Extreme Carnage

- Andy Leuterio () - January 1, 2003 - 12:00am
Pit man and machine against treacherous, rock-studded terrain and painful things are bound to happen. Within a few hours of the Caltex Delo 4x4 Extreme Challenge, one would be on its knees while another would be relegated to the sidelines, bruised, bloodied, and hemorrhaging badly.

Not since several Honda Cities suffered injuries such as figurative kneecappings and high speed rollovers several years ago in the Honda City Rally Sprint have we experienced such displays of motoring carnage. This is because, on a recent Saturday, we find ourselves on the former Payanig sa Pasig grounds, competing in the Media category of the Caltex Delo 4x4 Extreme Challenge using a bone-stock Ford Ranger XLT and an Isuzu Fuego Sport.

Over a hectare or two of bulldozed dirt, weeds, and rock, participants subjected their kidneys and their steeds to three short courses that seemed more fit for a mountain goat than anything else. After a short clinic by the Land Cruiser Club on the finer points of off-roading, like leaving your truck in Four-Low and not touching the brakes and just hanging on during a 45 degree descent, we were off on a course with the stopwatch telling no lies.

Someone finished in around three minutes, which we were told was about what one could expect from a beginner driving a long-wheelbase vehicle like the Fuego with an unmodified suspension on an extremely technical course. Then another finished in less than two minutes, complete with mini tornadoes of dust at the finish line. Uh oh.

Not to be outdone, succeeding participants proceeded to tackle the course in ever decreasing times to the detriment of the poor vehicles which gave as good as they got. These trucks have conquered Mount Pinatubo, but that was a cakewalk compared to this.

Seemingly on a quest to lighten itself and thus gain an advantage, the automatic-equipped Fuego would depart and then return to the finish line with fewer and fewer parts. A foglamp here. A bumper there... On its last run, the Fuego chug-chugged home with what seemed to be a crushed radiator and cooling fan, leaking a trail of boiling coolant all the way to the finish line. No hard feelings, we hope.

There is a reason why a lot of professional off-roaders use a short-wheelbase vehicle like a Land Cruiser. Also why they have such big tires, skid plates, and heavy-duty suspension setups. After a morning’s worth of high-intensity runs, the type that would make something like a RAV4 beg for euthanasia the first time around, both the Ranger and the Fuego would be hors de combat.

Just what exactly did they go through? From the start to the first corner was about 100 meters of 10 degree ascent, with craters and mounds the size of balikbayan boxes. In 4wd-Low and 2nd gear, the entire vehicle vibrates and pitches up and down and side to side in nauseating fashion. You’ll be thankful you only had a light breakfast a few hours before.

Yet this is nothing compared to the next 100 meters after the first corner, which has craters the size of a VW Beetle. Recommended attack for sane people was to stay to the side of the track and let the suspension pussy-foot its way forward.

But if you have delusions of beating that one minute and 30 second time that another participant has just accomplished, then you attempt the same technique he did, which is to go so fast you’ll actually be airborne for a few heart-stopping seconds. This is brutally painful, giving the sort of ball-squeezing sensation guys actually pay for in roller coaster rides.

The landings are just as intense, like being punched in the guts. Have a friend try it out on you! One competitor even thought he’d blacked out. Turns out his helmet only rolled forward and covered his eyes on landing. On the really bad jumps, your head will hit the headliner before the seatbelts wrench you back down into the seats.

After that section, the next section is a small hill populated by trees that, ha-ha, will not give way even if you sideswipe them. Not that we didn’t try to avoid those, of course. Much paint would be left on this section.

After going around that hill, you go back to those two long stretches you went through the first time, doing a reverse encore. Incidentally, this is where a lot of bystanders watch as they drink their beer and cheer you on while munching their barbecues in true grassroots fashion. Much yelling was directed my way during my run; this was the point at which the right stepboard was hanging on for dear life and the front suspension had said adios.

The last hundred meters is a fast downhill run, and the finish line is ominously placed just 30 meters before the organizers’ tents. Did they say not to brake when in four-wheel drive?

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