Hot lapping a SuperUte

Riding shotgun in Isuzu’s title challenging D-MAX.

The ability to handle a racing circuit is about as far away as you can get from a ute’s intended purpose in life. And therein lies the greatest challenge for drivers and teams competing in Australia’s national ECB SuperUtes series – turning a workhorse into a racehorse.

Queensland-based Isuzu UTE Australia and Ross Stone Racing are well up for the challenge.  Five rounds into eight of the 2019 series and team driver Tom Alexander in the Caltex Delo Racing Isuzu D-MAX SuperUte is sharing the lead with 2018 champion Ryal Harris (EFS 4x4 Racing Mazda BT-50).  

"It's awesome to have the support from Isuzu and to get their first win (Barbagallo Raceway, Perth) as a manufacturer team,” Ross Stone said. "They were all super pumped. We'll try and convert that into some more race wins and hopefully the championship at the end of the year."

Along with Jim Stone, Ross is one-half of Stone Brothers Racing, the team to beat in V8 Supercars racing in the early 2000s with star drivers Marcos Ambrose and Russell Ingall.  A New Zealander like the Stones, Alexander is a dual national champion in his homeland, winning the 2015 Toyota 86 Racing Series and Formula Ford Championship.

Isuzu ute

I recently gained a first-hand insight to what it takes to be a SuperUtes leading challenger by strapping in with him for some hot laps around the Norwell Motorplex.

At just 2km, seven turns and pancake flat, the Norwell track is a far cry from the championship venues such as Mt Panorama and Surfers Paradise street circuit, but within a lap it’s evident that Alexander and the Isuzu D-MAX are an accomplished combination.

The dash lights flash, indicating he’s making full use of the 4100rpm limit, tapping into the 3.0-litre turbo diesel’s maximum power of some 254kW and 678Nm of torque – well above that of the standard D-MAX’s 130kW/430Nm.

A ute is a big unit on a tight track like this, but in the deft way Alexander is placing it, there’s no risk of running out of room. He’s smooth with his steering input and throttle application and, at times when you can feel the D-Max moving about under braking or carrying some extra speed to the apex, he’s got it well under control.  
 
Given its production car roots, body roll and tyre squeal are surprisingly near negligible. Put much of this down to a two-phase upgrade a few months ago aimed at not just improving handling and driveability, but also making the SuperUtes look more racy.

The changes included a lower-profile Yokohama R-spec tyre, which is roughly 25mm wider than its predecessor, paired with a new, lighter Hussla wheel, along with a 55mm reduction in ride height.

All too soon, our laps are over.  But it’s been time enough to form a new-found appreciation of the Isuzu D-Max Super Ute as proper racer. And Isuzu UTE Australia, Ross Stone Racing and Tom Alexander as legitimate title aspirants.

FAST FACTS

  • The SuperUtes racing category is based on the popular Ute segment that makes up nearly one-fifth of all new motor vehicles sold in Australia.
  • Along with the Isuzu D-Max, Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado and Mazda BT-50 make up the six utes homologated for the series.
  • SuperUtes are production models upgraded with a race kit that increases safety and performance as well as ensuring parity.
  • The production turbo-diesel engines produce 254kW and a torque figure of 678Nm while a category controlled Motec ECU monitors performance.
  • Other controlled components include gearbox and ratios, rear axle assembly, exhaust, brakes, tyres, wheels, springs and dampers.
  • The rear-wheel drive cars weigh 1800kg.
  • Driver protection includes CAMS approved roll cage, increased side anti-intrusion, FIA mandated seat specification, safety harness and window net.
  • You can catch the SuperUtes on the program at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 (10-13 October), Vodafone Gold Coast 500 (25-27 October) and Coates Hire Newcastle 500 (22-24 November).

Isuzu ute