Testing Diesel News’ Skills

Testing Diesel News’ Skills

The Scania Driver Competition was an opportunity for testing Diesel News’ skills, to see whether Editor, Tim Giles, can still cut it, whether all of those techniques developed over many years of driving are still functioning correctly. This is one of the few occasions when the wide range of skills required to be a great truckie can be assessed and benchmarked.

Testing Diesel News’ Skills

Having watched the competition over the years there is no doubt a driver needs a high level skill set and to be on top form on the day, to carry off the prize. Many in the audience watching would be wondering just how well they would do in each exercise and whether they could handle the pressure.

On the day before last year’s event, a rag tag bunch of trucking media turned up at the Sandown Racetrack in Victoria to have a go at the tests which the real contestants would be tackling on the following day.

First up is the reverse into the ‘Garage’. The trailer needs to be reversed into a loading dock on a dog leg and parked as close to the rear wall as possible without touching. If the truck or trailer make contact with any of the witch’s hats the test is a fail and no points awarded.

Managing to not hit the sides proved to be simple enough, but judging the position of the rear of the trailer, without any familiar reference points, left the trailer halted two metres short of the rear wall. Not a fail, but losing a lot of marks.

Next up is the ‘Hole’, surprisingly difficult to get right. The hole is a rectangle cut out of a sheet of steel, a hole big enough to fit the footprint of the 11R22 front tyre footprint inside with a bit to spare.

Testing Diesel News’ Skills

This exercise is one of those in which the driver is demonstrating their awareness of where the truck is, in relation to the space around it. The added complication is the driver is not allowed to wind down the window. In fact, for all of these tests, bar one, the window must be up.

With this added degree of difficulty, as well as an unfamiliar truck, the results are surprisingly varied. For this driver, the wheel lined up exactly with the hole when the truck stopped. Unfortunately, the wheel was about 300 mm to the left of where it ought to be and had missed the hole completely.

From here the driver takes a swing out into a larger area and has a crack at the ‘Slalom’. This requires some smart tactical driving. Just getting round one cone is simple, but getting round it in such a way as to be in the correct position for the next is tricky. It requires strategic thinking, getting the truck to the far end of the course wide enough to be able to spin around the final cone, before returning down the line.

How did Diesel fare? Abysmally, realising the need for strategic thinking just at the point at which the trailer was going to destroy the witch’s hat as the truck turned to return down the course. The lesson here is clear. Planning manoeuvres to ensure the truck can be extricated from any situation. Many drivers would have been in this situation, when getting into some tight delivery locations.

The next test brought a number of aspects into play. ‘The Barrels’ is a very simple exercise. Drive up to some oil drums placed randomly on the track, take two of them and place them on a line a distance apart, through which the truck will fit. The driver then drives the truck into the gap and the distance between the drums and the front wheels is measured. The shorter the distance, the higher the score, if the truck touches the drum, all bets are off.

Here, we are looking at a number of aspects of the drivers’ judgement. Firstly, knowing how big the truck is, secondly, working out what size is practical to avoid touching, thirdly, actually getting the truck between the drums accurately. Many got it about right, some were a little more risk-averse and others, like Diesel, didn’t judge it right and touched the nearside drum, losing all points.

The ‘Plank’ comes next. A piece of wood a little larger than a railway sleeper, the width of a single tyre with tapered ends. The idea is to drive over the plank getting all of the nearside wheels on, one after the other. Once past the plank, the truck has to be reversed over the plank, so all of the offside tyres, both truck and trailer, pass along its length.

This is not a skill the truck driver would use everyday, but, Scania argue, it does demonstrate spatial awareness. Going forward proved to be simple enough, once the steer tyre was on. Just keep the combination running straight along the same track. In reverse, it all seemed to be going well as the last tyre, the offside steer, rose up onto the plank. However, a split second later a loud bang saw the tyre slip off the timber, and the points were lost.

Testing Diesel News’ Skills

On then, to the ‘Bullseye’. Get the front bumper directly above a one metre wide target as close to the centre as possible. The closer to the centre, the more points are gained. This proved to be quite a challenge. Diesel, like many, other pulled up well short, 400 mm shy of bullseye. A more observant driver would have remembered the downwards facing mirror fitted to the windscreen of all new Scanias. Using this made it relatively simple to get right over the centre, a simple mirror improving spatial awareness.

Next comes the ‘Straight Reverse’, a test most semi drivers would recognise as something they would do every day of the week. The truck has to be reversed about 50 metres, straight, between two cones towards two taller cones. The nearest is green, the furthest red. Simply push the green one over into the red one without knocking the red one over.

This is what is required as the driver reverses into any dock. They get it straight and make the rear offside of the trailer touch the mark without slamming into the loading dock. Even Diesel would have been disappointed to have missed this one, and we didn’t.

The penultimate test, the ‘Wall’, is the most difficult, and the most realistic. Reverse the truck into a loading dock at a right angle. The realism comes from the other cone wall, across from the dock and making the whole manoeuvre very tight indeed. Getting the trailer wheels close to the nearest point of the dock is not necessarily enough. There is also the swing out of the prime mover as the trailer needs to straighten.

Only the best were able to achieve it in one hit. Diesel had to use the, allowed, single forward movement, to avoid damaging the imaginary wall of the loading dock.

The last task, the ‘Pipes’, is one which is less practical. It does demonstrate fine control of the truck and a good eye. The driver brings the prime mover alongside three pipes. The idea is to use the steer tyre to knock the first pipe between the other two without knocking them over.

The margin for error is small, but at least, the driver can wind down the window and see the problem. A few managed the feat, Diesel managed to miss the pipe altogether and then knock it over as the wheel was brought back, skittling the lot.

Also included in the day was a road driving assessment around a 20 minute course around Sandown, a quiz on areas where drivers should be knowledgeable, a media interview in front of a TV camera and a B-double reversing exercise with a tricky dogleg included.

These are a tough set of tests and the contestants, a field of twelve picked from 500 who applied, struggled with some of the skills required. They all felt they had been stretched by the experience and had learnt something new. All this driver learnt was how much the old skills need polishing up.