AIM­ING HIGH

Truck driv­ers prob­a­bly cop more flak than any work­ers in any in­dus­try, but they are not with­out some staunch sup­port­ers. Among sev­eral valu­able ini­tia­tives show­cas­ing the skill of op­er­at­ing heavy trucks, the Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge brings to­gether t

Owner Driver - - Owner / Driver -

FROM THE OUT­SIDE look­ing in, the Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge has all the ap­pear­ances of just another pub­lic­ity ex­er­cise by a com­pany highly skilled in sell­ing mar­ket­ing mes­sages to the masses.

But step in­side and take a closer look. Talk with the ex­ec­u­tives and or­gan­is­ers who make it all hap­pen. Pon­der the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts and ex­pense of bring­ing to­gether such an eclec­tic bunch of in­di­vid­u­als from all over Aus­tralia.

Spend time mix­ing with the driv­ers as they first shrug it off as a bit of fun, a cou­ple of days out­side the or­di­nary, be­fore sud­denly be­com­ing in­tensely se­ri­ous, and very de­ter­mined. Con­sider, if you can, the per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion and sur­prise of re­al­is­ing you’re some­one at the cen­tre of some­thing very spe­cial, in­stead of a daily rou­tine where de­ri­sion and ridicule are ev­ery­day events.

Then, af­ter two days of fierce com­pe­ti­tion mea­sured down to the last drop of diesel, smile at the hu­mour and hu­mil­ity of a group which has grown in­cred­i­bly close, despite the de­sire to win the highly cov­eted prize of a trip to Swe­den to com­pete in Volvo’s world cham­pi­onship. And fi­nally, wit­ness the flat­tery of be­ing guests at a lo­ca­tion nor­mally re­served for the rich and fa­mous, and best of all, revel in the sub­lime, shared thrill as win­ners are an­nounced.

Then, and only then, will you be able to see this ex­tra­or­di­nary event for what it truly is. A mar­vel­lous, ex­cit­ing, rare and to­tally pro­fes­sional ex­hi­bi­tion of the com­pe­tency and pride of some ex­tremely ca­pa­ble and im­pres­sive peo­ple. Truck driv­ers.

But of course, cel­e­brat­ing the skill and com­pe­tency of truck driv­ers is far from nor­mal, isn’t it! Let’s face it, for what­ever rea­son they take a flog­ging from just about ev­ery an­gle.

Pub­licly and pri­vately, whether de­served or not, they’re rou­tinely ham­mered for be­ing too rude, too ig­no­rant, too stupid, too ar­ro­gant, too tired. To the av­er­age mo­torist they are in­tim­i­dat­ing, care­less, con­fronting, cranky and worst of all, dan­ger­ous. Peo­ple to be avoided, even feared, in trucks that are too big, too loud, too fast, too heavy, and in most minds, too many.

Given such opin­ions and pe­ri­odic out­bursts, it’s easy to won­der why any­one would want the job, let alone try to ac­tu­ally do it with a sense of pro­fes­sional pride and pur­pose. Es­pe­cially when a fair por­tion of the of­fense comes from within their own in­dus­try in the form of some foul-mouthed clown on the end of a ra­dio. Or worse, com­pany own­ers who see driv­ers as lit­tle more than a com­mod­ity, a nec­es­sary evil, to be ma­nip­u­lated and blamed when some­thing goes wrong, or vil­i­fied when a poorly man­aged and mar­ginal busi­ness fi­nally fails un­der the stress of fierce com­pe­ti­tion.

Sure, there are crook driv­ers, no ques­tion. There are also crook com­pa­nies, crook plum­bers, crook

me­chan­ics, crook busi­ness­men, crook reg­u­la­tors, crook doc­tors, crook lawyers, crook cof­fee-mak­ers, crook cooks, crook politi­cians, crook drunks, and dare I say it, crook com­men­ta­tors.

BEST OF THE BEST

But in ev­ery en­deav­our there are also the good ones, like the 16 men and one woman in­vited to Bris­bane’s Mt Cot­ton Train­ing Cen­tre for the 2017 Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge.

They weren’t there for their stylish de­meanour or ar­tic­u­late speech, their aca­demic abil­i­ties, po­lit­i­cal smarts or ath­letic agility. They were there be­cause they are truck driv­ers. Good truck driv­ers, and each one had set a par­tic­u­larly high stan­dard for fuel ef­fi­cient driv­ing of a Volvo truck in their daily work, gain­ing them en­try to an event where they would pit their abil­i­ties against each other and in the process de­velop a mu­tual re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion which would in­spire and sur­prise them all.

