Milltek-equipped Isuzu D-Max takes on the Welsh 'Pikes Peak' in British Cross Country Championship
The organisers of the 2014 Britpart MSA British Cross Country Championship (BCCC) said it was a streak of masochism on their part to host the opening round at Myherin, also known as the Welsh 'Pikes Peak'. Rally stages are rarely hospitable places but this location is infamous for serving up four seasons of weather on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the course builders decided to inject even more drama by mapping out a punishing route filled with fast straights, tricky technical corners and 1000ft fluctuations in height.
Most vehicles competing in the BCCC are dedicated off-road racers that do not need to be road-legal to take part. So it was perhaps with some trepidation that Isuzu UK entered this battlefield with a production class vehicle as part of its newly formed Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team. Admittedly, some competition preparation has gone into the construction of this Double Cab pick-up (see 'Vehicle Specification' below) but it conforms to Class 1B mandates that restrict certain motorsport enhancements - complete with a specially-designed Milltek Sport exhaust system.
Visibility was extremely poor due to dense mist early in the morning of day one. However this moisture also reduced the plumes of dust generated from the gravel surface, which allowed competitors to get a good view of the course during the sighting lap. On their return, driver Jason Sharpe and co-driver Russell Sharpe - both racing veterans - looked slightly shell-shocked at its gruelling nature. Nonetheless they were eager to see what the sturdy D-Max could do to bring the fight to the hoards of hardcore off-road racers.
With Russell deciding to read directly from the map to offer pace notes, the duo always set off at a rate which signalled that no holds would ever be barred. Having said that, a degree of vehicle preservation had to be exerted over some of the 80mph crests in order stop the D-Max landing awkwardly on the following yump. So bumpy were parts of the course that Russell bent his foot plate bracing himself against hard impacts.
During the course of the first day it became evident that this first event was still very much a learning curve for the Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team. Tackling the course meant using a mixture of rear- and all-wheel drive, switching on the move via the electronic dial on the centre console. Indeed, if it wasn't for a healthy input of throttle and steering from the rear end, some of the hairpin bends would have had to be navigated with a three-point turn!
Day two at Myherin's inhospitable 'Pikes Peak' dawned bright and clear, the precise opposite of that experienced the day before. Playful banter criss-crossed the driver briefing as evidence of the lifting effect that sunshine has on the human spirit. On a more serious note, the organisers revealed that the muddiest part of the course had now been closed off, as even the dedicated off-road racers had struggled to cope with the three-foot-deep mud ravines ploughed yesterday.
The rally team's Jewson Isuzu D-Max had coped remarkably well in this environment for what is to all intents and purposes a production pick-up. Of course it needed routine checks on tyre pressures, wheel bolts and fluids on each return to the service marquee, but unlike some competitors it had not got stuck, it had never broken down and it had never needed rescuing.
Examination of the championship results at the end of the weekend's activities was extremely encouraging. Times for Sunday's races had tumbled by almost a minute, and the overall classifications showed that just one production model competitor was ahead of the Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team, and even then by just a few seconds. That is an impressive performance for a first outing with an untested vehicle. No doubt the modifications planned for the next round, including stiffer front springs, more engine power from a new ECU, and a reduction in brake servo assistance, will help to leapfrog the team into first position in round two.
Car: Isuzu D-Max Double Cab
Engine: 2.5-litre 16v four-cylinder turbo-diesel, Pipercross panel filter, Forge Motorsport intake pipes, Forge Motorsport alloy radiator, Forge Motorsport coolant hoses and alloy reservoir, Milltek Sport stainless steel exhaust system, Synionic lubricants
Chassis: 7x16" Speedline Corse alloys with 245/75 R16 Toyo All-Terrain control tyres, Bilstein shock absorbers, Super Pro bushes, Tarox brake discs, Custom Cages multi-point roll-cage
Interior: Cobra Motorsport bucket seats, Schroth harnesses, HANS safety devices, Sparco steering wheel, Lifeline fire extinguisher system
Exterior: ATL fuel cell, Lazer bonnet lights, sponsor graphics