It just jumped out in front of me!” Those words played a thousand times over in my head as what I thought was a giant bush or rock jumped in front of the D-Max I was learning to drive off-road. A little voice in the back of my head said: “Not as easy as you thought huh?”
I’ve always considered myself a good driver – not perfect, but curious. That’s until I spent the day tackling the tough terrain of the Isuzu Driving Academy, where your skill and patience are tested.
Lead instructor and racing driver Grant McCleery has over 30 years of driving experience and training. The most
patient instructor I’ve met, his skill and expertise allow the driver to feel safe and reassured. The academy has courses on and off-road.
Accompanying him was Claudelle MacGregor, also from the driving academy, who stressed the importance of safety. We had a discussion about how this is a great way for women to learn how to correctly manoeuvre a four-wheel-drive vehicle without feeling intimidated.
This is important because many owners of four-wheel drives are female and knowing how to get out of a tight spot is essential. We are a nation that loves to purchase four-wheel drives, but can we drive them? Have we tested all the capabilities of the vehicles? What do you do in flood conditions or on a sharp incline or descent?
McCleery explained most drivers don’t learn about the functions and features of their vehicles. Rather go into battle armed, than thinking your armour without skill will save you, is McCleery’s philosophy. A sobering demonstration about speed, distance and braking was first up.
How long does it take a fully serviced vehicle with new tyres and fresh brakes take to stop at 60 km/h? The answer may surprise you. It is way further than you think. Then the fun stuff started at the Gerotek testing facility’s 35-degree incline and decline course.
It resembles parts of a roller coaster and the stomach-churning bit came right at the top. McCleery got me to line up, select Hill Descent Control and just let go. I put my faith in the bakkie and it drove itself down the steep slope. You’d rarely discover the function, driving around daily.
The Hennops course is the true test of off-roading, from the rocks which jump out at you (my story and I’m sticking to it!) to muddy and watery conditions. It’s tough terrain that needs a light foot and loads of focus. Going through a gorge of water at an angle of 45o, learning not to accelerate through the flood, was a highlight; an ultimate “I did it” moment.
Almost smashing into a bush wasn’t – thank goodness for my burly instructor who reminded me to slow down and remain calm. This course is for all drivers: from bus drivers and couriers to day-to-day drivers and new drivers who’ve just got their licences – and anyone who’s always wanted to test the power of a strong engine on tough terrain. It’s an adrenaline-filled experience that’s worth every second.