Sur­prise also came in Volvo’s de­ci­sion to this year add for the first time an off-road course, plac­ing the driv­ers at the con­trols of loaded FMX eight-wheeler rigids on a de­mand­ing track and al­most cer­tainly un­like any­thing en­coun­tered in their nor­mal

“It’ll help make peo­ple see we ac­tu­ally care about what we do.”

“It’s a tough event but re­ally well run.”

driv­ing du­ties. Again though, there was plenty of in­cen­tive to do well with the most fuel ef­fi­cient driver on this sec­tion also win­ning a ticket to Swe­den for a shot at the world ti­tle.

Then again, sur­prise was not for driv­ers alone.

The first Aus­tralian ‘chal­lenge’ was held in 2013 and despite pre­vi­ous in­vi­ta­tions, this was the first I’d at­tended.

Tasked to ‘front’ a video on the event, I wasn’t sure what to ex­pect other than a cou­ple of trucks run­ning around the Mt Cot­ton cir­cuit with a bunch of dif­fer­ent driv­ers.

But this much I did know: Volvo rarely, if ever, does things by halves.

Even so, the level of ex­per­tise and com­mit­ment given to this ex­er­cise was in­deed sur­pris­ing and way be­yond any­thing I en­vis­aged.

What I found, in fact, was a thor­oughly pro­fes­sional and su­perbly or­gan­ised event which in the first in­stance, takes a rigidly en­forced and highly tech­ni­cal ap­proach based on data pro­cessed by Volvo’s ad­vanced Dy­nafleet trip in­for­ma­tion sys­tem to de­ter­mine the most fuel ef­fi­cient driver over a se­ries of laps around the test­ing Mt Cot­ton cir­cuit.

More to the point, and for me most sur­pris­ing of all, were the at­ti­tudes of ev­ery­one in­volved.

First, Volvo. At the top of the tree, Volvo Group Aus­tralia boss Peter Voorho­eve is cer­tainly no naïve new­comer to the truck busi­ness. Nonethe­less, he makes no se­cret of a pro­found ad­mi­ra­tion for truck driv­ers gen­er­ally, for their crit­i­cal role in main­tain­ing the ef­fi­cient and end­less flow of goods and ser­vices to ev­ery nook of a na­tion al­most en­tirely re­liant on a dy­namic road trans­port in­dus­try.

It was Voorho­eve who launched the phrase ‘With­out Truck Driv­ers, Aus­tralia Stops’ and it’s an at­ti­tude never more ev­i­dent than at Mt Cot­ton this year.

From the top ex­ec­u­tive ranks to the driver train­ers man­ning the two iden­ti­cal FH16 mod­els, and the team from Volvo pro­cess­ing the data and en­sur­ing the smooth op­er­a­tion of the en­tire event – the re­sources, care, con­sid­er­a­tion, gen­uine warmth and re­spect ac­corded each of the driv­ers was un­like any­thing I’ve ever seen be­fore. And I’ve seen plenty!

REV RHETORIC

As for the driv­ers, those who own their trucks or those who drive for

oth­ers, it didn’t mat­ter. They were all part of the same big pic­ture, equal in ev­ery sense, de­ter­mined to do their best, har­bour­ing the hope of head­ing off to Swe­den, yet talk­ing openly and wisely among them­selves about how to best tackle a par­tic­u­lar pinch or ex­actly where to back off, where to ap­ply the re­tarder, or where to put a tad more power on. Revs were ev­ery­one’s rhetoric.

Sure, the com­pe­ti­tion was in­tense, but the ca­ma­raderie was in­fec­tious and the tran­si­tion from a bunch of in­su­lar in­di­vid­u­als to a gre­gar­i­ous group bound by a com­mon thread was noth­ing less than ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Be­yond all else, though, was the sense of grat­i­tude. The un­bri­dled re­gard for an event pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate the abil­i­ties and the ap­ti­tude so com­monly dis­missed or ig­nored. And the ab­so­lute ap­pre­ci­a­tion that a truck com­pany cares enough to show­case the per­for­mance and ef­fi­ciency of its trucks in the hands of driv­ers proud of their skills and their con­science.

Still, there could only be two win­ners and it was the fe­male in the group, Kerri Con­nors from fuel distrib­u­tor Cal­tas in Tas­ma­nia, who took out the ma­jor award, while win­ner of the off-road sec­tion was another fuel distrib­u­tor, Cameron Simp­son from Simp­son’s Fuel in Vic­to­ria.

