A test of the best

A test of the best

We knew Truck Test 2012 was a big deal in South Africa – turns out it’s regarded as quite a big deal globally! Among those to get involved were delegates from Scania head office in Sweden and a certain Mercedes-Benz vice president. GAVIN MYERS details the down run to Durban

It’s been nine months since FOCUS and Hellberg Transport Management (HTM) – along with sponsors Ctrack, Dunlop, Engen, ER24 and the N3 Toll Concession – began planning the biggest trucking event yet seen in South Africa. On Saturday, May 19, the day finally arrived.

It was an early start for the FOCUS team and our extraordinary support crew – Karen Smith and Lindsay Basset from Engen, Fritz Hellberg of HTM and Adrian van Tonder from Barloworld Logistics. We had been at the Anderson’s Transport depot in Alrode from as early as 03:00.

It wasn’t long before drivers and support crews started arriving too. Soon, mutterings of “How well do you think they’ll do?” could be heard in the darkness, as everyone began walking among the trucks.

A test of the bestNot even a full 24 hours prior, the 18 gleaming vehicles were lined up in the Anderson’s yard getting decked out in sponsor decals and having their tanks topped up for the day ahead. Meanwhile, the drivers and co-drivers were being briefed by Hellberg and Van Tonder in the boardroom. The rules of the game were spelt out. The driver contingent included some of the top driver trainers in the country. Each entrant had to provide a co-driver as well, who would ride along in another entrant’s vehicle, making sure everyone played by the rules when on the road. Despite the reiteration that this was a test to compare apples with apples – and not a competition – excitement, nerves and an acute competitive spirit were clearly setting in, now more than ever before.

Everyone was plainly taking Truck Test 2012 very seriously.

As the autumn sun began its leisurely rise over the smoggy Joburg industrial area, the air quickly began to fill with the chatter of diesel engines as the rigs lined up to leave. At 06:00 sharp, the first and most powerful truck, Scania’s R620, was given the go-ahead by Hellberg. One by one, at two-minute intervals, the trucks were unleashed – heading towards the N3 to Durban, from where they would join the N2 and travel north along the coast, before swopping over to the M4 coastal highway to the finish point of the down run – Engen Ballito.

With the N3 from Johannesburg to Durban being among the country’s busiest trucking routes, it was a journey most – but not all – drivers and co-drivers had encountered before. Mercedes-Benz and Scania had some special guests in tow. The Scania co-drivers were delegates from Scania head office in Sweden, while the driving of the Mercedes-Benz Actros was shared by Naveen Sook, FleetBoard South Africa technical specialist, and none other than Mercedes-Benz South Africa vice president for commercial vehicles, Kobus van Zyl.

For most competitors, the run was smooth from start to finish. As the road safety partner of Truck Test 2012, the teams at the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) Heidelberg, Wilge, Tugela and Mooi River toll plazas each welcomed the trucks with a smile and a hand up for road safety, ushering them on their way with the bare minimum of fuss and delay.

A test of the bestThe first stop of the day was Highway Junction in Harrismith. It was compulsory for each vehicle to stop here for half an hour so the occupants could indulge in a hearty, complimentary breakfast and cup of coffee. From around 10:00, the participants began to roll in thick and fast. Unfortunately for the International team, the Transtar had suffered a blown intercooler pipe about 33 km north of Warden. The International technicians from the company’s Harrismith branch (also located at Highway Junction) attended to the stricken vehicle and, within about two hours of being stopped, the vehicle was able to rejoin the action. The breakdown understandably put the truck very far behind the rest … but it was still on the road!

The TATA Novus and Prima both experienced an unexpected delay, although of an administrative rather than technical nature (something to do with forgetting about toll-fee money), which put them about an hour behind the pack. From Harrismith onwards, however, all went well for everyone.

The second stop of the day was at Tugela Engen, where each participant received a complimentary Red Bull to keep them flying. At each stop from this point on, the drivers were required to stop and switch off their trucks for a minimum of one minute to allow the Ctrack systems fitted to the vehicles to record the checkpoint. The only exceptions were the UDs and DHL teardrop that, due to technicalities, could not have fuel flow meters fitted. They therefore needed to top up at each stop in order to work out the actual amount of fuel used on each leg of the run.

