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Hilux endures Antarctic conditions

2010-11-25 06:57

SAND AND SNOW: The Arctic truck Hilux during a public shake-down session at the Atlantis dunes near Cape Town.

The first Arctic Truck (AT) Hilux built in the Sandton workshop of Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) earlier this week reached the South Pole after an arduous journey of more than 2000km over the icy expanses of the Antarctica.

Arctic Trucks is based in Rykjavik, Iceland but recently opened a plant in Johannesburg in partnership with Toyota SA to be closer to the Antarctic 'market' which it supplies with super-modified and hugely over-tyred Toyota Hilux bakkies.

Hilux - unstoppable

The red AT44, built for the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) by a team from Arctic Trucks with assistance from TSAM, is one of six AT Hilux vehicles built in South Africa for expeditions and duty in the Antarctica.

The vehicle reached the pole on Sunday (November 21) – eight days after the expedition set off from the Novolazarevskaya (Novo) air base and research station at the Schirmacher Oasis in Queen Maud Land, about 75km from the Antarctic coast.

The team of scientists in the South African-built AT Hilux, accompanied by three other AT Hilux vehicles that have been in Antarctica since 2008, were the first overland expedition to reach the South Pole in 2010 – in extremely challenging conditions as the temperature at some stages dropped to minus 58C!

The primary objective of the expedition is to conduct research for the Indian NCAOR, the secondary aim to identify a location in the vicinity of the South Pole for a fuel drop. This was accomplished.

The group was due to start their journey on November 10 but was delayed because of the late arrival of spare parts and a rescue operation in which the life of a member of another group was saved by using the crane and pulley on the AT Hilux to winch him out after he fell into a crevasse.

Extreme conditions

During the first three days, with the Hiluxes operating in power-sapping altitudes of nearly 3000m on the high plateau, the group covered more than 700km. At this altitude the cold was so severe that the big tyres stiffened to the extent that it could not provide flotation or grip until they warmed up and some of the group members suffered altitude sickness.

The group arrived at the first fuel depot – 800km from the Pole – on November 18 and one vehicle’s radiator was replaced after it started leaking because of the wrong mix of antifreeze in the extremely cold conditions. Shortly after leaving the depot the next day another vehicle broke a rear-axle bearing but it was replaced within 30 minutes.

As one of the AT crew reported, the team was impressed by their progress: "The last two days we drove almost 900km at an average speed of around 45km/h.  We are extremely happy and proud of how the cars are coping in the difficult situation."

After another 18 hours of non-stop driving the expedition reached the South Pole, completing the trip at a higher-than-expected average speed, and will start their return journey of 2400km back to Novo as soon as some running repairs to the vehicles have been done.

The second AT supported expedition to the South Pole will be for the Kazakhstan National Geographic Society and will commence in early next month and finish around 20 December. This expedition will use one or two of the AT44 Hilux vehicles from 2008 and two new AT44‘s built specifically for the Kazakhstan group.

A third expedition will be to assist a ski race to the South Pole, similar to the project Arctic Trucks supported during the filming of the BBC’s "On Thin Ice" documentary. This expedition will take place from mid-December to January 10, 2011. Two new AT44 6x6 vehicles built in SA will make their maiden trip to the South Pole, along with two new AT44 units.

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