Of course, the cel­e­bra­tions were big and if there were dis­ap­point­ments, they didn’t show.

What did show, how­ever, were the gen­uine re­gard for each other and the sin­cere ap­pre­ci­a­tion for an event which above all else cel­e­brates the skills of peo­ple so crit­i­cal to the func­tion and ef­fi­ciency of an en­tire na­tion, yet so of­ten the butt of ridicule and ig­no­rance both in­side and out of their own in­dus­try.

Any­way, here’s what some of the driv­ers thought about a few things … What’s the best thing about an event like this for driv­ers? “Maybe it’ll help make peo­ple see we ac­tu­ally care about what we do. We cop a lot at times, usu­ally be­cause we all get tarred with the one brush.”

“Pride’s the big thing. I think it shows how good we can be but with­out a com­pany like Volvo or­gan­is­ing some­thing like this, we’re just driv­ers to most peo­ple.” Do you some­times get flak from other driv­ers about driv­ing a Volvo?

“Say what they like. I’m here, they’re not.

“This is an in­cred­i­ble event, noth­ing like I imag­ined. It’s a credit to Volvo for car­ing.”

“I’ve driven ’em all and I’ll take a Volvo any day. Be­sides, I don’t see any other brand do­ing any­thing like this for driv­ers.”

Do you get much in­cen­tive from your com­pany to get good fuel econ­omy?

“Ver­bally I do, but a bit of in­cen­tive in the pay packet wouldn’t go astray.”

“I’ve been told the in­cen­tive is I get to keep my job, but you hear

everywhere that good driv­ers are hard to get. Some own­ers need to take that on board.”

Why is get­ting good fuel con­sump­tion so im­por­tant to you in your nor­mal work?

“It’s a way of chal­leng­ing your­self, I think. It feels good to achieve some­thing. It comes down to pride in your­self and what you do.”

“Don’t know re­ally. I guess it just feels good to do some­thing well. All up, I think it makes you safer, too. Maybe I do it for my­self more than any­one else.” Are you ner­vous about com­pet­ing?

“Yeah, a bit. These are ob­vi­ously good driv­ers, oth­er­wise they wouldn’t be here. Be­sides, it’s not ev­ery day you get the chance to win a trip to Swe­den. The ef­fort Volvo puts in is in­cred­i­ble. It’s a tough event but re­ally well run.”

“Not ner­vous, just ex­cited. I feel very for­tu­nate but more than any­thing else, grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity.”

Are you con­fi­dent you’ll be on a plane to Swe­den?

“No, there are too many good op­er­a­tors here to be con­fi­dent, but I’ll give it a big shot. I’d love to go to Swe­den. The com­pe­ti­tion and the ex­pe­ri­ence would be in­cred­i­ble.”

“Yeah, I’ll do okay but I know a cou­ple of them will be hard to beat. I think the girl’s a threat. Women tend to be pretty soft on the gear.” So Kerri, you’re the only woman in the group. Does that con­cern you?

“Not re­ally. I’m usu­ally the only chick in the group and I’m prob­a­bly just the to­ken fe­male any­way. There’d be some good driv­ers amongst these guys.”

So Kerri, you’ve now won it. You’re off to Swe­den. What have you got to say for your­self?

“I just can’t thank ev­ery­one enough. Volvo, the driver train­ers, the other com­peti­tors. It has just been such a great group but se­ri­ously, my pass­port is packed!”

Com­peti­tors in the 2017 Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge. A great bunch of proud and pro­fes­sional peo­ple

Win­ning grin: Volvo Group Aus­tralia (VGA) chief and strong ad­vo­cate for driv­ers, Peter Voorho­eve (left) with off-road win­ner Cameron Simp­son from Vic­to­ria

Top three: (L to R) VGA boss Peter Voorho­eve, Scott Hughes from Glen Cameron Group, Kerri Con­nors, Kent Dit­ton from Dit­ton Bulk Haulage, and Volvo vice-pres­i­dent Mitch Pe­den. It was a close con­test be­tween the driv­ers

Headed for Swe­den: the only fe­male in the group, Tas­ma­nia’s Kerri Con­nors took out the top award, also win­ning the re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion of her male coun­ter­parts

Volvo Group Aus­tralia se­nior driver trainer Paul Munro out­lines strict rules for the Mt Cot­ton fuel chal­lenge

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