Reigning Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion Gordon Shedden will be aiming to keep off the grass when he heads to Silverstone for the final round of this year’s series on 13 October. But he took time out from his preparations to have a bit of fun, lining up on the grid with three-time champ and team-mate Matt Neal on a special mower created by their Team Dynamics squad.
The Mean Mower is a bit different to Gordon and Matt’s Honda Yuasa Racing Civics. It’s based on a Honda HF2620 lawn tractor, but the regular 20bhp 614cc V-twin engine has made way for a 1,000cc V-Twin from a Honda Firestorm motorbike. This delivers 110bhp, and gives a power-to-weight ratio of 520bhp per tonne – enabling the mower to do 0-60mph in under four seconds and hit 130mph.
To cope with this huge pace, the regular mower chassis has been replaced with a chromoly spaceframe. Suspension and wheels from an ATV help boost the handling, plus there’s a body-hugging racing seat and Alcantara steering wheel with buttons for the sequential gearbox. This drives the rear wheels via a chain to a rear axle sourced from a go-kart. Yet this amazing machine can still cut grass.
The steel cutting bed is replaced by a lighter fibreglass version, and isn’t connected to the petrol engine. Instead, two electric motors spin a 3mm wire cable at 4,000rpm – proper blades could be a bit dangerous at 100mph. The Mean Mower is similar in concept to a Yuasa Racing Civic, which is taken off the production line in Swindon, Wilts, and heavily modified. While the chassis and body are retained, the interior is stripped out and a roll cage fitted. New front and rear sub-frames are installed, as are racing-spec suspension and brakes. And while the 2.0-litre engine uses the same block as the old Civic Type R, a turbocharger is added and most of the internals are changed. Total output is around 330bhp, which allows the Yuasa Civic to do up to 160mph.
But how would the BTCC racer compare with the Mean Mower on a lap of Rockingham’s National Circuit in Northants? The track is 1.7 miles long, has a range of corners and plenty of grass that could do with a trim… “The only way the mower could win round here is to literally cut corners,” said Matt. “But if it doesn’t, it has no chance. In fact, I reckon I could give it a 40-second head start and still cross the finish line first.”
Was Neal right to be so confident? The way the mower stumbled off the starting line suggested so. Its tall first gear makes for lazy getaways – be too aggressive and the engine will stall. But once moving, the Mean Mower soon gets into its stride. In a straight line, it’s quite impressive – but the narrow track makes it tricky through corners.
Still, after 40 seconds, the mower had completed over a third of a lap – leaving the car with plenty of catching up to do. In fact, the Civic didn’t have the mower in its sights until it rounded the penultimate corner. This was going to be close. As the BTCC racer entered the final hairpin, the Mean Mower was exiting it and heading down the home straight – just a few hundred metres from victory.
But the distance to the finish line proved just enough for the Civic to close the gap. In the end it pipped the mower at the post, by the narrowest of margins. We checked the stopwatch: the BTCC car had taken one minute 18.2 seconds to do a standing-start lap. The mower completed it in one minute 59 seconds – a difference of 40.8 seconds. We know who won the moral victory, though, as the Civic can’t trim your grass! Little wonder that these Honda stars are keen to be handed the Mean Mower to cut some blades of glory in their gardens during the close season.