Over two days in July, the nation’s most fuel-efficient truck drivers slogged it out at Mt Cotton in south-east Queensland, where only one could be crowned Australia’s best. Cobey Bartels reports
The nation’s most fuel-efficient truck drivers slogged it out at the Mt Cotton test track
TAKE 21 of the most efficient drivers from around the country, put them on demanding on- and offroad courses, and tell them to use as little fuel as possible. Sounds easy, right? Well, it certainly isn’t when you throw in a tight time limit and a healthy amount of competition. It was their Dynafleet telematics efficiency scores that got them into the competition and the drivers knew that the difference between winning and losing would be down to millilitres. The gruelling two-day challenge kicked off with a practice run for each driver and, having driven the course, Owner//Driver can confirm it was far more technical than it looked.
There are drivers, and then there are professional drivers, which was evident when watching how expertly all 21 competitors navigated the winding, undulating course.
Volvo Trucks Australia fuel efficiency manager Matt Wood explains that it’s about celebrating quality drivers and their positive impact within both companies and the wider transport industry.
“The Drivers’ Fuel Challenge acknowledges and celebrates the contribution that good drivers make to a company’s bottom line,” Wood says.
“It’s a recognition of skill and mechanical sympathy. A fuelefficient driver is not only a safe driver but there’s also plenty of evidence to show that there are gains to be had in other areas like brakes, tyres and general maintenance.
“It’s a well-worn cliché but it’s still a fact that everything we use or consume in our day-to-day lives has been on the back of a truck at some point. However, truck drivers are rarely acknowledged for their efforts by the wider community. The Drivers’ Fuel Challenge is our way of recognising and rewarding those efforts.”
Wood reminds us of the high-stakes nature of the job, as well as the ability for drivers to save tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and components each year.
“It’s a tough job with long hours and a phenomenal amount of responsibility,” Wood continues. “If you asked a friend if you could borrow their $100,000 sports car, they may well tell you to go jump. Yet every day and night around the country there are men and women climbing behind the wheel of equipment worth over half a million dollars, and that’s not counting the value of the freight.
“The skill and commitment involved in operating that equipment shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“The monetary difference between a good driver and a great driver in terms of fuel alone can add up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.”
Neck and neck
Day one of the challenge whittled the 21 competitors down to the top 12, taking an average score across their two runs for the day. It was neck and neck watching from the sideline.
There was really no way to tell who’d made it through to the final 12 until they were announced that evening. By day two, the competitors were in it to win it and tensions were high, particularly after the announcement of a trickier reversedcourse layout.
One particular operator performed impeccably across the second day, delivering a Dynafleet score that put him on top as Australia’s most fuel-efficient on-road truck driver and earned him a spot in the global competition in Sweden.
That operator was Steve Wastell, director of BLU Logistics
“Truck drivers are rarely acknowledged for their efforts by the wider community.”
Solutions, with just shy of three decades’ experience in the milk collection industry and a strong efficiency focus within his company.
“I feel ecstatic. It’s been an amazing couple of days and I’ve been driving with the best from around the country,” he told Owner//Driver after being announced as winner.
Wastell explains he’s been driving less after becoming director of the company, but proved he’s still got it.
“I don’t drive as much as I used to, but I still take pride in it and here I am.”
He says the event goes beyond just fuel efficiency, encouraging drivers to think about how they drive and endeavour to improve.
“It’s an awesome event and it really gets you thinking about your driving. It’s not only driving more efficiently but it’s driving smarter and changing the image of truck drivers on the roads; we’re not bozos.”
Wastell is full of enthusiasm as he looks forward to travelling to Sweden in September to represent Australia in the global competition and reckons the other competitors had better watch out. “Us Australians, we do a good job, so I’m ready to kick some butt!”
The most efficient off-road driver, much to his surprise, was Perth-based owner-operator Kris Venema of K Venema, who blitzed the field on the gravel section.
“I had no idea I would win it, I hadn’t even driven a 4WD off road, let alone a truck,” Venema says. “It feels good to win and
even though I don’t do off-road driving day-to-day, it shows I’m doing the right thing.”
Venema says he was surprised by just how difficult the courses were given the challenge of conserving fuel, but was pleased with how he performed.
“I was really happy with how I drove off and on road on day one, but day two on the grand final I underestimated it a little bit,” he explains. “The courses were so tight you just couldn’t build up any momentum and you were relying on the truck, while you tried to be as efficient as possible.”
Volvo Trucks Australia vice-president Mitch Peden says the competition underpins what Volvo stands for, but says it’s up to the drivers to get the most out of the trucks.
“Safety and efficiency are at the very heart of what drives Volvo trucks – we know from research that a fuel-efficient driver is a safe driver,” Peden says. “This challenge puts the drivers through their paces both on- and off-road to test their ability in gaining optimal fuel efficiency from a truck in differing conditions.
“Our trucks are designed with the best fuel efficiency features possible. However, it’s ultimately up to the driver to achieve good performance.”
Right: Proud truckie Eric Christie (left) with Volvo Trucks Australia driver development product manager Per Bruun Hansen, ready for a testing run
Top: The 21 contenders sizing each other up ahead of the two-day challenge!
Above: The off-road course was a far cry from the highway work most competitors were used to, but all gave it a red hot crack and didn’t hesitate to push the truck
Below: Winner of the 2018 Volvo Trucks Drivers’ Fuel Challenge on-road, Steve Wastell of BLU Logistics
Above right: Drivers’ Fuel Challenge off-road winner, owner-operator Kris Venema
Top: The FH16 being driven to the limits of its efficiency capabilities as the drivers navigate the course with precision and finesse