Driving on two wheels is one thing but what can the average motorist learn from Team Isuzu D-Max.

(This article was originally published in 2015) IF YOU’VE VISITED one of Australia’s many capital city or country agricultural shows recently, chances are, you’ve seen Team Isuzu D-Max in action. 

An arena favourite, the team performs a range of exciting stunts, from bouncing off ‘kicker ramps’ to choreographed formation driving, and the ever-popular two-wheel balancing act. 

They’re always a thrill to watch, but not surprisingly, behind these daring manoeuvres lies a great deal of skill and training. Crucial to a successful performance is maintaining control the car through precise management of speed, steering, distance and timing.

Team Isuzu D-Max in action

The average motorist will, ideally, not find themselves flying through the air over several parked vehicles, or looking into the face of the driver in front as they drive nose-to-nose, mere centimetres apart. Nevertheless, anyone who wants to be a better driver can learn a few valuable lessons from Australia’s best.

Know your vehicle

Speaking with Dave Shannon, a precision driver with more than 30 years’ experience, it’s actually difficult to coach out specific details of how team members achieve the manoeuvres they do. That’s because so much of their driving is based on feel; they know their vehicles incredibly well, and this – combined with their experience, training and constant practise – means many of their shifts and decisions are instinctive.

Jane Speechley with Dave Shannon

This is particularly evident during the precarious ‘two-wheeling’, as Dave constantly and vigorously adjusts the steering and throttle to maintain balance.

The average Australian driver, who has minimal training and replaces their vehicle every 3-5 years, doesn’t have this luxury. However, there is still great benefit to be found is being actively aware of your vehicle. Concentrate and take notice of how your car feels, steers, moves and sounds. You’ll be better able to handle difficult conditions and situations when they arise, and also more likely to know when something is wrong.

Similarly, driving in a new or unfamiliar vehicle – or one that’s had some major work performed – should prompt you to drive with even more care and caution than usual.

Avoid distractions

One of the most important skills for a precision driver to develop is to be able to focus on what’s important, and ignore everything else.

For example, when speed isn’t a factor in a particular manoeuvre, Dave tells me he can only estimate how fast he is going – he doesn’t even look at the speedometer. 

For Team D-Max, distractions during a performance might include waving spectators, floating balloons, loose animals, and even exploding fireworks.

While it’s unlikely you’ll encounter all these on your daily commute into the office, the distractions you are likely to face – food and drinks, noisy passengers, mobile phones or just changing the channel on the stereo – can be even more lethal. 

In fact, a 2013 study of road accidents by the Monash Accident Research Centre found driver distraction caused around 16 per cent of accidents, responsible for more crashes than the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It’s all about the tyres

Understanding tyres, tread and pressure – and how these work together to keep you on the road – is one of the most crucial lessons you can learn as a motorist. Any well-qualified driver will tell you those few centimetres of rubber are, more often than not, the only thing that stands between you and an accident.

However, if you’re anything like the average car owner, you barely think about your tyres until they need repair or replacement. And, thanks to the quality of tyres produced by modern technology, you can often get away with being a little slack in your maintenance, without facing a major disaster (though a little care can save you a lot of time, money and stress).

Once you start pushing the capabilities of your vehicle, though – for example, through off-road driving or facing other challenging conditions – you’ll need to take a more active approach to tyre management.

It’s not unusual for Team D-Max drivers to change their tyre pressure several times throughout the course of a performance, depending on the types of manoeuvres they’re performing. For example, driving on the soft sand of a showground arena requires a slight drop from the usual inflation of 36-38 psi, so the tyre spreads out for extra traction. But if a two-wheel drive is on the itinerary, it’s necessary to pump up the pressure so those two wheels can handle the full weight of the vehicle.

Drive to suit the conditions

Like any smart motorist, Team D-Max drives according to the conditions. 

When the ground is wet and slippery or visibility is reduced, they deliberately leave extra space between themselves and the nearest vehicle.  For their finely-tuned manoeuvres, this might mean a distance of ten centimetres instead of five, but the principle as it applies to road driving is the same. 

Conditions and circumstances on public roads are rarely ideal, so vary your speed and allowing more space around your vehicle to compensate. And when in doubt, slow down and allow a little more.

There’s a time and place for more daring driving, and that’s in a controlled environment with adequate training and on-site support. Even if you’re brave (or foolish … ) enough to place your trust in the vehicles around you, you can’t anticipate where you might encounter pedestrians or other hazards.  

As these most highly-trained and knowledgeable drivers know, even their formidable skills are compromised by volatile conditions, and they adjust accordingly to ensure a safe and successful ride. 

All features aside, it’s the driver that makes the difference 

When asked about the agility of the Isuzu D-Max ute compared with, for example, the passenger sedans he has driven in the past, Dave is adamant the show relies on the skill of the drivers and their control of the car. That doesn’t change, he says, no matter what vehicle you’re in.

Driving in 2015 is arguably easier than it’s ever been. Motorists could be forgiven for becoming a little complacent, given the huge rage of safety and performance features at our fingertips. From anti-lock braking systems to cruise control, crumple zones to electronic stability control, lane departure warnings and fatigue management systems – technological advances have certainly provided us with a more secure and comfortable ride than ever before.

There’s a valuable lesson in remembering then, that no number of safety features can properly compensate for poor or dangerous driving. Even Australia’s most skilled and experienced drivers are acutely aware that their safety, and that of their fellow drivers and spectators, is ultimately their responsibility. 

Know your limits

It would surprise many spectators to learn the members of Isuzu Team D-Max tend to despise driving on the road. 

As Dave Shannon says, “I really don’t like coming to Sydney, and driving through the traffic here, for example. When I’m out there in the arena, I’ve got three blokes around me who – I know – know what they’re doing. Out on the open road, I’ve got no idea what anyone is going to do.”

Team Isuzu D-Max in action

Many drivers know – or at least, think they know – the basics of good driving. But then, whether you’re running late, stewing after an argument, distracted by the kids, overdue for a service, or facing changing road and weather conditions – any and all these factors can lead drivers to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t.

Dave’s single most important piece of advice is for every driver to complete an advanced driving course; so they can learn their limits, learn their vehicles limits, and learn to control their vehicle properly. 

And maybe try to keep all four wheels on the ground.

Practical Motoring thanks Isuzu Utes Australia and Team Isuzu D-Max for their cooperation in producing this article.

To find out more about Team Isuzu D-Max, visit their website or tune into the Facebook page to find out about upcoming performances.


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About Author

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au

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