Bus racing debuts at Willowbank

Bus racing is set to take off across Australia, as MAN and Volvo buses clashed at Willowbank last weekend

Bus racing debuts at Willowbank
Bus racing debuts at Willowbank

By David Goeldner | January 27, 2012

Queensland’s Willowbank raceway saw drag racing with a difference last weekend as two Southern Cross Transit school buses took to the strip and raced the quarter mile, with MAN shading Volvo 2-1.

The best of three clash was organised by Southern Cross Transit Managing Director Frank Oliveri, a drag racing enthusiast who competed on the Willowbank program in his 1971 GTR Torana.

While the bus races didn’t carry official Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) status, the excitement generated by the MAN and Volvo buses on the staging lanes convinced Oliveri to take the concept to other major centres.

"The event went extremely well," Oliveri says.

"We had 114 kids and parents riding the buses, and the awareness we have created today about environmentally friendly buses is awesome," he says.

"In talking to the governing body (ANDRA) we hope to make this a national event where each capital city will have a back to school bus challenge every January."

Oliveri made it clear that the intent of the bus challenge was to raise awareness of school bus transport, with schools returning in Queensland and other states this week.

"It’s not a race, it’s an exhibition," he says.

The MAN and Volvo ‘sChOOL’ buses were mixed in with the drag racing program, running a trial race without passengers early in the meeting – won by MAN.

The MAN and Volvo buses returned late in the afternoon for the second ‘race’ with parents and kids on board the MAN.

The second run was kept to a safe speed, with both buses driven by professional and accredited drivers, each with Willowbank track experience, giving students the experience of heading down a race track under controlled – and safe – conditions.

Frank Oliveri’s son John, who also works at Southern Cross Transit, reported the excitement of the kids on board the MAN as they counted down the start line staging lights before take-off.

"And they were pretty excited when their bus won," he says.

The Willowbank ground announcers remarked that bus racing was a novelty, and they weren’t sure how to call the action.

"What we can tell you is that buses don’t require a burn out," a track announcer told the crowd.

The exhibition race – with parents and kids on board – saw MAN cross the line ahead of the Volvo by 1.7 seconds at 80.76km an hour, over the quarter mile American drag racing regulation track length in a time of 28.05 secs.

The buses retuned early in the evening for the final showdown, without passengers, this time won by Volvo.

MAN National Sales Manager Ian Buttar attended the event, saying there’s always rivalry between Volvo and MAN.

"It’s obviously to promote the safety aspect of school kids on the buses, and that Volvo and MAN are going forward with environmentally-friendly vehicles," Buttar says.

Buttar says he looked forward to seeing the two leading suppliers match race again.

"Hopefully it will be an annual event, and held in different states," he says.

Buttar also says he’s looking forward to the arrival in Australia of the MAN S120 school bus, due to be launched by mid-year.

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