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

Owner Driver - - Contents -

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!”

Off-road win­ner

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

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