A sunny Wednesday in October the Estoril race circuit outside Lisbon, Portugal saw 37 of Europe and north Africa's best HGV drivers go head to head for the title Renault Trucks' Optifuel Challenge Eco Driver of the Year 2015.

Representing the UK were Simon Ellis, pictured right, who drives for Wincanton on its Sainsbury's contract in Northampton, and Les Burkey, a DHL driver working on the Iceland contract in Enfield.

The 37 from 20 countries were chosen from 9,000 applicants, all of whom were put forward by the employers as their best drivers. The UK pair then had to come through a national heat held at Millbrook in August where 16 top truck drivers were whittled down to the maximum of two allowed to represent each country.

The prizes on offer are attractive to both driver and employer – the winning driver receives €8,000 (£6,000) and his employer gets a free Range T for a year, a prize valued at €27,000. The second placed driver gets €2,000 for himself and a €3,000 voucher to spend with Renault Trucks for his employer, while third gets vouchers worth €1,000 and €2,000 respectively.

The final in Lisbon required each driver to complete a 22km test drive in a Renault Range T460 4x2 tractor with the full Optifuel fuel economy package hauling a tri axle trailer loaded up to 32t GVW. They also had to answer 20 multichoice questions on fuel efficient driving – but 90% of their scores came from the 30 minute drive. No pressure then.

While the drive was on open roads around Estoril and subject to the vagaries of varying traffic levels each of the eight identical test trucks was shadowed by a reference truck to allow the drivers' performance to be put into context.

So how did the plucky Brits do? Burkey, hampered by heavy traffic and a fast cyclist who could not be overtaken immediately, returned figures of 46.5l/100km fuel use, 42kph average speed and 93% green band driving. Ellis's equivalent scores on the doors were 43.5l/100km, 41ph average speed and 90% in the green band. An earlier reference drive by a Renault driver trainer returned figures of 40l/100km, 47kph and 95% green band. Neither drive was good enough to take one of the top three slots - a Spanish driver was the overall winner.

This was the third of these eco driving events organised by Renault, to highlight the fuel efficiency of its Euro-6 trucks and the importance of good driving technique to get the best from them. In the 2014 event, held in Nice, France, the French drivers took the top two slots.

See our interview with Renault Trucks senior vice president Bernard Modat.