The Frozen Tundra of the Alcan 5000 Rally Is Not for the Weak

Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal won their class in a boxy Ineos Grenadier.
blue suv by Arctic Circle sign
Andy and Mercedes Lilienthal

It’s one thing to set off for a 10-day, 5,000-mile time-distance road rally in temperatures that dip way below freezing. And it’s quite another to do so in a new vehicle, testing it out in ways that you’ve never seen before.

Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal tackled their third Alcan 5000 event in an Ineos Grenadier, a new SUV built by the British chemical conglomerate of the same name. Piloting an unmodified Grenadier, Team Lilienthal beat 16 other competitors to win the Truck/SUV class.

In case you’ve never heard of the Grenadier, it has an interesting origin story; not the least of which is that it was named after a pub in London where the idea was conceived. British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the founder and CEO of Ineos chemical group, was dismayed to hear of the discontinuation of the Land Rover Defender. Reportedly, Ratcliffe requested the plans for the vehicle and when JLR rejected his offer, Ratcliffe commissioned a vehicle that ended up looking very much like the classic Defender.

Developed by Magna Steyr and built in France, the Ineos Grenadier is powered by a BMW-sourced turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine good for 282 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with a ZF transmission, solid axles and lockable differentials, and 10.4 inches of ground clearance, the Grenadier proved to be more than capable of tackling (and winning) the Alcan 5000, which kicked off in Kirkland, Washington and ended in Anchorage, Alaska.

Still, it’s a new vehicle that hasn’t competed at this level before, and the Lilienthals didn’t expect to win. In their first Arctic competition, Mercedes and Andy ran the Alcan 5000 in a 1991 right-hand-drive turbo-diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4, which they say was “slow and small” but finished strong. They received the new Grenadier with 87 miles on the odometer, and breaking it in and learning how to navigate all of the controls was the initial challenge.

“The thing that impressed me most and was possibly the most surprising was how compliant the vehicle was, even with solid front and rear axles,” Andy says. “Even on the bad roads in Alaska, the suspension ate up all of the bumps and it was very controlled.”

It helped that the Grenadier was fitted with premium Recaro seats, which the Lilienthals praise even after more than 12 hours of driving every day. They weren’t heated, but the HVAC system cranked out warm air that kept the passengers comfortable even in temperatures that dropped to -32 degrees Fahrenheit in scary whiteout conditions.

The team did switch out the antifreeze from a 50/50 mix to a 60/40 mix, because overheating is a risk even in the Arctic. They also switched to a windshield wiper fluid that was rated for 30 below zero temps. Even the power steering fluid got cold and viscous for many of the competitors, Mercedes says. The cold was the enemy, and they had to be strategic about how they managed it.

“We had one leg of the trip that had over 300 miles between fuel stops,” Andy says. “A lot of teams had to stop and empty fuel from their jerry cans. You keep your gloves on and work as quickly as you can.”

Inside the cabin, the Grenadier employs a central knob at the bottom of the center stack to control the infotainment system. Push it down and it acts as an “enter” button; that became a challenge as the team juggled two handheld radios, three cell phones running different apps, three cameras, and a GoPro. The system kept switching to different screens and they couldn’t figure out why.

“I had an inverter plugged into the center console and it was laying over the big button,” Mercedes says. “I thought that the infotainment system had a mind of its own until I realized the inverter kept bouncing on the central button, accidentally resetting the odometer. It wasn’t the car’s fault; that was our fault.”

The competition was neck and neck down to the last day; the Lilienthals led in their class seven out of 10 days before winning it and came in tenth out of 39 teams overall.

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