Isuzu UK with Milltek Exhaust Win Round 3 of the British Cross Country Championship
The D-Max is fitted with a Milltek Sport exhaust system which helps to give the engine some additional power, torque and race-proven reliability. The Milltek exhaust system is available off-the-shelf to any owner of the Isuzu D-Max looking for a bit of exhaust performance and a nicer soundtrack.
Tough as it was for all competitors, the dirt bath of round two failed to muddy Isuzu's tough reputation. Having completed every required run when many other purpose-built machines had failed, the production Isuzu D-Max had battled on to actually strengthen its position within the championship.
Now sat in joint fourth position overall and with most of the Welsh countryside relieved from the pick-up's underside, it was with a sense of renewed energy that the Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team made the long journey north of the border for round three. This round of the 2015 Britpart MSA British Cross Country Championship revisits the 11,000-acre Forrest Estate in Dumfries and Galloway - a venue known for its exhilarating WRC-style course and infuriating insect population.
While the rest of the country appeared to be enjoying summer-like June weather, Forrest Estate was experiencing an altogether different climate. Day one had storm-force winds, virtually non-stop downpours, and was at least ten degrees cooler than the south coast. The positive spin on this, however, was that the midges were unable to come out and persecute us.
Irrespective of the conditions, nothing could have dampened driver Jason Sharpe's enthusiasm. If round two had a low speed index, round three was at the opposite end of the scale. Because aside from a couple of axle-articulating quarry climbs designed to keep everybody on their toes, the rest of the course consisted of high-speed, pedal-to-the-metal gravel tracks. And that prospect had rally veteran Jason bouncing around the service area like a child on a sugar rush.
His feelings weren't quite echoed by co-driver Richard Lester, who came away from the single sighting lap looking like he'd seen a ghost. The realisation now dawned that his role over the weekend had become even more vital. Reading from minimal safety notes scrawled on a single sheet of A4 paper, advance warning would have to be given for every bend, yump, bump and off-camber blind crest. With no safety barriers on any of the tracks, there was very little if any margin for error. Speed and accuracy would therefore be key elements to success on the part of both driver and co-driver.
Despite minimal acclimatising to the route, Jason immediately settled into his default 'on it' mode. Though fast and flowing, the popular Forrest Estate course is still extremely hard on cars, punishing them with a barrage of high-frequency vibrations for around six miles. Such was its severity that one of the production Freelanders lost a wheel on the first run. Not surprisingly, Jason and Richard felt like they were sat inside a pneumatic drill strapped to a roller-coaster.
Nevertheless, the duo's incredibly fast times showed just how well the hardy D-Max suited this course. Its long wheelbase gave it straight-line stability; its 50:50 torque split between both axles gifted it with grip and balance; and its 2.5-litre twin-turbo powerplant delivered eye-widening pace, to the embarrassment of some of the V8-powered prototypes.
Despite truly atrocious weather conditions through most of the day, lap times that began at 10 minutes 50 seconds soon tumbled as growing familiarity improved performance. Before a brief lunchtime break the Isuzu service team had only needed to replace the front anti-roll bar bushes (the first time these OEM components had been changed since the D-Max started racing last year), tweak the sump guard after one particularly heavy compression, and clear the ECU from some niggling fault codes.
By run four, the Isuzu's lap time had been slashed to 10 minutes 30 seconds, which was then improved upon in run five with a best-of-the-day time of 10 minutes 23 seconds. This level of commitment meant the D-Max really was fighting it out in the middle of a pack of ferocious animals. Only a handful of the lightweight prototype machines were faster and early results showed the Isuzu positioned in the top five fastest cars.
Runs six through eight were slowed by a mixture of circumstances - a puncture, a sensitive ECU putting the car into limp-home mode again, and another competitor that broke down in front but failed to let the unstoppable D-Max pass. We know who that competitor is now, so Jason won't be lining up behind him on the starting line tomorrow, that's for sure!
The second day of each round of the British Cross Country Championship is always a slightly more relaxed affair than day one. Competitors have familiarised themselves with the course and settled into a rhythm of runs and running repairs. The organisers also recognise that the following day marks a return to the normality of secular work, and therefore reduce the number of runs required. This gives everybody a headstart of an hour or two for the long slog back home.
What this doesn't mean, however, is that the competitors can take it easy. In fact, with the organisers having decided on a target of six runs through the Forrest Estate instead of yesterday's eight, opportunities to make an impression on the championship were reduced by a significant percentage.
A minor change to the course had also been applied overnight, deleting the steep scramble out of the quarry that the Freelander class had been struggling to negotiate. In terms of length, the course had only been shortened by around 100ft, but the impact on overall run times was predicted to be dramatic. The extent of this change was indicated after the first run, with the Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team posting a run time of 10 minutes 16 seconds - eight seconds faster than yesterday's best. The pace improved again by another two seconds in run two and could have been even faster were it not for the ECU detecting an issue and putting the engine into a safety mode that stopped it delivering full power.
This has been a recurring and frustrating issue for the team of mechanics. But while it never stops the D-Max or slows it significantly, this repetition has allowed the team to narrow down the cause. Until the ECU coding can be properly diagnosed after the round, the team's best guess so far is an issue related to one of four things - the airflow sensor, boost sensor, excess heat or intense vibrations.
Every round of the BCCC is a destruction-testing regime for all competitors and few come away unscathed. Four vehicles had been forced to retire after the first day and by the end of day two there would be further casualties, including a nasty roll. But the Isuzu D-Max continued to show astonishing consistency and battle-hardened resolve.
Nevertheless, day two had its share of drama for the team. Due to the high-frequency pummelling delivered by this course in particular, minor issues have to be addressed immediately because they can quickly escalate into major concerns. For example, on the third run of the day driver Jason Sharpe heard a peculiar knocking sound coming from somewhere under the bonnet. Quite how he heard that amid the cacophony of stones shot-blasting the inner wings we don't know...
Having alerted the service crew over the intercom that something was amiss, the crew prepared for the D-Max's return in order to affect a swift turnaround. As Jason pulled into the marquee, Isuzu's team of mechanics descended on the pick-up like bees around a honey pot. Clear communication of the symptoms allowed the team to isolate the issues very quickly and get them fixed efficiently and back out for the remaining laps. In this case, the vibration of the course had allowed a steering rack bush and lower wishbone camber bolt to work loose. Needless to say, every other bolt around the chassis and suspension was re-torqued before Jason and Richard went back out again.
With the chassis now feeling as solid as the rocks flying past underneath, the remaining three runs were despatched in quick succession. Run four was the fastest of the entire weekend; a blistering 10 minute 4 second run that was up there with the best of the prototypes. Buoyed by this fantastic performance, the driving team strapped themselves back into the race seats and knocked out the final two runs without feeling that it was necessary to return to the pits for a once-over.
Round three of the BCCC had been an incredible weekend for the Jewson Isuzu D-Max Rally Team. While other competitors were clearly struggling to cope with this punishing course, the attentive care of a good team meant that the D-Max had displayed unshakable reliability and been consistently fast. Would it be enough to improve Isuzu's position in the overall championship, though? We'll let you know when the results come in.