4x4 Training – Wiggle And Waggle

Posted on Sun ,21 Jan 2018 10:22 pm
Vaibhav Yedavi
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4x4 Training – Wiggle And Waggle

I realised that the way to cross the roughest terrain is to adopt a Zen-like calm.


PS: I hurt shrubs and trees during the manoeuvres. I got slapped by a few branches and got attacked by tiny spike balls. Nature is unforgiving.


“You need more momentum! Reverse a bit and climb faster,” instructed Selvin on the radio, as I was attempting to find traction in the final section of the Home Run challenge. I had attempted it twice before and completed it successfully – with a bit a struggle ofcourse in the final section – where you need to find just the right pressure on the accelerator pedal to get you out of the trench. But this time the vivid orange Thar was just giving up mid-way making a lot of noise instead of moving ahead. “You will need to go walking all the way to the gathering point,” said Praveen. He had taken a closer look at the front axle. The news was not good. The left side locking hub had broken. The vivid orange Thar was now a 3WD machine. My journey into off-roading had begun with a broken mechanical joint. (Home Run is the first challenge where you crawl into a trench high enough to gobble the Thar and then take a sharp right with a steep angled ascent which gets you out, teaching crawling as well as approach and departure angles).


I was at the Mahindra Off-road Training Academy in Igatpuri near Nashik on a cool December evening for a two day off-road training course on the invitation of Mahindra Adventure. Spread across a sprawling 28-acres, the academy has Mahindra’s engine manufacturing plant and a railway track as neighbours. The various challenges around the academy are designed keeping in mind the Thar and the Scorpio. There are three courses to choose from spanning from half a day to three. This is the country’s only off-road training institution.


After the walk of shame as the crimson sky turned black we headed to the next course. I had to ditch the orange Thar for a Maroon one. Zig-Zag hill was all about finding the right path for traction through a series of alternately dug-out pits while going uphill and also downhill. The most difficult and also scary part though is at the halfway point while doing a hairpin turn. You need to put the front right wheel in the right pit for full traction, not finding which you will need to reverse. Over excitement can lead to losing traction and you ending up in a ditch in the pitch darkness. That is not the scary part though. Getting bitten by cobras which stay in the area is though, which is what Selvin and Praveen told us during the track walk.


The Thar is a niche vehicle made to satisfy the offroad adventure hungry kind. It sits on a shortened Scorpio chassis with independent front suspension and axle setup from the Scorpio. The rear solid axle is from the Bolero. All the Thar’s at the academy are fitted with roll-cages and mud-terrain tyres. A few of them have their exhaust modified. That is the only change of what is a stock Thar, capable of surviving the rough.


Day two started with a mud bath. Here we were asked to start off in 2WD mode and make our way across the mud pond. I was the last one to attempt it and therefore was left with a seriously abused terrain. If stuck the trick is to rock the Thar vigorously in forward and reverse until it gets unstuck. Luck favoured me today and I made it out of the pond in one attempt while the Thar wanting to go sideways. The excitement was killed off in an instant when I felt a sudden jolt on the way out of the pond. My specs fells, my head sprung forward and then backward quickly. Seatbelt saved me from hitting the steering wheel. What had happened was in the excitement of clearing the mud pit I had miscalculated the uphill approach path and hit the bumper against an obstacle. Thankfully nothing had shattered apart from my confidence. My backpack which I had kept behind got muddy too. The plastic canopy is not useful at all in such situations. Thankfully the mud doesn’t reach the front seat area though. Slowly I headed to the next section where one was supposed to have fun sliding the Thar in the slush in 2WD mode. I did a couple of turns under restrain and finished the course.


“I want you to do a big leap of faith without the brakes while coming down,” Selvin said as we discussed the next course which was called BIM, short for Balls-In the-Mouth. It consisted of undoing “the let the Thar do the work” theory while climbing. The trick here was to quickly shift into second gear while still in 4L and build momentum to reach the top where you are greeted by a deep rut which takes you slightly to your left. This is the tricky part after the quick movement through the rocky terrain where you feel like the Thar will shatter. After 2 failed attempts I managed to reach the top. The next part is to take a U-turn around a tree. It is not easy as it looks as tackling it requires a three-point lock-to-lock turn. As I completed the turn and stared downhill, the calm and reassuring voice of Praveen said, “Do not touch any of the pedals unless you want to go racing down and result in broken Thar and also broken bones.” You really start to appreciate the wonders of 4L gearing and engine braking.


Without the clear instructions of Selvin on the radio and Praveen besides the Thar, it would have been impossible to manoeuvre through any of the courses. This is lesson 101. Never ever venture into off-road adventures alone. You will need someone outside the vehicle who will help you navigate the terrain. In situations like these the noise of the engine can mute a lot of instructions so the spotter should be able to navigate you out of a zone through just hand signals. Also you need to have complete faith in that person and rely on the instructions literally blindly. After a class on the hand signals needed to accelerate, brake, reverse, left, right from Selvin and Praveen we were on to the course. I didn’t know what was ahead of us and when Selvin demonstrated it with Anindita as the passenger in tow. Our jaws dropped. The driver who took the wheel second was the guinea pig when he was left tilted sideways so a few group photographs could be clicked. The feeling of the whole Thar tilting and the creaks of the chassis and the body does scare you. The front right wheel is in a ditch and the rear left up in the air. There was only a brief moment when I glanced at the ground through the window, the other times concentrating only on the hand signals given by Selvin. This is the most exciting course at the academy.


After a scintillating experience I followed the herd to the next course which though called Railway Crossing had nothing to do with the actual railway crossing. A railway track was nearby though. The challenge here was to drive in 2H as far as you could. The slippery conditions with loose soil meant it was far from easy. After a few attempts and experiencing all kinds of tilted angles to shift into 2H I did reach very near to the marker. George from Cochin did manage to cross it though. I wonder if the marker has been moved. Finally I put the Thar in 4L and went for the climb.


Going offroad means that you may end up stuck somewhere sometime. So Selvin explained and demoed us the art of winching and also about the various winches available in the market. Caution though, stay away from the winch cable as far as possible, because if it snaps it can slice your body parts away. Also remember to keep the hood of the pulling vehicle open so if the cable snaps it doesn’t come and shatter the windscreen.


Before the last course we had lunch, talked about things in general and then went for the SUV challenge where axle articulation is tested to the maximum. Here both the axles are always twisted in the opposite direction and puts a lot of load on the mechanicals. One rear wheel is always in the air as the Thar has a solid axle at the rear. Here we were left to our own but with a close watch. I started in 2H and only during the third obstacle did I get stuck and had to use 4L. It was 2H after that all through. The trick here is modulating the throttle where input is only required on the uphill section and then letting it go on the downhill slopes. Getting the modulation wrong will get you stuck as Mr. Mule from Pune found out during the reverse run. After a fair bit of trying he had to be winched out.



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