VIDEO: Four-wheel-drive action at Ballarat

INSTRUCTOR Ken Campbell says one of his main frustrations is trying to instruct those who think they know everything already. It is one of the reason he usually prefers to teach wives rather than their husbands.

On that score Ken wasn’t going to have too many worries with me, because I’ve never fancied myself as an off-road guru.

Ballarat Toyota kindly (and bravely) lent us a Toyota Prado for our day out at the Ballarat District Four Wheel Drive Club training track. After doing the theory and appropriate vehicle checks, we approached the track with our tough truck, some new knowledge and more than a little trepidation.

The course begins with the suspension test, a relatively straight forward little obstacle to show the degree of suspension articulation. Easy.

The side slope ramp is much scarier proposition for the uninitiated, though. Our Prado rides up and then slips down on a very disconcerting angle. 20 degrees is nowhere near close to tipping but it sure feels pretty close.

There is then another articulation test over about 40 metres – good for all-wheel-drives like the Honda CRV according to Ken, followed by a water crossing with logs, although there is no water at present.

The first decent hill ramps up the fear factor, so to speak. The approach is quite steep and there is a delicate balance of needing power to get up and and over, and care to keep it all together. That’s where learning how to brake with the left foot while accelerating with the right is a real advantage.

"A hard turn leads to a section where ruts guide our Prado around like train tracks."

We drive slowly through another dry water crossing before confronting the slippery log bridge. In this case, our instructors guide us from outside the Prado to keep things straight.

A hard turn leads to a section where ruts guide our Prado around like train tracks.

Finally there is the course’s new big hill which brings it all together: A steep incline, then a steep decline, all the while practising our left foot braking.

Our first lap was a slow and painfully careful. Our second faster, and a whole lot more fun.

Ken says our Prado is capable of handling a whole lot more than the obstacles we are presented with. In most cases, he says, the car is more capable than the driver. Who am I to disagree?

Either way, we leave the course with a new respect for the terrain and for our trusty Prado.

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