Whether on racing tracks or over sand dunes in deserts around the world, racing trucks compete use their dazzling speed and surprising handling, courtesy of more than a thousand hp able to propel these beasts at 160 km/h. Beppe Simonato, who works as an engineer and driver at IVECO, a company that takes part in both championships, tells us about them.
Trucks can go fast, very fast. No, we are not talking about crazy or hit-and-run drivers, but rather about truck race championship and desert rally-raids. Whether on racing tracks or over sand dunes in large deserts, these vehicles, former road and quarry trucks - along with their tires - compete in impossible conditions. Beppe Simonato, Iveco motorsport expert, tells us about it (in addition to dealing with the company's motorsport activities, he has a long experience as a raid and rally driver; he also took part in the Africa eco race 2018 driving an Iveco Eurocargo).
Trucks go head to head
In the Fia European truck racing championship spectacular overtaking and neck-and-neck final sprints are the order of the day. These trucks, which weigh about 5,500 kg, are modified versions of the road tractors that we normally see hooked to a semi-trailer and use standard components. "The engines - explains Simonato - after tuning is complete can produce more than twice the original power: our Cursor 13, for example, which in its most powerful commercial version delivers 570 hp, has an output of almost 1200 hp. The very high torque values might suggest an automatic transmission; in reality we have a standard manual ZF. There are a few problems with torque transmission, therefore, every race has a running start. Contrary to what happens in Formula 1, the racing weekend is divided into four heats. Specifically designed powerful brakes are entrusted with stopping vehicles originally designed for a top speed of 100-120 km/h. These conditions also put a strain on the mechanical parts, hence continuous overhauls and maintenance are needed if engines are to last for several races.
Slick tires, and standard casings
These trucks use a single tire. "The conditions in which these trucks compete may seem not too different from what those of everyday life - continues Simonato -. Goodyear has been the sole tire supplier for quite some time, and compounds and tread patterns do not change with the weather conditions". The tire size used is 315/70 R22.5 and the casing is a standard item. The tread has a special compound and a design that stems from regional transport tires, although in this case the tires are almost slick with lateral grooves to disperse water. Each set of tires (two at the front and four at the rear) lasts one race; there are no pit stops during the race but often, due to team strategies, a new set is mounted between heats. Depending on the season, the climate can be decidedly cold like in Zolder or Most, quite hot, like at the Hungaroring or Bratislava, or unpredictable like in Misano Adriatico. The 2019 championship will start as always in May in Italy, after a three-day official test in the Czech Republic with all the teams involved. Hungary, Slovakia, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, France and Spain will follow. Iveco, winner of the 2018 championship, after clinching the title at the last race, will participate with two Stralis XP-R managed by the official team Die Bullen von Iveco Magirus and the two drivers Jochen Hahn and Steffi Halm; at Nürburgring there will be two more Stralis, driven by veteran Gerd Körber and Lucas Hahn, Jochen’s son (third generation of truck drivers in the homonymous team). Two private teams will take to the track alongside the two official Iveco: Reinert Adventure (with René Reinert) and André Kursim (Don't Touch Racing).
Once upon a time… the “Dakar”
Back in the eighties, the Paris-Dakar rally-raid spearheaded the participation of trucks in rally-raid championships. Initially as road-side assistance vehicles, growing to become real “sand-eating” monsters within a few years. The original Dakar no longer exists, the only one that resembles it, with the starting line in Europe and the finish line on the legendary beach of Lake Rosa in Dakar, is now called Africa eco race, while today's Dakar has been held in recent years in South America, and starting from 2020 will take place in the United Arab Emirates for five years, crossing into Egypt and Jordan. These two, along with the Silky Way Rally, which runs along the tracks of eastern Russia, Mongolia and China, are the main races; other appointments such as the Maroc Challenge and the Oilybia Rally du Maroc are used more for car development tests. The trucks are modified 4x4 quarry trucks. The Torpedoes used by the Petronas De Rooy Iveco team, says Simonato, "are heavily modified Iveco Trakkers, but in this case, thanks to the suggestions of the multiple world championship winner Gerard De Rooy, the driver's seat has been moved backwards and the engine moved just behind the cabin to better balance the weights. The front end is that of the PowerStar, a long-nose truck that Iveco markets in Australia; the rearward driving position and the front axle under the driver’s feet ensures better weight distribution compared to a flat nose model, guaranteeing superior driving precision and better handling, the down side being poor visibility when climbing the dunes. The Cursor 13 engines, the same as the ones used on race tracks, have to withstand long stages and complete a gruelling 6/7 thousand kilometres race; therefore the power has been "limited" to a thousand hp. The presence of sand suggests the use of an automatic gearbox, in this case an Allison 4000 series. The suspensions, as one would expect, are specially made as "flying" over a dune with enthusiasm (and a lot of courage) is not exactly what any of us would expect from a standard transport vehicle.
Grey and green but still standard
In rally-raids there is no sole tire supplier; the tires used here are mass-produced products for special applications. Teams are supplied by all sorts of premium brands, such as Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli. On Iveco, for a couple of seasons, the Goodyear ORD size 375/90 R22.5 have replaced the Michelin 14.00R20 previously used (XZL for the hardest terrain and XS for sand). “These are tires for defence vehicles," explains Simonato, "which are smoother thanks to their larger circumference compared to 14" tires, a wider footprint on the ground and better lateral resistance. Among the greatest problems to deal with, besides rocky terrain and soft sands, is the terrible fesh-fesh, a very fine sand that hides danger for the sidewall of the tires. Pressure control systems are also crucial. "Today - concludes Simonato - we use only one type of tire for both hard and soft ground: to improve the performance, the mechanic, from his on-board console, regulates the pressure according to the driver’s instructions. In the past, this operation meant getting off the truck with a lot of time wasting and fatigue". The 2019 season started with the Dakar, which saw the Italian team clinch third place with De Rooy behind two Russian Kamaz, but all four Ivecos started and finished the race, something that none of the other teams fielding more than one vehicle accomplished.