Remember Rainer Zietlow and his Challenge4 team? Much like the three wise men who travelled afar, Zietlow, Marius Biela and Vladimir Gagarin drove a Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI from Melbourne, Australia to St Petersburg, Russia earlier this year, covering some 23,000 km in the span of a little over 17 days.
Except instead of bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh, they managed to deliver a letter from the mayor of Melbourne to the mayor of its twin city, St Petersburg, passing through East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China and Kazakhstan along the way.
Aching to hear tales of the team’s epic journey, we recently caught up with Zietlow in an e-mail interview courtesy of sponsor and diesel experts Bosch, and learn, amongst other things, that he will go to great lengths to escape the winter cold, and that we apparently have good and smooth roads in Malaysia.
Zietlow’s Touareg was fitted with Bosch’s CRS3-20 common rail system, which proved reliable throughout and targets Euro 6 emission standards. Through the expedition, the company hopes to spread awareness of the potential of diesel technology in Malaysia and encourage its adoption.
Tell us a bit more about this world record drive.
The Challenge4 team and I set out a target to complete the 23,000 km road adventure from Melbourne, Australia to St Petersburg, Russia in the shortest amount of time possible to deliver a letter and gift from the Lord Mayor to the Governor of St Petersburg.
We drove virtually non-stop as we passed through Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Kazakhstan and Russia over a period of 17 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes while facing a range of extreme climates and road conditions. The Advanced Diesel Technology developed by Bosch proved to be powerful and reliable in the most challenging driving conditions as we passed by almost all-existing zones, including extreme heat, pouring rain, sandstorms and differences in altitude.
The three of us drove five-hour shifts in rotation, fully utilizing the 24 hours a day to achieve our target. To keep our schedule in check, we brought sufficient provisions for the entire expedition and we tried to stop only to refuel except on several occasions where we are forced to stop longer than we wished to.
On a separate note, 10 Euro cents were donated for each kilometre driven to Plan International, a charity organization championing children’s rights in Laos during the South-East Asia roadshow.
What were some of the obstacles faced on the drive?
The journey was not without any problems. We encountered our first problem in East Timor when our radiator was punctured. Despite that, we managed to limit vehicle down time to just a day and a half. We were delayed again when the ferry booked specifically for us had an engine failure. Along the journey, we suffered occasional punctured tyres as well.
What inspired you to go on this road expedition?
It always feels great to be on the road, going on road adventures and discovering new things along the way. My first expedition was in 2005 when I drove to the highest altitude with a standard vehicle, reaching the height of 6,081 metres on the slopes of the world’s highest volcano in Chile.
Looking back, it all started as a winter affair when we wanted to travel to warmer weather in the northern half of the planet. We thought of escaping the cold back in Australia and drive until the season changed. But now, I am enjoying long-distance driving too much and I am already anticipating for the next winter to arrive!
Do you have an idol that inspired you to take up off-road adventure?
I was greatly inspired by a European world record driver back in the 1970s. Since then, I began to train myself in terms of both physical strength and mental endurance. This ensured that I could endure the toughest conditions and prepare myself for all possible obstacles on the road.
What was your most memorable incident on the drive?
Our most memorable incident is when we faced a problem with our ferry in Indonesia. As we wanted to catch up with time that we lost due to the punctured radiator in East Timor, the problems we faced with the steel boat in Indonesia further delayed our schedule. The captain was unfamiliar with Dumai, which was our next destination and he missed the port by accident. To make things more complicated, the ferry broke down forcing a last minute arrangement of another wooden boat to transport the team and the vehicle over to Malaysia. The wooden boat condition was worrying as it had to transfer our vehicle that had modifications, and weighed nearly three tonnes. Despite that, we reached Malaysia safely, thanks to the amazing wooden boat and the experienced captain!
What did you like best or dislike about driving across Malaysia during the Melbourne to St Petersburg road adventure?
The roads in Malaysia are really good and smooth and there wasn’t a need to stop for car maintenance, which helps us greatly in avoiding further delay in our time-sensitive journey.
Who will you choose as team members for your next road adventure?
The first member would always be Marius, my photographer and the third member of the team would depend on the country that I will be touring, and related to the country where we will attempt to obtain the world record.
When we undertook the Pan Americana World tour last year, we were joined by Juan Carlos Fernandez who was a Spaniard. This year, we chose our Russian member, Vladimir Gagarin for the Melbourne to St Petersburg journey.
Tell us a bit more about your teammates.
For the Melbourne to St Petersburg tour, the Challenge4 team consisted of Marius, our photographer, cameraman, and second driver; Vladimir Gagarin, the journalist and third driver, and myself. Since 2009, Marius has been driving long-distance tours with me for the Pan Americana tour and he is a very experienced driver. On his part, he took pictures and videos of the record tours during the daytime and drive during nightfall.
Our journalist and third driver, Vladimir Gagarin is a huge fan of motorsports and he has taken part in numerous drives on the Russian and European raceways since 2005. I do hope that he enjoyed the world record tour from Melbourne to St Petersburg as this expedition has been the biggest challenge in his professional career to date.
I am really glad that both Marius and Vladimir joined me in the expedition as without them, we might not have been able to successfully complete the tour in record time and document the entire tour perfectly via our website and social media.
What did you find most challenging about this road adventure from Melbourne to St Petersburg?
The most challenging aspect of this road adventure was that we were challenged by one of the most strenuous driving conditions and extreme climates. Travelling non-stop across nine countries, we passed through essentially every type of climate there is, from extreme heat to pouring rain, and even unexpected sandstorms as well as some punishing track conditions.
Nevertheless, we were all still amazed by the diversity and beauty of the countries which we had travelled through. Especially the sights, sounds and smells – they will stay with us throughout our lives.
How did Bosch’s Advanced Diesel Technology help you in your expedition?
The Advanced Diesel Technology developed by Bosch proved to be a powerful and reliable ally in the most challenging driving conditions as the engine did not suffer a failure, despite facing harsh road conditions and extreme weather. It reinforced the right choice we made to rely on it for its power, speed, cost effectiveness, and clean technology in the most challenging track conditions.
What has been your biggest achievement in endurance driving?
My biggest achievement is that we have set four world records since 2005 and we will strive to continue to set world records in the future. I am also glad that I was able to turn my hobby, which began at a young age, into a profession.
Can you share a bit about the goodwill mission of your expedition?
As part of a goodwill mission, 10 Euro cents was donated for every kilometre driven from Melbourne, Australia to St Petersburg, Russia. Proceeds went to Plan International, a charity organisation championing children’s rights in Laos during the South-East Asia roadshow.
To date we have donated 2,300 Euro (RM9,007) to Plan International.
What are your future plans? Will you be undertaking other road adventures in the near future?
I’m already looking forward to my next road adventure to Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics (begins in 2013) and China (2014), which you will definitely be hearing more about soon.