A Baby Truck (only) in the footsteps of DAKAR

(To Gianluca Celentano)
24/02/21

After a good 7.780 km traveled in two weeks in Saudi Arabia, the DAKAR 15 ended on January 2021th and, for "exploration" purposes, a small 4x4 truck also crossed the finish line. You will remember that right on our pages, we launched the provocative idea of ​​involving the VTLM-2 LINCE (v.articolo) to free him from the prejudices acquired in the first series. But the carrier was not the San Lince, which would have had the credentials for the company, but a multipurpose platform produced by an Abruzzese outfitting company that decided in a relatively short time to participate with one of its trucks called Graelion.

At the starting grid the vehicle presented itself with unusual shapes, together with its drivers, both with an important racing curriculum. Claudio Berro, former Ferrari team manager, has a career as a rally navigator under the Maserati, Lotus, Peugeot and Abarth brands, and Giuseppe Francesco Simonato, a driver who perhaps needs no introduction if you have followed the curmudgeon expeditions orange of Overland. In fact, it is thanks to his organization and knowledge of Iveco vehicles in heavy racing that the successful television series created by Beppe Tenti took off in the news.

We met Giuseppe Simonato for an interview, for friends Beppe, but with an unmistakable nickname in the adventure, "Simon".

4X4 Graelion

It is the name of this truck ("Baby Truck" for the French) which is placed in the same range as the Iveco Daily 4x4, adopting the same unstoppable engine and gearbox. Its structure clearly with a load-bearing frame and rigid bridges, has front hubs to raise it even more from the ground, was designed as in the larger Daily, to withstand the stress of extreme use such as the Dakar, considered by many to be the most dangerous in the world.

Experiences beyond the limit for vehicles and crew

In his adventurous book "Africa from my truck" Beppe Simonato talking about the vehicle used in the African expedition in Overland 12 he doesn't mince words and says: "The truck is your brother!". A concept that as a driver I can only fully share, especially when you are alone with your vehicle, in dramatic conditions both in terms of physical survival and for the continuous geographical, political and weather dangers.

The first edition of Overland, Rome - New York, was together with the 12a the most full of adventures to the limit. Siberia was crossed by the Iveco 330.30 ANW 6x6 (the curmudgeons) strong and essential vehicles powered by Deutz, which had to remain on day and night for several weeks given the temperatures at -54 °. Then, when we arrived at the Arctic pack which did not offer such solidity to be crossed by road to reach neighboring Alaska from the Bering Strait, the curmudgeons were dismantled in a Soviet base. Yes, you got it right, they were reduced in shape to be able to enter a cargo plane and reach American land. The ingenious idea allowed the subsequent arrival in New York on 25 April '96, marking the baptism of Overland and its media success.

Does coffee save your life?

Being stranded thirty-three days in the African traps on the border between Kenya and Uganda sipping water and food as happened in Simon, is just one of the dramatic adventures that have happened to the crews of Overland.

La 12a edition in Africa is certainly the most memorable. Precisely in the African continent difficult moments have crossed where the technique of the conductors and the preventive calculations before the passages have put man and means to a severe test. A succession of variants and unknowns as the journey progressed, which also included high-speed crossings on the sand in areas invaded by armed guerrillas ready to fire. But also to pleasant experiences, such as the zebras observed from the window running at 60 km / h alongside the orange trucks.

Then, in the Ivory Coast, guerrillas block the expedition and aim for the head of the team manager Beppe Tenti an AK 47. Diplomacy and Piedmontese calmness, however, take over. In fact, with a subtle intuition, he offers the soldiers all the packages of coffee kept in the kitchen shelter - as well as a large sum of money - and exchanges the freedom of the crew with them. By a miracle, as you can imagine, the weapons are lowered and the journey resumes in a great way.

We asked Giuseppe Simonato a few questions

In the light of your experience, has Iveco Racing let your expertise slip away or is it a loan to competitors?

The streets of Tekne and my staff met by chance and it was easy to combine similar feelings of passion, technology, challenge and competence. After the large Iveco projects, such as Overland and the various trucks built for the Dakar Africa Race and Rally dei Paraoni rallies, I can still measure myself with this new extreme challenge that will be able to propose an innovative small truck with a high technological level in the hyper competitive field of truck category at the Dakar.

What did Iveco teach you with Overland from the technological aspect of the vehicles?

The Iveco trucks set up over many years of Overland expeditions have basically taught me the goodness of the basic product and therefore of the Iveco technology combined with appropriate technical preparation adjustments to increase their potential and make them become real unstoppable vehicles in the face of unlikely accepted challenges. and win on the hardest courses in the world.

The project of the great Beppe Tenti, Overland, sponsored by Unicef ​​in 97, has it transmitted human growth?

Overland was a school of life even before that of vehicular technique and true adventure. The good and the bad exist everywhere but it is up to us to know how to interface better when traveling around the world we are always and in any case guests. In someone else's home, respect first of all counts. That respect for men and nature that we at Overland Iveco has never lacked.

We arrive at the DAKAR 2021 truck class: The 7.780 km covered in 15 days are for exploration purposes and not for competition, what does it mean?

