Pardon the dust

Pardon the dust

When it comes to trucking, there’s a small chance of the conversation going past durability, economy, delivery deadlines, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and unforgiving motorists. However, says FARZANA CHAUMOO, there’s also an exciting side to the world of trucking: truck racing.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) European Truck Racing Championship involves modified versions of heavy tractor units on racing circuits. It has been listed regularly on the motorsport calendar since the 1980s, and crowds from across the globe come to watch these mammoths battle it out. In recent years, it has seen a massive increase in viewership and followers.

The sport first started in June 1979 in the United States (US) at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As a certified sport, it began as the American Truck Racing Association (ATRA) until bought by N. Linn Henndershott in 1982. It was then changed to the Great American Truck Racing (GATR).

The races were mostly run on dirt and paved ovals in the Eastern United States. The trucks used in the beginning were essentially working trucks with tandem rear axles and used street tyres, but were still able to reach speeds of 241 km/h.

Glenn Donnelly, of Drivers Independent Race Tracks (DIRT), then bought the organisation in 1986. GATR trucks were then modified with the bodies being cut and lowered, losing the tag axle and shedding weight of more than 907 kg. The last certified GATR race in the US took place in July 1993.

Pardon the dustThe FIA later took control of the sporting regulations to ensure that the trucks conform to the layout and original style of the truck, while defining the safety standards required to race. Currently about 25 teams compete using series production two-axle road tractor units.

The general shape of the vehicle must correspond to the shape of a road-going tractor unit that is approved for the transportation of merchandise with a minimum gross vehicle weight of 18 t. Modifications are forbidden as the components of the truck must preserve their original function.

The height of the truck (at the highest point of the cab) must not be less than 2 500 mm measured vertically over a width of 1 800 mm, while the minimum ground clearance is 200 mm. The minimum allowed weight is 5 500 kg, of which 3 300 kg is measured at the front wheels. All chassis components and reinforcements must be made of ferrous materials.

The engine and all ancillaries must be exactly to manufacturer’s standard specification, while automatic gearboxes of any type are not allowed; only a direct manual lever-actuated type (normally fitted to heavy trucks), is permissible, and it must have a working reverse gear. Electronic traction control and limited-slip differentials are also forbidden. Races begin with a rolling start and consist of eight to 12 laps with race speed restricted to 160 km/h.

The entry list for this season’s opening race featured 21 starters at the Misano World Circuit on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The MKR Renaults, from the garages of Mario Kress, are an unknown quantity this season.

Englishman Chris Levett will not be racing, leaving it to Europart Racing pilot José Rodrigues and his fellow Portuguese countryman José Teodosio to battle the seemingly all-powerful MANs.

The two Tankpool 24 Mercedes-Benz drivers; André Kursim, from Germany, and French driver Dominique Orsini, demonstrated their skills for the first time in Misano.

Czechs David Vršecký and Adam Lacko, of the Buggyra Freightliners team, have advanced after comprehensive tests in Most. The team is not revealing how strong it believes it is, but it should hold up with the MAN trio comprising Jochen Hahn, Spanish driver Antonio Abacete and Swedish driver Markus Bösiger; last season’s German winners. Last season demonstrated the challenge that this team presented to the frontrunners.

Twenty-one vehicles have entered into this season. Their remarkably standard specification and absence of devices such as electronic traction control and limited-slip differentials makes for some really exciting, competitive motorsport.Holding a strong presence, with 12 trucks carrying the lion emblem of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg, MAN is expected to perform well this year, along with three trucks from Renault, two from Freightliner, two from Mercedes-Benz, and a lone Scania driven by Erwin Kleinnagelvoort from the Netherlands.

The European Truck Racing Championship boasts a calendar to fit its status, running from May to October. It includes trips to the Navara circuit in Spain, the Nogaro circuit in France, the Red Bull Ring circuit in Austria, the illustrious Nürburgring circuit in Germany, the Most circuit in the Czech Republic, the Zolder circuit in Belgium and the Jarama circuit in Spain. The last stop is at the prominent Le Mans circuit in France.

Although truck racing is a non-contact sport, due to the physical size and proximity of the trucks to one another, great excitement is only natural when watching this big, heavy machinery, fishtailing, shedding rubber and braking at the absolute limit of grip. This sport can get really competitive, considering the level of sophistication truck racing lacks in terms of aerodynamics and mechanical grip.

*Farzana Chaumoo is the 2014 South African Guild of Motoring Journalists’ bursar programme recipient. She recently spent a month with FOCUS where she was exposed to the world of transport journalism.

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