the greatest advice i can give a driver heading into the backcountry is: BRING YOUR COMMON SENSE!
all of these tips are applicable for anyone going off-roading, not just on the rally. practice these tips and you will not only become a better driver, you will also avoid damage to you vehicle; something we certainly do not want our teams to experience.
before you leave, let’s take a walk around your truck.
go to the front and look underneath it. notice the pieces that are lowest to the ground.
no, not the tires!
on most off-roadable trucks and suv’s, the lowest component will be the differential; that’s where the driveshafts meets the front and rear axels. if your vehicle has body panels, air-dams or ground-effects that hang lower than the differential, you might want to reconsider entering the rally.
notice what side of the truck the front differential is located and plant that into you noggin; you’ll want to recall that later.
does it have a skid-plate? where is it positioned and what does it protect and not protect?
where are the oil pan (the bottom of the engine) and transmission?
walk along the side of the vehicle and see what runs beneath the doors. if your truck has step-bars, remember that and how much ground clearance you have in that area of the truck. if you’ve got mud flaps, especially those hard plastic ones, keep that in your head, too; you won’t want to tear one of those off when you’re driving over a rock.
now, take a look at the underside from the back of the rig and notice how low the rear differential and shock mounts are in relationship to the ground.
check your tire pressure. if you do more towing than off-roading you will have far too much pressure. check the inflation recommendations on the sidewall and deflate them to the lowest level within that range; usually around 32 psi. i can guarantee tire damage with 75 psi!
let’s go for a ride!
oh, oh! what’s this? rocks in the road and there is no possible way to drive around them!
what are you going to do?
drive over them!
size up the rocks, keeping in mind what side the front differential is, and make the call: will it make it or not?
if not, your only choice may be driving up onto the rocks, themselves. take a good look at the rock before rolling right up onto it; make sure you can, indeed, drive onto it without shredding your tire. if it looks good, slowly proceed up the rock.
remember: slower is faster when driving over rocks!
your speed should be in feet per minute instead of miles per hour. even 1 mph can lead to a bounce that could fatally injure your vehicle if it comes down hard at the wrong place.
for greater control, put it into low-range. that way you’ll have more torque and better control at a much slower speed to pick you up and keep you from rolling-off to quickly.
now, that you’re up there, you’ve got to come back down. as you do so, remember what was under your doors, cuz that’s what you’re gonna crush if you come off that sucker too fast and hard.
don’t forget you’ve got to go back up the same rocks with the rears, so just keep your speed very slow, but steady!
piece o’ cake!
oh, great! now there’s a crevasse running down the middle of the road.
time to, once again, get creative!
take a good look at the road: how wide and long is the washout? what’s on the side of the road? is the ground going to decay under the weight of the car if you drive over it? does your rig have the ground clearance to drive through it if it does collapse?
walk it out if you think you need too. i would!
narrower vehicles, like jeeps and smaller pickups, may find it easier to hug one side or the other by driving up onto the berm or rocks and keeping both sets of tires to the side of the washout. or, maybe just driving down into the washout, if it’s not too deep, instead of trying to deal with it.
wider trucks will probably need to straddle it.
now you have to drive up a really steep hill.
before you drive up: look at the road’s surface; is it broken rocks or sand? are there holes? are you going to have to make multiple course corrections as you climb?
once you’ve begun your climb there are three things you do not want to do:
- do not stop!
- do not shift, which on steep inclines is comparable to stopping!
- do not hammer the throttle so hard you start spinning the tires, as this will also bring you to a stop!
if there is somebody already going up ahead of you, wait until they’ve cleared the top. you sure as heck don’t want to have to stop behind them if they’re having trouble!
put it back into low-range!
if you think your truck’s got the beans to make it up in low-range, second gear start in second. if the road is really rocky or full of holes, you may want to keep it in low-range, low gear.
let’s assume that low-range, second gear seems more appropriate; put it in second and leave it there.
let me repeat: do not shift while going up a steep climb. once you lose that momentum, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.
automatic transmissions should also be in drive 1 or drive 2, according to the above criteria.
one more before you drive up (gee, who knew there was so much to think about?) don’t just plant your foot in the throttle and hang on.
slow and steady wins the rally, or in this case: gets up the hill.
most of your concentration, outside of watching the road and determining the best line, should be on your right foot and your engine’s rpm; you want to steadily increase the revolutions, without, spinning the tires, over-revving the engine or shifting, until you reach a place where gravity won’t try to pull you back downhill while going into the next gear.
if, for whatever reason, you do have to stop: do not attempt to turn around up there! that’s a good way to get to the bottom of the mountain the fast, and not so comfortable, way.
don’t panic; think!
get control of your situation.
if you were in low-range, second gear, assess whether you think you can get the rig up the hill from where you are by using low gear without spinning your tires. once you start spinning your tires you’ll be digging holes. not only will those holes make it more difficult for you to get up, but it will also make it more difficult for each subsequent team, all 39 of them. imagine what this hill is going to look like at the end of the day.
if you don’t think you’re going to be able to get up from mid-point, put the transmission into reverse. ordinarily, reverse is much lower than 1st gear. now that you’re in low-range: it’s really low! use it to your advantage.
slowly release the clutch and let the engine’s torque slow your descent. if the engine tries to bog, don’t depress the clutch! just let it cough, it’ll be ok, trust me.
use as little brake as you can; once you get your tires locked-up and slipping you have lost control and may be sliding your way down the mountain, possibly not on the road but down the side.
when you get to the bottom, think about what stalled-you-out and what it’s going to take to remedy the situation and hit it again. if you started spinning your tires before you got stuck, you’ll want to avoid any ground you may have disturbed. you’ll also want to hope no other teams behind you saw you ruin the course for them.
this time make sure you've got it in low-range, low gear and keep you power steady without spinning those tires.
now we gotta come back down the other side of the mountain!
since you’re going downhill and sir isaac newton wants to bring you down as quickly as possible, you’re going to want to use the lowest possible gear available to you: low-range, low gear.
do not use your brakes! if you get them locked-up you'll start to slide down instead of roll safely.
slow, slow, slow!
get the clutch out and don’t depress it again until you reach the bottom or the grade is shallow enough to make a sensible descent.
has any of this been meant to scare you?
it is intended to lend insight that may make your rally experience, and subsequent off-road adventures, pleasurable ones.
drivers: i suggest you get out as often as possible on roads that sound similar to the descriptions in the above. find out what your rig will and won’t do. but, more importantly: find out what you can and can’t do.
navigators: keep your eyes on the road, too! there are so many things a driver needs to observe while driving off-road. i’m never offended when somebody points out a rock that might put a hole in my tire, even if i have already seen it.
since i began producing off-road rallies in 2004 neither rick, willy, ivan, terri or i ever experienced any damage to our vehicles while scouting and/or prepping the courses: no dents; no broken steering pieces or suspension components and no flat tires.
ok. we all got our fair share of nevada pin striping and you’d better not be too worried about that if you’re going to drive on dirt roads to begin with!
damage control is in the hands of each driver; drive slowly and safely and you will experience no damage to your vehicle.
if you are not having fun you are doing it wrong!