Coming up to an overcast and sometimes foggy Pietermaritzburg after what seemed like an age, the FOCUS team received an enthusiastic call from a couple of readers who had been following the build-up to the test and were excited to see the trucks in action. We were greeted by the friendly faces of the 19-year old twin brothers at the next stop, Engen Cato Ridge, where they were treated to an assortment of heavy machinery they could only have dreamt of. With their passion for trucks, the two are currently interning at Mondi and Barloworld.

Cato Ridge allowed one last reprieve for the drivers ahead of their destination. The FOCUS team rolled into Engen Ballito at 16:00 and was shortly thereafter met by the first truck to have left Joburg over 10 hours earlier, the Scania R620. Pretty soon, a queue of 6×4 truck tractors towing an assortment of trailers began to form up the road and around the corner as each truck awaited its turn to be filled up and sent on its way to Dube Trade Port at King Shaka International Airport – the vehicles’ home for the next two days. This was counted as the start of the return leg as the vehicles would otherwise have needed to return to Engen Ballito on the Tuesday morning in order to begin their journey back to the starting point in Johannesburg.

A test of the bestWithin two-and-a-half hours, long after the autumn sun had set on an otherwise sleepy Ballito, the final truck – the Transtar – rumbled up to the pumps to replenish its chromed tanks. And by 19:30, all the vehicles were again together, parked in anticipation of their forthcoming 15 minutes of fame …

“What an awesome day,” we mused over a celebratory drink – bodies tired and minds still in overdrive, but smiles abounding. What a long day too! Remembering that our day had begun at 03:00, and with the promise of more excitement to follow, the true celebrations would have to wait.

In the driver’s seat
While the data from Truck Test 2012 is establishing what the standards for the industry are, the drivers of these trucks have their own stories to tell.

Volvo driving instructor Johannes Thabana, who was behind the wheel of the Volvo FH 440 that was pulling a super link flat deck with dual tyres, said he was happy to be taking part in the test. “We have a very good product and I think that we are going to do very well.”

This was the overall perception of the truckers the test over, but they weren’t in the game of presenting their product as the best inventions since the wheel.

Dave Loakes – general manager of product development at NC2, manufacturer and marketer of International Trucks in South Africa, and co-driver of the Volvo 440 – said it will be interesting to see the results of the test. He pointed out that the event wasn’t about seeing which truck got the lowest fuel consumption or completed the route in the shortest time. “The trucks that are going to get the shortest times are the trucks that have the highest horsepower.”

A test of the bestLoakes said a lot of trucks operating on South African roads are not controlled. “A lot of trucks driving at illegal speeds aren’t paying attention to their tyres, especially to tyre pressures. I’m pretty sure everyone who had a truck in this test made sure they had good tyres and that they were correctly inflated, like all trucks and tyres would be in an ideal world.”

He added that the test would provide a good indication of what an ideal industry could achieve. “It will show how a truck travelling from a Johannesburg area to a Durban area should perform.”

Kobus Botha, the NC2 sales executive who was steering an International 9800i  pulling a super link tautliner with dual tyres, said the organisers went out of their way to arrange everything, which made the event a success. He said the results of the test would be interesting – especially given the different configurations of the trailers and the different manufacturers that took part. “It is also very interesting to see everyone’s attitudes towards the test,” he added. “Regarding the drive, I’m enjoying the scenery so far. I don’t get to this neck of the woods often, so I’m glad we’re driving in the day.”

Truck Test 2012 was a benchmarking tool for the industry, and with the final results being published in the July issue of FOCUS, we’re all waiting to see what’s what.

-Jaco De Klerk

Inside the cab
It was 06:00, freezing cold and still completely dark in Johannesburg, but the participants were excited and eager to get going.

The first vehicle I got to ride in was the Mercedes-Benz Actros, big and black and shiny. Boy, was I in for a treat. Behind the wheel was Kobus van Zyl, vice president for commercial vehicles at Mercedes-Benz South Africa. Van Zyl was super-chuffed to be driving the 580 horsepower Actros and jokingly asked his observer, Pär Landén, Scania area manager trucks franchise and factory sales north east Asia, if any Scania vice presidents were perhaps also driving in the test. The banter continued all the way to our next stop.

