Mercedes-Benz Track Day 2018

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Justin Bennett, Video by: Justin Bennett


DOW headed to Hampton Downs to get behind the wheel of a truck that can potentially change the way you drive

Mercedes recently unveiled its Actros Distribution Range with safety features that were, until now, only found on the brand’s flagship cars. 

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It may have been a foggy early morning’s start down at the Hampton Downs skid pan, but it sure was an appropriate backdrop for the Mercedes-Benz safety-first theme, given that the wet slippery concrete surface would have looked out of place on a hot sunny morning.

A group of invited participants consisting of both Mercedes-Benz customers and media personnel were split into three separate groups, who took turns at getting behind the wheel of the just-released Distribution Range provided in different configurations for us to try.

It felt like I’d drawn the short straw when I found myself placed in the ‘Blue Team’; my group was selected to be the first to wait out in the cold and mist for a drive through a chicane of road cones in a Mercedes-Benz Actros 2635 cab and chassis. It wasn’t too long before the heat of the competition to be the fastest driver around the course replaced my inherent disliking of the cold.

Safety features

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The day’s activities had kicked off earlier with a spectacular unveiling of a Mercedes-Benz Actros curtainsider presented in Mainfreight livery by Daimler Truck and Bus (DTB), New Zealand senior manager Pieter Theron.

As the presentation was underway, overhead screens played a clip of a young girl of about 10 or 12 years of age travelling in the back seat of a car that is stopped in a traffic jam.

From there, the camera pans across to a large truck and semi-trailer unit approaching from behind at considerable speed.

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Fortunately, the approaching Mercedes-Benz Actros is fitted with Active Brake Assist 4, which brings the truck and trailer unit to a halt, avoiding a collision—an event that no doubt had the potential to abruptly end the girl and driver’s lives should the truck have not had the safety system installed.

While the short film set the overarching safety theme of the day, other important features such as total cost of ownership, caring for the environment, and paying attention to the comfort and wellbeing of the people who operate the equipment were all an integral component of the day’s activities.

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In his opening address, Pieter pointed out that in spite of the many safety features installed in the latest range of Mercedes-Benz trucks, no amount of attention to detail can always completely avoid a collision.

However, he added that safety features such as Proximity Control and Active Brake Assist can help reduce the force of impact, thus reducing injury and damage.

Creature comforts

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Back outside on the race track, the three groups of participants had time behind the wheel of each of the trucks to get a handle on how the latest range of Mercedes-Benz trucks provided a comfortable workspace and experience how pleasant a day at the ‘the office’ can be achieved.

One of the things Pieter had touched on earlier was a well-known fact that the transport industry employs an ageing workforce, perhaps making it even more important for employers to ensure they’re providing suitable surroundings for the people who work for them.

Belonging to that ‘older’ age group, I could well-appreciate the ease of operation of both the Mercedes 2635 and 2653 that I drove on the day. However, while I’m happy to admit that I still get a kick out of shifting gears, the simplicity of the three-position rotary stalk switch on the steering column to select forward, neutral, and reverse certainly gained my approval as a means of coping with Auckland’s stop-start driving.

Cost-saving innovations

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Aside from the comfort of operation, Mercedes-Benz has paid attention to making its trucks economical to use, with features such as an automatic lifting tag axle, which drops down when the maximum load for two axles is reached.

This axle can also be dropped manually, for instance, when extra traction is required. The feature, it was said, not only reduces tyre wear but also provides a saving in "total fluid usage" of diesel and AdBlue.

Actros 2635’s Active Brake Assist

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A braking demonstration had people’s hearts in their mouths as an Actros 2635’s Active Brake Assist (pedestrian recognition) system brought the speeding truck to a rapid stop (without any driver intervention) when an actor stepped out from behind a parked car.

It had to be seen to be believed. Admittedly, the Mercedes technicians had set the tolerances of the sensors on the device to a greater distance for added safety on the day, but nonetheless, it was a graphic demonstration of how modern technology is continuing to make our roads safer.

From behind the steering wheel, I tried out the Proximity Control system as I followed a pace car around the Hampton Downs circuit, taking both feet off the pedals and letting the truck do the driving for me.

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At first, it seemed strange having both feet planted firmly on the floor, although, I reckon I’d soon get used to driving a truck that slowed down and sped up as it mimicked the actions of the vehicle ahead.

Time constraints on the day allowed each participant to only have a couple of circuits around the track and to that end, I didn’t feel I had enough time behind the wheel to really get to grips with the new style of driving. However, I’m sure it’s simply a matter of developing that muscle memory.

One thing is for certain and that is technology is rapidly taking over the functions that could only be performed by men and women only a short time ago, and the Mercedes-Benz Hampton Downs Track Day was proof positive that it is all truly happening right now.

See the Mercedes-Benz Actros 2635 in action

Click on the link below to see the new Mercedes-Benz Actros 2635 in action.

 

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