Current and former engineers relive extraordinary experiences from their careers
I’ll never forget…
… spending lockdown in Swedish Lapland alone
At the end of October 2018 my boss called me and asked, “How would you like to manage the Stellantis winter facility in Sweden?”. My instinctive answer was, “Yes, I accept the challenge.” Stellantis established its permanent cold testing base at Colmis Proving Ground all the way back in 1997 when it was Fiat Auto. It then changed to Fiat Group, then FCA, and it is now Stellantis. This is where we do winter tests for the Stellantis brands – including Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep and Maserati.
Prior to accepting the role, I had only been to Sweden a few times as a tester and this was a brand-new job for me; so I was naturally both excited and nervous. In any case, the attraction to the northern environment and the low-mu driving kicked off my personal ‘life below zero’ journey.
After just four weeks I was ‘on the field’: I had so many activities and tools to take care of. I suddenly became the go-to person. It was intense and challenging but also a source of great satisfaction. Many times I saw the magical northern lights, which brought me an overwhelming sense of peace, including one time after a drive on the ice with the rear-wheel-drive car that I call my ‘fiancée’. I considered this a bonus.
February 2020 came round fast for me. By the end of the month the season was at its peak and the facility crowded with over 100 colleagues and suppliers. Then, in a matter of weeks, I was suddenly all alone: the pandemic was spreading rapidly around the world, so everyone left and no-one else came. I knew that my relatives were safe, so I decided to stay to fly the flag, and also to take care of the dozens of cars and spare parts that had been left behind as if the area had been evacuated.
Of course, it was a terrible period. But, within the context, I must admit I felt like the luckiest Italian in the world at the time: almost every country had been put under a strict lockdown, but in Swedish Lapland I felt free, with the beautiful northern lights shining. I will never forget that part of my life – and career.
Rachel Evans spoke to Nicola Montecchio, winter proving ground manager for Stellantis at Colmis Proving Ground