Lappland

Icy working conditions

As soon as the temperatures sink into minus figures, Lapland transforms each year into a hotspot for vehicle testing. This winter, prototypes of the first purely electric series model of the brand with the four rings took their places on the Audi test site. The optimum preparation of the tracks on snow and ice is taken care of by a team well-versed in the vastness of the adjacent mountainous archipelago with nearly 9,000 lakes, and that is familiar with the harsh winters. Lenny provides an insight into work on the ice lake.

07/10/2018

Editorial: The test site is located in northern Sweden. This region offers optimal conditions for testing vehicles in extreme cold. How bitter is the climate throughout the year?
Lenny:
In this area, we have very long winters. The summer months are mostly limited to June, July and August. The rest of the year can be quite cold; temperatures of –20° to –25° during the day are not uncommon. Even snow in May is not unusual here.

So winter is the defining season?
Indeed. The degree to which this is true can perhaps be illustrated by the descriptions of this season: here in northern Sweden, we have coined an extra season – ‘spring winter’. Gidádálvve in Sami. This season includes the months of March and April. After several months of harsh winter weather, gidádálvve brings back both warmth and light.
Winter is the high season for vehicle tests on snow and ice. Which month exactly does it begin?
Since we are dependent on the weather, we cannot define the start of the season exactly. But we usually start in November with the preparation of the tracks on the lake. We measure the thickness of the ice through holes or using special radar measuring devices.

A vehicle such as the first purely electrically driven series model from Audi brings with it a certain weight. How thick must the ice be in order to carry the weight of a vehicle?
In the depths of winter, the ice has a thickness of around 90 centimetres. This is very stable and carries vehicles of up to 25 tonnes. The value for when the test drives are possible on the ice varies. This depends on what kind of ice we find. We check the values several times per week. Safety is our top priority.

How do you distinguish between the different types?
The best and most stable ice is formed when we have very cold temperatures and no snowfall. If there are temperature fluctuations in this period, then the conditions are perfect. This creates compact ice that can withstand a high load. Snow makes things more difficult. This year – unfortunately, from our point of view – a lot has fallen.

Why does the snow make working on the ice more difficult?
Snow is like an insulating sleeve, which restricts the growth of the ice. This is not optimal for our purposes. Before the start of the season, the lake was completely snowed in, so we had to have a think: we bored holes in the ice by hand so that the water could penetrate to the top. The ice cover sagged a little with all the snow and was basically ‘flooded’. We didn’t count, but made a rough calculation – the area of the lake requires around 10,000 of them. The introduction of water is an integral part of our work – but usually it does not require measures of this scale.

In the depths of winter, the ice has a thickness of around 90 centimetres. This is very stable and carries vehicles of up to 25 tonnes.

Lenny

What’s more, with the melting of the lake’s ice layer, the routes are visible for the longest time. Then the tracks drift on the water for a while – a bizarre image with which you bid farewell as you enter the summer months.

Lenny
Before the pre-production vehicles are allowed on the ice, the tracks need to be prepared. When do you dare to venture on the frozen surface with the track team for the first time?
When the ice is around 10 cm thick, we can start with the preparations for the season. At first, we only go out on the lake with light equipment such as snowmobiles, but we also have heavier vehicles like snowblowers or snow ploughs. These are only used when the ice is appropriately thicker, however. If there is snow on the ice, it must be packed with water so that compact ice is formed and the cold can penetrate the layer.
Winter is the peak season. What is the test site like in the summer?
In the summer months, things are quieter here. But work doesn’t shut down entirely. Tests are also conducted with tracks on land in the off-season. What’s more, with the melting of the lake’s ice layer, the routes are visible for the longest time. Then the tracks drift on the water for a while – a bizarre image with which you bid farewell as you enter the summer months. The winter is important for my job; in private, though, I prefer the summer. I like being outside in nature and going fishing with my children, for example. The lakes in this area are therefore always a central theme somehow – but especially when they are frozen.

Personal information

Lenny, grew up in a small town adjacent to the test site. At 16, he began devoting himself to preparing the tracks on the test site. His favourite season is summer – then the amount of time demanded by his profession is not as high and he can peacefully pursue his hobby: fishing. Year after year, Lenny and the rest of the team, with the help of GPS devices, ensure that exactly the same course paths are developed, and that they are always optimally prepared. A job that keeps the team busy around the clock in the winter. The employees are available day and night via shift work.

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