The conditions in which we have built this participation in the Dakar 2021 are extreme both in terms of timing and implementation. Deciding to participate in a few weeks before the start of the race in such a complex period as this troubled by the pandemic did not leave much hope of a good result. But we did it anyway and completely alone in the race. Without assistance and without any help. Only the time trial was missing from our participation but what we did overcoming difficult and unknown routes as in this edition simply says that the crew / truck combination worked as best it could not.

The engine is the well known 173 hp, FPT Industrial, 3.0L Turbo Diesel FC1?

Yes, I confirm. Fpt has made available a very reliable and high-performance production unit that, especially for me, as a driver, has always given the confidence to overcome any difficulty. The Graelion performed well even in the most complex moments such as the particularly fine sand that trapped the wheels of our truck. I have known Iveco Daily 4x4 and this engine unit for years and I confirm that it is always an excellent guarantee.

As a structure, the vehicle used in the Dakar, which series is closest to given the very few changes?

The Graelion had general specs practically standard with some experimental groups that endured the stresses of the race and despite obvious limitations have given results that will allow to work in the future on adjustments and improvements for use in the race. However, he proved to be an excellent travel companion in the Saudi Arabian desert. Results not taken for granted in this truck category, as the vehicle was renamed by the French SSC (SS des camions) That is the "baby" of trucks.

Permanent all-wheel drive with automatic (or fixed manual) distribution and two rigid axles?

Permanent all-wheel drive with gradual distribution on rigid portal bridges. An excellent configuration which, supported by the locking of the various differentials, makes the Graelion's traction very high on all surfaces. I would add a very positive note on the tires supplied, Continental 335 / 80R20, which proved to be really performing at every pressure state (up to 1 atm on soft sand).

Perhaps an open and guessed method as well as in synergy with the test tracks (a bit like in F1) to change the page on indoor tests reserved for specials?

Yes, of course, but the conventional tests that this project will need so much must still be taken into account in order to get to the start of the first race with the finished vehicle in the best conditions of reliability and competitiveness.

Well developed power (only 173hp) or did you prefer a range of at least 200hp given the 3,5 ton tare weight?

The power on this occasion was not essential and the calibration of the Fpt F1C engine of 170 or 200 hp made no difference. Surely it will be necessary to double (400 hp) the power for the future racing truck to be able to reach the equation 10/8: 1 (10/8 kg truck weight: 1 Cv engine power) that distinguishes the most powerful trucks as a ratio. fighting for the victory of categories such as Kamaz Iveco and Maz.

469mm of ground clearance, how is fast driving on asphalt, stable?

Absolutely, thanks to the tires on the truck set-up and, allow me, to the confidence of the driver who must always be focused on driving even in the least demanding stretches such as asphalt.

Automatic or manual gearbox?

In this recent experience, the Fpt mechanic is excellent and easy to enter. For the future, it is certainly automated to further optimize the engine's qualities and facilitate driveability, especially on more complex routes.

Heavy Duty C-section frame (known name in ASTRA) I imagine you will have mistreated it mechanically and structurally without problems?

"I hurt him" in certain situations, stressing him with stresses due to the terrain, the not totally ideal set-up and the weight of the vehicle itself. I would say indestructible chassis did not move a bolt even after the ritual daily evening checks after each stage.

Do the drives on the front hubs contribute to its height (solution concerned) a novelty among other things?

Definitely it is useful in this context of off-road routes.

What would you change?

Well the list of changes to reach the race truck configuration is not long ... but very long as it should be. The truck was born to work not to run but I repeat the starting point is excellent. You will see what you can do ...

The oil leak you were saying?

A trivial external cortex of the front left wheel hub. It can happen and thank goodness something has given way, otherwise Claudio and I would have had the doubt of not having sufficiently whipped the vehicle.

Despite the very short organizational times, how did you organize for supplies?

Fuel was provided free of charge by the organization at the bivouacs in the evening.

In the team selections the word never to be pronounced is: "I want to go home!"

The careful evaluations on the choice of the volunteer crew took place, listening to an online story of Simon, by word of mouth, internet and acquaintances already tested. Drivers or mechanics perhaps with experience in other competitions certainly had precedence over others, but during the expedition it can happen to do a little bit of everything, from the driver to the mechanic or the cook, a community where video operators are also added and the doctor. Grueling battles against cold, mud or swamps are just some of the dramatic scenarios that you face with Overland, where it can happen to skip lunch or dinner and not wash for days. The commitment is for a minimum of 40 days and out of 300 candidates half of them have been rejected. One thing is certain, the great Capo Beppe Tenti speaks clearly from the beginning of the expedition, reiterating that it is not an alternative to the monotony of the city, but of days and days of sacrifice and extreme fatigue, a context where he does not want to hear: "I want to go back home".

New media policies and faster placement:

Bringing different aspects of the media to the light of public opinion - not those classified of course - their qualities, but also the improvements to be made on a new product, using it in competitions such as the Dakar 2021, is certainly a shareable and well-chosen method of media communication. and interaction between companies and end users. A communication that bypasses those secrets - often of Pulcinella - especially when it comes to public spending for the means of defense. A method that would also result in a greater final guarantee on the product.

But among the different knots to be solved, there is certainly that of timing. Militarily, in fact, between finding a need, identifying new materials, acquisition and commissioning, the bureaucratic times are still clearly Italian.