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VW Touareg on the long stretch

Three for the road: Adventurers Vadim Gagarin (left), Rainer Zietlow and Marius Biela get set to leave Melbourne in the 23,000km drive to Russia.

Volkswagen puts big SUV to the test in 23,000km haul from Oz to Saint Petersburg

27 Jul 2012

VOLKSWAGEN has again chosen to put the reliability of its Touareg under the microscope by backing long-range adventurer Rainer Zietlow in his quest to drive 23,000km from Australia to Russia in 16 days.

The V6 TDI that will carry Mr Zietlow and his two companions from wintry Melbourne to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg has received the barest change in specifications in preparation for the trip.

Mr Zietlow has opted for the heavy-duty shockers available on the Touareg’s options list, while Bosch has fitted different injectors to its diesel induction system to help the Touareg handle high-sulphur fuel.

In addition, an imposing array of four driving lamps designed and made by Hella Australia has been added.

The 22cm Luminator lamps are the first LED-powered lamps designed by Hella Australia and are set to give a wider-than-usual view of the roadside and a better chance of spotting fast-moving wildlife during night driving on the haul to Darwin.

VW is expected to go all-diesel in its Touareg range later this year, dropping current petrol V6 and adding a 4.2-litre V8 diesel with 250kW of power and 800Nm of torque.

3 center imageLeft: Rainer Zietlow in Melbourne.

The 3.0-litre V6 TDI being used in the Melbourne-St Petersburg drive will remain as the mainstay of the Touareg range, in 150kW and 180kW guises.

Mr Zietlow is being accompanied on the adventure by German Marius Biela and Russian Vadim Gagarin (who, he said with a practiced smile, is no relation to the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin).

The team was given a municipal send-off yesterday by Melbourne councilor Ken Ong, who gave Mr Zietlow an official, sealed greeting addressed to the mayor of Saint Petersburg. This will be delivered at an official reception at the Winter Palace.

The team has already driven the course in reverse in order to understand the challenges and dangers it will be facing and to learn about the necessary logistics, like when the plane leaves Darwin for East Timor and when each of the seven ferries sail as the team makes its way all the way up the Indonesian archipelago.

“Actually, the most dangerous part of the tour is the waves,” Mr Zietlow told a gathering at the Melbourne Town Hall.

He said four-metre waves in the Java Sea and the Strait of Malacca posed a danger not only to the 16-day schedule but also to some of the smaller ferries they will be relying on.

“We have to use seven ferries between East Timor and Sumatra,” Zietlow said.

“But, since 2009, all ferries co-operate with the maritime weather service from Indonesia and if the Minister for Transport says no, all ferries stay in the port.” There are dangers on the land in Indonesia, too.

“In Indonesia, the problem for us is the left-hand drive. When we overtake a truck, we always cover it with the second driver (the front passenger) to check if it is free or not free before we pull over to that side.” Mr Zietlow is an experienced adventure driver. In 2007 he drove a VW Caddy powered by natural gas 45,788km around the world, including all five continents.

Last year Mr Zietlow and his team (Biela and Carlos Fernandez) drove from the bottom of Argentina to the northernmost tip of North America at Deadhorse, in the US state of Alaska.

They covered the whole 1600km length of the Pan-American Highway, the world’s longest highway, in less than 12 days, which was certified as a record by the German authority TUV Nord Mobility. That run was done in the same Touareg that will carry them to Russia.

Mr Zietlow said that, although he was trying to set a record for the trip from Melbourne to its sister city in Russia, he never exceeded speed limits.

He said the team drove virtually non-stop, except for rapid toilet breaks and sometimes not-so-rapid border crossings. The team has already secured all necessary visas and clearances. They will be joined by an official government observer as they drive across China.

Mr Zietlow said the Hella driving lamps were not only good for avoiding wildlife, but also helped the driver stay alert.

“The driving lamps, set like this (wide), are perfect for the outback,” he said. “If you have to concentrate in darkness, eight hours for the whole night, and you have to steer all night staring at the road, you get red eyes and very tired eyes.

“It helps us with the lamps set this way to stay awake and not get these red eyes.” And where will he find the worst roads on the trip? “We try to avoid potholes, of course, which are in many places,” he said. “We have put on the new shock absorbers to get the car through that.

“But there is a section between Dili and Kupang in East Timor where we have lots of potholes and we have to drive through those potholes.” As for staying sane when locked up continually with two other people for 16 days, the solution is simple.

“It’s like a submarine. You go in the car and shut the door and go.

“The good thing is I listen to different music to them. We all have earphones.” Mr Zietlow will bring the Touareg back to Australia in December as part of a global road show, going on display at Bosch’s Australian headquarters at Clayton.

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