A test of the bestIn Harrismith, I climbed aboard the big Scania R620 piloted by Dirk Koekemoer, driver training team leader at Scania. Koekemoer was keen to show his observer, Gert Agenbag, Hino conversion manager, all the bells and whistles in the Scania. The vehicle’s ergonomics seem to be his favourite thing, and with all the explanations he provided, one can only agree that this is technical design that makes sense. The driver is able to reach all the instruments without stretching or reaching – a strong point since, as Koekemoer put it: “Jy moet op die pad focus.” (You have to focus on the road).

Lastly,  I travelled in the Mercedes-Benz 2644 towing the yellow DHL teardrop trailer. It attracted a lot of attention, with people in passing cars making the “blow your horn” gesture, which DHL driver Protas Mfene was happy to do. The observer in this vehicle, Phillip Phasha, Volvo training and demo fleet manager, commented on advancements made to the onboard computers in heavy vehicles. He and Mfene reminisced about manual gearboxes and unpleasant hills.

Discussions in the cabs ranged from politics and boerewors rolls to who had the most horsepower, engine brakes versus foundation brakes, girls in bikinis and the success of Truck Test 2012.

-Danielle du Toit

Kings and queen of the road
While Truck Test 2012 is giving the transport industry an ample amount of information to benchmark different 6x4s in a controlled environment, FOCUS thought it would be a great idea to send two journalists along for the ride – and it definitely was.

As the biggest event South Africa’s transport industry has ever seen, Truck Test 2012 is providing the industry with invaluable information on a huge range of related matters. But it’s not all about numbers and statistics.

Excitement had been building up in the months leading up to the test, and on Saturday, May 19, it burst into pure pleasure. Riding along in the Truck Test rigs is something I won’t forget.

People outside the industry seldom give trucks a second thought, except for getting annoyed at these majestic machines for delaying their trip should they get stuck behind one. I’ve been writing about trucks for some time and have built up my industry knowledge through this. However, the focus has always been more on specific products, vehicle performance and the like – and I must, ashamedly, admit that I rarely thought about the people behind the wheels of these vehicles.

A test of the bestHowever, being a part of this history-making event has opened my eyes and my heart to the human beings who are driving not only these vehicles but, if you think of it, the country’s economy. I got to see first-hand how these guys work their magic; manoeuvring tonnes of steel as if they were one of their limbs – and it really does seem like magic. Showing just how focused they are on their jobs, the overall answer I received when asking the various drivers how they felt about the test was that they’re really excited to see the results their trucks achieve. What gents.

-Jaco de Klerk

As a journalist, I started the day notepad in hand, ready to jot down technical figures – in the end I didn’t take down one note.

For me, the whole experience became about the people I met along the way and the things I learned. The camaraderie between the different entrants and their absolute willingness to answer all my questions was a highlight. In one day, jumping between the trucks, I learned more than I could have imagined. The drivers and co-drivers were never once anything but honest. I got answers to some risqué questions. I learned in detail the difference between a diesel and petrol engine, how a retarder works, why big trucks don’t have turbo protectors, and I even managed to educate some of the drivers on trailer manufacture.

I spent the day grinning like the Cheshire cat. I met a set of twins who follow the FOCUS website religiously and had come down to Cato Ridge to watch the Truck Test. Big fans of MAN, these twins, Dehan and Stefan van Veenendaal, know as much about MAN trucks as actual MAN employees. There is no doubt that both of these young gentlemen will be prominent in the commercial vehicle industry in the future.

One of my only fears going in to Truck Test 2012 was the dreaded Van Reenen’s pass. For this leg of the journey I was to be in a Scania. Two hours in, I asked my driver, Dirk Koekemoer, when we would be driving down the pass. He said we had already passed it – proving that safe drivers do exist.

This experience has taught me a thousand things, maybe even more. And every smile, every laugh, every titbit of information will forever be stored in my heart. VIVA TRUCK TEST 2012.

-Danielle du Toit

Truck Test 2012 sponsors

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