Tassie truck driver Kerri Connors isn’t your average operator, a point she proved recently when she dominated on the world stage at the Volvo Trucks Fuelwatch Challenge.
A truckie who will out-drive the best of them, Kerri won the Australian Volvo Trucks Drivers’ Fuel Challenge by a strong margin before representing us abroad.
The Challenge used nation-wide analysis of the Volvo Dynafleet software to analyse drivers and establish six state winners, essentially Australia’s A-team.
The state winners then competed alongside 11 dealer-nominated drivers across two days of intense competition, which saw Kerri come out on top using a staggering 7.8% less fuel than the least competitive finalist.
It was then time for Kerri to hit the global Fuelwatch Challenge in Gothenburg, Sweden, taking on the best of the best from 13 countries.
New Zealand driver Johnny Baxter won the global on-road category on the day, but Kerri wasn’t far behind in third place as the only female competitor.
Owner//Driver caught up with Kerri in her home town of Devonport, Tasmania, to talk all things trucking and see what the third most fuel efficient driver in the world steers like.
Kerri drives a Volvo FM500 tanker for Caltas and Owner//Driver rode along on a routine run for the company loading out of Devonport and onto the port town of Burnie to deliver 35,000 litres of diesel.
Tasmania’s tendency to offer up erratic weather was noticeable on the run, as it went from gloomy and overcast in Devonport, to clear-skied and sunny just 45 kilometres down the road.
Despite being the hottest week in Hobart in nearly 130 years, anything goes in Tassie and sure enough it cooled right down.
"It’ll go from sunny to sleet in an hour, and even though it’s been really hot here it snowed two weeks ago," Kerri laughed.
When asked about the Fuel Challenge, Kerri says she still can’t believe she won the Australian competition.
"I didn’t realise I had a chance, even when I got there, but I ended up winning by a pretty decent margin.
"We didn’t expect and my boss was so excited when I won."
Once in Gothenburg the global Fuelwatch Challenge offered fierce competition and Kerri was the only woman on the world stage, which inspired her to step up and show the blokes how it’s done.
Not only did she represent all the awesome women in trucking, she made Australia proud, pulling off a near perfect run.
"We had a video of the course and I spent the day before visualising every corner; where I’d brake, where I’d accelerate, every line I’d take.
"I was up early on the day working through the course in my head and getting in the zone.
"I still kick myself because I messed up one corner and I could have possibly won if I nailed it, but the winner Johnny is a great young driver and he was better on the day.
"He did such an awesome job and what was so great is we all shared tips and tricks, even though we were all trying to win!"
FUEL EFFICIENT DRIVING
After coming back to Australia, Kerri noticed her Dynafleet fuel efficiency figures were better than ever, something she says comes down to not just driving style, but also attitude.
"As far as fuel efficiency, I can’t believe I used to do 46 to 47l/100kms and I didn’t even think that was bad before I changed my driving style.
"I went for a day recently and deliberately drove it like I used to it and managed to get 47l/100kms, but driving efficiently now I’ll get 36.5l/100kms loaded."
The savings across a year are enormous and Kerri explains the efficiency figures aren’t a result of babying the truck.
"I’m not any slower when I drive efficiently, it just comes down to planning ahead and staying focused.
"I-Roll is a game changer for fuel economy … using that with the right driving attitude gets 40-41l/100kms without thinking about it."
Kerri’s attention to detail and focus on the job is commendable, getting the job done efficiently without rushing.
"Running around trying to do as many loads as quickly as possible doesn’t help with things like fuel economy, I’d prefer to do a good job as well as well."
It all started for Kerri as teenager after she entered the defence force and began driving Unimogs and other heavy vehicles, something she instantly fell in love with.
"I joined the Army in 1997 as soon as I finished school, I just couldn’t get there quick enough!
"I was running around Townsville in Unimogs and I then came out of the army with a medium rigid licence."
From there Kerri got serious about trucking and that meant getting experience driving commercially.
She began driving fridge pans for Toll in Western Australia, after a while moving to Linfox in Sydney and then onto Chas Kelly Transport in Tasmania.
"I drove everything from Kenworths to old syncro box Scanias.
"I learnt to crunch in a CH Mack for Toll … I was six months pregnant crunching down the highway!"
After steering around Tassie for a while and deciding to stay there, she started at Caltas in 2008, driving a Kenworth T402 tanker.
Kerri enjoyed her time behind the wheel of the 402, and reckons a Road Ranger ’box keeps you a little more entertained than the new autos.
Nowadays, she spends most of her time driving the Volvo FM500 with a trick iShift gearbox, and while it might makes life easier without the gear changes, fuel efficient driving can become a key focus.
"A Road Ranger keeps you busy and thinking about the road ahead, I mean the autos get a bit boring but I can now keep my mind busy learning fuel conservation and reading the road ahead for a different reason."
A decade on with Caltas, Kerri still enjoys the job. She plans to continue driving around Tassie and pushing the envelope of fuel efficient driving.
"Tassie is a great place to drive and it’s one the friendliest too.
"You get constant variety; you might load out of some places once a month and others once a week.
"You also get four seasons in one day here, which keeps things interesting!"
Kerri is passionate about women in trucking, especially in Tassie, and champions the cause through her success in the industry and encouragement of fellow drivers.
"There are a couple of other women truckies here and we’ll have a chat on the radio occasionally," she says.
"No one bullies you here for being a woman, they’re all really supportive."
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