An opportunity to take the bus to its limits on the race track and experience just what it is capable of first-hand. When Mercedes-Benz went looking for Germany's best bus drivers for its campaign 'In search of tough guys', an idea very soon became reality. For the ten strongest contenders, it is nearly time to fulfil their dreams on the Hockenheim circuit in south-west Germany. Instructor and OMNIplus driver trainer Uwe Beyer takes the wheel in the Travego Edition 1 for three laps to challenge the laws of physics on the hallowed asphalt. Manoeuvring with and without ESP®, emergency stops from 100 km/h: this staggering display of the bus's capabilities is enough to bring even the seasoned professional drivers out in a sweat.
Later, they'll have the pleasure of pushing the Travego to its limits too. But first, these hand-picked drivers have a few other tasks to complete at the Hockenheim driving safety centre.
Whether it's slaloming or braking aggressively on slippery surfaces, skidding the bus through the bends or an emergency stop from full speed, nothing gets past the instructors – no braking errors go unnoticed, no knocked cones escape comment. But this raises the drivers' spirits and motivates them even further to give it their all. "If you want to earn your lunch, then you've got to come to a stop on this precise point," announces instructor Peter Beck during the morning session on how to gauge braking distance for an emergency stop. Only a handful actually manage it, but then that hardly comes as a surprise. For drivers who've clocked up more than a million kilometres, slamming on the brakes without a thought for the passengers doesn't come easy. At Hockenheim the focus is on practising emergency braking to ensure nothing goes wrong in a real life emergency.
For our contestants and instructors, this training is not all about speed or testing the vehicle's limits. Their number one concern is something quite different: safety – the ultimate aim and overriding purpose of these exercises. After all, each one of these drivers spends their working life carrying hundreds upon hundreds of passengers – sometimes in the space of one day.
And that's precisely why Uwe Beyer and Peter Beck are so pleased with how the OMNIplus safety training has gone. Each and every candidate has demonstrated their ability to get their passengers safely to their destination even in extreme situations.
"The driving safety training is fantastic for bus drivers. It's incredible to see what the technology is capable of and what I need to do as the driver of the bus. It's clear that man and machine have to become one, or it just won't work," testifies one of the participating drivers, neatly summing up the whole point of these training exercises.
This technology, in the form of the various assistant systems installed in Mercedes-Benzbuses, represents a huge advantage in terms of safety. Not only during driving safety training on a test track, but more importantly when it's really needed: in everyday use and in real-life situations with passengers on board. That's when the drivers need to rely on more than just a perfect understanding of their vehicle. Mercedes Benz recognises this, and that's why they've set the bar so high for their 'tough guys'.
The tough guy that gets to represent the brand with the three-pointed star has to tick every last box. That includes strength of character and consideration for passengers. Once all the drivers have shown what they can do under the watchful eyes of Uwe Beyer and Peter Beck, it's time for the next test. A judging panel made up of instructors, communication specialists, marketing gurus and film industry experts vets the candidates for their suitability to represent Mercedes Benz. Given the experience amassed by all ten candidates, it comes as no surprise that they have one or two fascinating anecdotes to share. A private audience with Pope John Paul II however – the memorable highlight of a pilgrimage tour – is certainly not something that happens every day.
But most significant are the stories behind the people who are here to be judged: stories that reveal their love for their job, better described as a vocation in these cases. All the contestants are here because driving buses is their passion, and you can really sense it!
Gino Lombardo, the youngest contestant – and now a tough guy for Mercedes-Benz.
As early as fifth grade, one thing was absolutely certain to the winner from Bad Säckingen in the Black Forest: "one day, I'm going to be a bus driver!"
As the only woman in the running, Jutta Wolf defeated male rivals with her cheeky yet charming character and her good humour. The professional driver's excited comments on Facebook following her triumph need no explanation: 'I'm a tough gal!' Roland Scheer, the mileage millionaire, completes the trio of tough types. With 29 years in the profession, 2.5 million kilometres on the clock and an unparalleled devotion to the three-pointed star, this driver from Weissenburg in Bavaria was destined to represent 'his brand'. What better reflection of Mercedes Benz buses than life-long dedication to the job and to the three-pointed star?