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Second and third time lucky for Scania Driver Competition winners

Jola Ramsay and Ben Johns, both 28, have taken out their respective Scania Driver Competitions at the Gold Coast Turf Club in Queensland.

Jola, who drives for Sid Fogg’s Coaches out of Newcastle, won the Scania Bus Driver Competition and Ben, who drives a fuel tanker for Matthews Petroleum in Victoria, won the Truck Driver Competition.

Both displayed very high levels of professionalism, skill and passion for their jobs, and each was rewarded with prizes worth $10,000.

The Scania Driver Competition is held in more than 40 countries around the world and in 2014 has attracted more than 80,000 entrants. In Australia entries were received from all states and territories. 

Entrants took an on-line test of road laws and driving regulations before the best 70 faced a phone-based qualifying round. The top 12 in each category then met on the Gold Coast to battle it out behind the wheel.

The final showdowns required drivers to successfully navigate a series of manoeuvring tasks that displayed their ability to place their vehicle with precision. 

For the bus competitors, Scania-Higer A30 school/charter buses were provided for the driving tasks, monitored by the Scania Driver Development Team, while the truck finalists manoeuvred a single-trailer pulled by a Scania G 480 Sleeper Cab through the car-park tests, before tacking a road route in a Scania R 620 V8 prime mover with a single trailer, under the watchful eye of the Scania Peak Efficiency Team members.

In the classroom, independent chief judges from the bus and truck industries adjudicated a written road regulations test. To cap off the testing, finalists underwent a filmed media interview.

“This year we have seen a very high level of finalists contest the last round of our competitions,” said Ron Szulc, Brand & Communications Manager for Scania Australia.

“The events have been very successful in showcasing the skills and talents of some very fine young drivers, who take great pride in their work and can be considered experts in their fields. They were able to answer some very detailed questions regarding transport and road rules, and were also able to present themselves well on camera and talk confidently about their industry.

“One of the most notable aspects of all our finalists was their passion for their jobs and careers. The 22 male and 2 female finalists were all focused on safe, and efficient driving, and are excellent role models for the next generation of drivers.

“The fact that both the 2014 bus and truck competition winners have returned to the Scania Driver competition after reaching the finals on a previous occasion, underlines their commitment and perseverance. They are proof that to be successful takes hard work and resolve,” Ron said.

“I am very happy to have won at the third attempt,” said Jola Ramsay, who was presented with his prize at the Scania gala dinner at the 2014 Australasia Bus & Coach Conference & Expo at the Gold Coast Convention Centre.

“I first tried out for the Scania Truck Driver Competition in 2010 and then entered the bus competition in 2012. I was determined to give the competition another go, and it feels really good to have succeeded this time,” he said. 

“It really is third time lucky for me.”

The young bus driver started off in the Royal Australian Air Force as an aircraft refueller before moving to driving coaches for the RAAF and then later in civilian life with Sid Fogg’s. In the RAAF he also spent time driving B-double fuel tankers and explosives trucks, later on trying his hand at side-tippers on a coal mine, all of which has given him a vast experience of a range of vehicles in his short driving career.

“As a coach driver it is very important to be a people person and to be friendly and welcoming, as well as being able to drive smoothly,” he said.

“I was lucky in the early days to have a lot of very experienced drivers to help me. They were always willing to show me how to do new things, and they provided invaluable experience. You can always learn from your peers,” he said.

Ben Johns, who was raised in Warrnambool, in Western Victoria, won the Truck Driver Competition. The young petrol tanker driver said he was shocked but delighted to claim the prize after being disappointed to miss out in 2012.

“It has been a fantastic day,” he said of the challenging competition, which took place in 32-degree heat on the Gold Coast.

“The manoeuvring tests were tricky, and the driver trainers riding along on the road drive were very Poker-faced so I was not able to judge how well I had done.”

Ben has been driving fuel tankers for seven years, and credits driver training at his employer for his early skills acquisitions. He has also driven B-double interstate line-haul and worked in transport logistics.

“Much of my work for Matthews Petroleum involves loading out of Geelong and delivering to farms and fuel stations in Western Victoria,” Ben says.

“I wasn’t that familiar with the Scania trucks as we drive American vehicles, but the Scanias were very quiet, comfortable, easy to drive, and offer great visibility,” he said.

Jola Ramsay had the last word though: “This competition is not only a showcase for driver skills but can help with career progression, too.”

The Government of Queensland, the Commercial Vehicle Industry Association of Queensland, (CVIAQ), Shell, Waeco (Dometic Group), Freighter Trailers (truck) and the Bus Industry Confederation (bus) supported the 2014 Scania Driver Competitions.

Brett Wright, CEO of the CVIAQ and Don Lergesner formerly of the QBIC executive, acted as chief judges for the Truck and Bus Competitions respectively.