What goes up . . .
Faith, hope and coordination is all the average driver needs to take one of these babies for a spin.
With the front wheels at the top of the wall and the vehicle almost vertical, I hit the brakes. Looking out through the mud-encrusted webbing of the roll cage that had already saved my head once, my instructor Jake is grinning.
“You’re getting the hang of this, aren’t you?”
An hour ago I would have been hanging on to my harness for dear life, so yes, this feeling of relaxed control is definitely progress.
“OK,” Jake says, “now knock it into front-wheel-drive, lock the rear wheels to the left and slowly drive down the wall.”
Amazingly, the vehicle responds as sedately as if asked to mount a low kerb, and soon we’re back on level ground – although only for a few seconds before a steep left turn that requires you to actually drive up the 80? embankment so that the bottom front tyre is practically side-on to the ground. But it’s still moving along, holding its balance, then straightening up to climb the monstrously steep ridge behind.
‘Extreme’ can be overused as a term but this madcap activity is truly bizarre. The trucks looks like pared-back tractors on steroids – a minimalist aluminium-tube frame on 44-inch tyres powered by a V8 engine producing 240kW channeled through a simple automatic transmission to an Atlas II transfer case with ‘rear disconnect’ so you can choose four-wheel or front-wheel drive. The differentials are purpose-built with Nissan centres grafted to military truck outers providing four-wheel steering.
Based at Avalon, Ragged Edge 4×4 uses three vehicles for a range of courses. All are gas-powered to avoid the problem of fuel leakage at extreme angles; oil levels are carefully monitored for the same reason.
But, unlike other forms of motorised madness, the skill you’ll need more than quick reactions and nerves of steel is coordination.
Driving these trucks is like standing on your head trying to walk. You need to keep the revs fairly constant, controlling your speed with the brake. For the tougher parts of the track where maximum traction is required, you actually apply more brake, not less.
Adding to the confusion is the lever used to control the rear tyres. Apart from the fact you pull it right to turn left, you’ll also need the rear wheels pointing uphill for the many steep curves on the purpose-built course.
Beyond that you need blind faith: faith that your marshall-instructor is guiding you along the right line to avoid a huge hole apparently right below you, but you can’t see it because you’re facing the sky. And faith that their directions to put yourself, the machine and, often, a passenger in the most unlikely position is going to get you through the next obstacle and not simply irritate the gods of physics. You rarely go more than walking pace but these machines will go anywhere, at any angle.
“In the competitions we do the course without marshalls,” explains Ragged Edge’s Chris Nolan, who started the 4×4 school to help finance his growing addiction to the sport. “You learn to feel your way by how the vehicle responds.”
Ragged Edge 4×4 is at Avalon Raceway, 210 Melbourne Rd, Lara. You’ll need a full drivers’ licence and passengers must be over 12. Visit www.raggededge.com.au, call 0428 737 864 or email firstname.lastname@example.org