D‑MAX steals the show

There can be fewer more visible testaments to D‑MAX toughness than the abuse handed out by Australia's top Precision driving team

Words: Steve Kealy

Photos: Courtesy of Team D‑MAX

The country's best-known stunt squad underwent major changes at the beginning of 2013: not just a change of name but also a change of vehicles to D‑MAX utes— and for the first time, a switch to diesel power.

Yet the EMG Precision Driving team's hectic schedule of events, shows and demonstrations had to continue seamlessly, so there was little time for their four main drivers to acclimatise to their new D‑MAX partners.

Luckily, they needed very little time at all. Nor were any major mechanical modifications needed: the stunt team slides, slithers, jumps and leaps in pretty much standard D‑MAX SX crew-cab low-ride turbo-diesel utes, just like those driven by thousands of Australians every day. They're not even four-wheel drives! In fact, aside from an ADR-approved mining specification roll-cage, racing seats and harnesses for safety—along with Bilstein shockies, Detroit Locker-style diffs to make two-wheeling possible and a hydraulic handbrake to cut maintenance — the SX crew-cabs only have a fruitier exhaust note and a bit of chrome bling between them and their showroom-standard cousins. They even roll on standard alloy wheels.

Power and precision

The SX's car-like ride, predictable handling and vast spread of turbo-charged power made the transition from petrol to diesel an easy one for the team, despite the stunt drivers needing pinpoint timing and immediate, predictable power throughout their displays.

Almost immediately, the drivers described their new D‑MAXs as being "deceptively fast"— the low-down torque from Isuzu's twin overhead cam, intercooled turbo three-litre four-cylinder engine peaks at a huge 380Nm.

Before the team's switch to D‑MAX was decided, a gearbox was sent over to them for analysis; this is the most critical component as it can't be changed easily between shows, so the manual transmission had to be rugged enough to handle hundreds of hours of harsh treatment. Most of the team's stunts are done in second and third gears and there are a lot of sudden, quick shifts up and down.

An engineering assessment of the Isuzu UTE vehicles quickly revealed that under the skin, the D‑MAX utes are even tougher than they look: the gearboxes appeared indestructible—and that's exactly how they've proven to be.

New Beginning

Although Team D‑MAX is just a few months old, having kicked off at the 2013 Royal Canberra Show in February, it's been operating in one guise or another for more than 45 years.

Set up by 19-year-old aspiring rally driver Lloyd Robertson after he'd visited the 1966 Brisbane show with his dad, the stunt team rotated through various homegrown Holden models for decades. The Aussie icon made good use of the publicity generated by breathtaking displays at shows, expos and festivals the length and breadth of the country. But all good things must come to an end and after nearly 40 years, Lloyd decided to retire, handing the keys to a new generation: business partners Wayne Boatwright and Scott Anderson.

Shortly after Isuzu UTE became a stand-alone vehicle importer into Australia in 2008, the value of the team as a unique communications medium was identified by the company's marketing experts: here was a group of pro drivers, demonstrating its vehicle's capabilities and ruggedness directly to Isuzu UTE's main customers—tradesmen, farmers and fleet operators in every outback town, inland city and bustling capital in Australia.

Very early on, an approach was made, but an existing contract with another manufacturer was already in place. When that expired at the end of last year, a deal was quickly done — and Team D‑MAX was born.

An engineering assessment revealed that under the skin, the D‑MAX utes are even tougher than they look: the gearboxes appeared indestructible.

On with the show

Besides Team D‑MAX's four regular drivers, the crew includes a couple of reserve drivers, as well as a promotion and marketing executive who doubles as live commentator at the action packed events, describing the stunts for the thrilled trackside spectators.

Although each show is a series of individual stunts joined into a smooth, seamless display of nerve, daring and skill, the order in which the tricks will be done is decided according to the space available. The drivers walk the course, examine the surface and consider important safety issues, such as crowd protection, before designing any show.

This makes the choice of tyres critical, as churning up wet grass on a showjumping arena isn't going to make the groundskeepers—or the horsey set—happy. Bridgestone is a long-time supporter of the team, and the D‑MAXs all wear the company's standard street-legal light commercial vehicle tyres.

"It's a great job ... There's plenty of skill and experience in the team, so it was an honour to get the opportunity to join them."

Simply the best

The team performs several times a day for around 100 days a year, and a big part of each show is getting members of the audience, sponsors and competition winners to participate: to slip on helmets, strap in and hang on as the D‑MAXs are put through their paces. Being a passenger in a ute that's driving along at a crazy angle on just two wheels has been called "the best seat in the house".

"The D‑MAX is unquestionably the best ute on the market ... It's the toughest, it's the best-backed, it's the most economical."

Team D‑MAX - always ready to set pulses (and engines) racing

Although the kicker-jumps offer the hardest landing, only in the ramp-jumps are passengers not taken along for the ride—the driver needs perfect balance as the car flies through the air. Have there been mishaps? Very occasionally there's what they like to call some "paintswapping" or even a bit of work for a local panel shop, but in all the years the team has existed, no-one has ever been hurt. That's a pretty good record for such an exciting, high-energy display of precision close-quarter driving. "It's an exciting new beginning for the team and we couldn't be happier with the vehicles and the support we've had from Isuzu UTE Australia," says Boatwright. "The D‑MAX is unquestionably the best ute on the market now and the sales growth proves it. It's the toughest, it's the best-backed, it's the most economical and it performs brilliantly."

Stay up-to-date with Team D‑MAX events by joining them on Facebook. Check out the team's page at: facebook.com/TeamDMAX.

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