:47:1. Despite these high speeds, handling remained exemplary and the steering was precise.
At the front, Goodyear equipped the truck with the same tyres as those fitted to the racing truck. In contrast, at the rear, the tyre company developed a super-single tyre of size 495/45 R22.5 to ensure maximum stability – and it worked.
During this test, everything went so fast, I was really amazed! Imagine; it took less than ten seconds to go from 0 to 200 km/h! It was just great and I must admit that, until then, I had never driven a truck so fast, and especially a truck that provides so many sensations. Frankly, it provided a huge dose of fun in a very short time.
The feeling of having an unusual machine in one’s hands; a truck combining all the superlatives; a truck that many would dream of driving one day… Me, I had the chance to do it and, frankly, I could never thank my friend Ovebrink enough for the opportunity. The gift he gave me is just incredible, so I had to share it with you.