“Whereas, driving this all day, at the end of the week, your body’s not tired”
He downshifts one gear and we climb the hill at 55-65kmh. At the top, the revs at 1700, he hits the Auto button again.
“Now she’ll just do her thing. It’ll come up to 11th gear – 70k, 1500rpm.”
It’s all quite fluid. Chris clearly knows the road well: “I do this trip every day – Monday to Friday. It’s about 400 and something Ks one way – so about 800kms r ound trip. And it varies from a 10 to 14-hour day, depending on traffic, roadworks and what happens at my destination.”
He seems very relaxed about it all: “You should be relaxed in your workplace – that’s the way I look at it. I f you’re doing long hours in a v ehicle, you really need the comfort, ‘cos at the end of the day, it’s your body that’s gonna pay for it.
“I’ve had the days of sore backs, where the boss has had to pull me out of the truck because of the constant banging of the truck (like in the Isuzus). Your back soon gives out. You’re only human.
“Whereas, driving this all day, at the end of the week, your body’s not tired. My body’s certainly thanking me for being in this truck.”
The Sinotruk will return to Taranaki unloaded so, as he puts it, “I bounce home empty. I don’t need a great deal of horsepower and hence I’ve gone for the comfort. You can have all the horsepower in the world but when y ou get out, you’re still gonna feel like you’ve been through a wringer.
“Each to their own. The ease of driving the truck – y ou haven’t got too many gadgets to play with. You just obey the rules and drive. It’s cool.”
We stop at the Mobil in Karapiro for NZTruck&Driver publisher and tester Trevor Woolston to get behind the wheel for the next stretch – across the Hinuera straights and over the Kaimai Hill to Tauriko.
The best part of this test is, of course, the Kaimais climb and descent. Trevor has the Sinotruk AMT in Manual mode, with the Power setting selected.
The first part of the hill is tackled as he works down, one gear at a time, to 8th, where we sit, at around 40km/h and 1800rpm.
We get to the port in Tauranga ahead of the Sinotruk’s scheduled check-in time, but Chris is happy with the wait...and the easygoing nature of this container run
Good grabhandles both sides and three well-placed steps make getting in and out of the tractor unit easy
The mirrors are among the few negatives Chris has about the Sinotruk. He reckons that the convex mirror makes it hard to judge where the rear end of the trailer is
Negotiating the first right-hand bend the revs start to fall and we’re overtaken by two buses. He’s hard on the throttle pedal through a couple of bends but we stay in 8th and the Sinotruk’s engine/transmission combo feels unstressed.
When the engine revs drop to 1500, he grabs 7th, at 30km/h. It holds this – revving out to 2000rpm at times – till a tight corner within the last K of the climb, when we slow to 25km/h, at 1500rpm.
By the scenic lookout, we’ve edged back up to 28k and he actually eases off the throttle pedal to avoid needing an upshift, keeping the revs around 1700-1800.
He’s able to pick up a gear at the lookout and the revs drop to 1100, at 30km/h. This increases to 50k before he manages another upshift as the two-lane road narrows to one. We’re in 10th as we crest the hill and begin our descent – the engine at 2000 revs, but holding 80km/h with the exhaust brake only.
As we begin to drop, the retarder is engaged – progressively, up from first to third. The revs stay around 1600, the speed at 60km/h. When the road widens to two lanes, in 10th, Woolston alternates between the second and fourth stages on the retarder.
Heading down Cannonball hill, we’re in 10th at 1100rpm and 60km/h – on the fourth stage of the retarder. We pull into the slow lane to let the traffic go by, just as the rain starts. Back in the traffic flow, Trevor skip-shifts up to top gear as we head into the 100km/h zone. Just one more hill to go.
Up towards the school and into the passing lane territory, the AMT downshifts to 11th – slowly. It takes fully four seconds to make the change.
But it’s just before we start up the Tauriko hill that things come a little bit of a cropper. Forced to a full stop in heavy roadworks traffic at the foot of the hill there’s a long delay in pulling away again. In stop/start traffic, on the slope, we end up stalling several times.
When we stop at Tauriko for Chris to get back behind the wheel, our hiccup on the hill is quickly explained: “Engaging the parking brake gives you a three or four second delay as you gain revs before it releases. It’s a sort of hill start assist function.”
He reckons that, with this Sinotruk, it’s a matter of man and machine working together – rather than man relying on the machine to make all the decisions:
“You need to tell the truck what road or gradient you’re on – it’s all about getting your speed and the revs correct to stop the delay from being so long. It’s just experience with the truck, you have to think for the gearbox.
“You’ve got to know your truck to see what performance it’s working at, at a certain speed to a certain revs. It’s like a European truck – where the gearing is a lot slower than a full 18-speed manual Kenworth. They have got the one-second delays in all the gearboxes I find anyway.
“When coming up to steeper hills I would keep it up in 1500-1600 revs until I get my pull gear (say 7th), then I’ll be away.”
We arrive at the port ahead of the truck’s assigned arrival time. Chris seems happy enough to wait – and I take it as a reinforcement of my ‘good things take time’ mantra.
He picks up on the theme: “It’s not a race out there. I’m getting paid to drive a truck. I call it a semi-retired job – I’ve only got four little twistlocks to undo and do up every day.
“The machine does the job for me – I just need to operate it sensibly.” T&D
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