Truck Test 2013 proved yet again that those behind the industry’s vehicles are not without their sense of humour, camaraderie and competitiveness. GAVIN MYERS and JACO DE KLERK bring you the action.
Fourteen trucks, 28 drivers and co-drivers, two film and photography crews, six months of preparation and three days of over 550 km of testing – and as quickly as it came around, it was all over.
Based this year at the Gerotek Testing Facility outside Pretoria, the three-day event (held from April 15 to 17) was divided into two parts: a challenging course around the facility’s Concrete Ride and Handling Track and two straightforward runs to Swartruggens (the town after Rustenburg on the N4) and back.
Day one began with everyone meeting at the Umfula One-Stop on the R512 near Hartbeespoort Dam (better known during the test as Engen Hartbeespoort), with the first participants arriving just after 07:00. Refuelling was easily dealt with, thanks to the station’s dedicated truck pumps, as one by one the vehicles had their tanks brimmed and mobile Ctrack units fitted.
With vehicles lined up and drivers, co-drivers and support crews eagerly awaiting the start, event coordinator Fritz Hellberg, from Hellberg Transport Management (HTM), gathered everyone round for a quick prep talk.
As with Truck Test 2012, each entrant had to supply a co-driver who would ride along in another entrant’s vehicle, recording trip times and ensuring that the drivers kept to the rules of the test and, importantly, the road.
Less than an hour later, the vehicles were parked at the back of Gerotek’s Sidibane hospitality area with Hellberg giving the final overview of rules and regulations over some morning tea, coffee and muffins sponsored by BPW Axles. Following this was a quick stop at Gerotek’s weighbridge for Hellberg and his team to verify the loads.
Then it was off to the track for the real fun – which began before the trucks even hit the start line. Everyone was bundled on to the back of a Gerotek “lorry” and driven around the course to get a feel for the steep ascents and descents, many corners and preset stops. MAN driver Blackie Swarts had everyone in stitches at the end of the roller-coaster ride when he loudly asked: “So, who brought the toilet paper?”
But, from inside the cab there was no such need. The vehicles were sent round in groups of four and five at two-minute intervals – the drivers attacking the course with all the excitement and confidence of special-stage rally drivers. That was perhaps most apt for the Isuzu team, who had taken the test so seriously they even hired the Gerotek track for a day to learn the course; and so better their consistency and average speed. Swarts, too, attacked the track with similar intensity; to the point where FOCUS editor Charleen Clarke proclaimed him “mad-man of the day”.
Their vigour did catch up to them all a little, however, when they found themselves stuck behind slower-moving vehicles. This necessitated that these drivers switch off their vehicles at certain stops to create a gap between them and the slower traffic, and so that the Ctrack units could note the delay. Nonetheless, a look at the results shows just how advantageous knowing the roads you’re driving on can be.
While their fellow entrants were out on the track, some took the opportunity to scrutinise the “competition” with “boerie” roll in hand – again sponsored by BPW Axles. (Although it was made very clear that this is not run as a contest, but rather a test of what vehicles are available in the segment and how they perform under real-world conditions).
Before anyone knew it, day one had come to an end. The vehicles made the trip back to Engen Hartebeespoort, their resting place for the night, from where they would refuel the next day for the lonely drive to Swartruggens.
– Gavin Myers
Swartruggens; where the hell is Swartruggens?” This censored version of the thought, in retrospect, is somewhat embarrassing as this small farming “village” is a mere 62,1 km from Rustenburg (my hometown) along the N4.
You might wonder: “Why Swartruggens? If a ‘local’ doesn’t even know where it is?” Well, the aim of this 243,5 km trip, from Engen Hartbeespoort to Engen Swartruggens and back, was to simulate the intercity trips that trucks in the eight-tonne segment make so frequently.
Another thing that left me even more embarrassed is that Clarke and I (two blondes) lost the 14 participating trucks on their first trip to Swartruggens. Our quest: to snap these Truck Test 2013 eight tonners during the second day’s excursion … .
Okay, I’m taking a bit of poetic licence here as we didn’t lose them, as such … We just momentarily misplaced them as they were cruising along, at a law-abiding 80 km/h. (The vehicles were permitted to go up to 85 km/h, with a one minute penalty being added to their drive time every time a truck went over this limit.)
We were delayed as some links needed to be filmed for Ignition TV, with Truck Test once again being broadcast on DSTV’s Ignition on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 June.
But after grabbing a quick coffee and muffin (Engen generously sponsored everyone’s breakfast) and some hasty driving, we caught up with the last truck just after Rustenburg and the first one a few kilometres outside Swartruggens on its return trip. So we quickly grabbed lunch (also sponsored by Engen as it gave R60 vouchers to all involved) and dashed off to snap the participants in action.
Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones that experienced a delay during the day, as some of the trucks were pulled over at a weighbridge 30 km from Engen Hartbeespoort, with the delays lasting up to an hour (this even after we had informed the officials about the test, assuring them that all the vehicles would be completely legal).
Other real life challenges included road works along the route and some participants getting stuck behind an abnormal-load vehicle. However, the HTM team has taken all the variables into consideration and adjusted the results where necessary to give a realistic representation of the vehicles’ performance.
Day three kicked off at Gerotek once more as the participating trucks had to be weighed to determine their gross vehicle mass. They were empty after off-loading at their home premises the night before. This was to simulate the empty return trips that these vehicles so often undertake. Here Engen once again sponsored tea, coffee, muffins and rusks for all involved.
From Gerotek all went to the Engen Hartbeespoort base for the trucks to be refuelled before their second odyssey to Swartruggens. The day’s lunch was sponsored by HTM TransSolve, with all receiving a generous “goody bag” before departing. This leg of the test didn’t hold any surprises as the trucks were allowed to skip the weighbridge (as Hellberg had been through to notify the officials that all were unladen) and the abnormal loads weren’t anywhere to be seen.
Bakwena N1N4 Toll, however, had a Wellness Day and staff were pulling trucks over and offering wellness advice and undertaking various health tests. Luckily this didn’t affect participants and the test too adversely, as our trucks got back en route rather quickly. Bakwena also kindly sponsored the toll fees for the two days.
Day three went smoothly and we photographed all the trucks as Myers joined the snapping parade. The last day really opened our eyes to the importance of the eight tonne segment. We often mistakenly charged off from the side of the road, where we waited to catch the vehicles in motion, as this vehicle segment dominated the routes. But at the end of the day we had all “on film”.
This second instalment of Truck Test ended with a braai at Gerotek, with everyone eager to see how their vehicles fared. And with everything tallied, added and compiled, we bring you the results starting on page 17.
The entire FOCUS team would like to thank all the participants – FAW, Foton, Hino, Isuzu, Iveco, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, UD and Volkswagen Trucks and Buses – as well as the sponsors and partners – Aero Truck, Bakwena, Ctrack, Dunlop, Engen and HTM. This event wouldn’t have been possible without all involved.
All that’s left to be said is get ready for Truck Test 2014 as planning has already started. And with the successes of last two instalments, it is sure to be another one to remember.
– Jaco de Klerk