With four-wheel driving on his mind at all times, Jesse Gleeson has built a trail terror that stalks the outback in fear of no obstacle. A staunch four-wheel driver, Jesse has never kept keys to anything that couldn’t tango when the road runs out. “I’ve never owned a car that can’t go off-road… I don’t see the point in having a car that won’t do what you want to do in it,” he says. What Jesse wants to do, is go anywhere, fast.
Monstering rutted slopes that would intimidate lifetime off-road adventurers, his heavily customized, chopped GQ Patrol is the product of a lifetime obsession. Picking lines through rough country for as long as he can remember, the Gleeson family spent every spare second on the unsealed stuff: Off-roading, camping, and living life off the beaten track.
“I started four-wheel driving when I was a kid,” says Jesse. “My whole family did it, grandparents, and parents. It’s sort of our thing.”
“My dad always used to go out, he would look forward to it all week. He was always fixing his car or others people’s cars, tinkering. It started from there.” Navigating in off-road competitions, Jesse’s dad has been his mentor. He steered Jesse towards his first car, a Suzuki Vitara. Not quite the lifted and locked bruiser of his dreams, but a start.
“He taught me everything I know. He brought me into it… When I was on my learners I wanted a Patrol. Dad insisted I get a little car to help me pick lines, to build me up, make me a better driver. We picked up the Vitara for $300, but when we got it home it wasn’t what we were hoping for.”
“It needed a full rebuild. Dad was letting me work things out myself, and teaching me. That’s when I really started to enjoy it.”
A month after earning his provisional license and tasting freedom, Jesse was signed up for a competition off-roading event. The little yellow Zook won the class and Jesse was hooked. Lockers went into the Vitara and he stepped up a class. Winning that, he stepped up again, but the car wasn’t going to cut it. It was time for an evolution. Winch challenge racing and heavily modified Nissan Patrols were the next step.
Winch challenge racing exists at the extreme end of off-road motorsport. Driver and navigator go to war with clock and terrain. Stages are tight and winding. High-speeds and rooster tailing corners with tough technical sections mixed together. The high water mark of production based 4WDs, stages are created with obstacles that are designed to be insurmountable. Sheer, steep and enough to send other off-roaders looking for another way around. Like it says on the tin, much of the racing requires the use of winches. The navigator scrambles over the obstacle with the winch line, hooking it up and spotting the driver as they wheel spin and hoist their way to the top, as the stopwatch ticks.
“Racing for me is a getaway,” says Jesse. “Once you’re in the start box with your navigator, you’ve come up with a plan. When the clocks starts the plan’s out the window. It’s flat out”
On Jesse’s car there isn’t much unmodified. Setting out to build a GQ that stood out from the pack, Jesse’s chopped Nissan extra cab ute sports a petrol 4.8 litre TB48 from a late model GU Patrol, with more power and more speed the order of the day. Furthering this cause, a hefty turbo on the side of the straight six and a Haltech ECU ensure the wheels are ready to spin with a soft prod of the hot pedal. The noise of the car bouncing off its rev limiter and blowing off boost conjures images of Patrols gapping Lamborghinis on dusty Middle Eastern highways.
With the cab moved back 50mm, and the motor and gearbox moved back 75mm, the car is braced front to back and built for balance and stability. The winch, a vital component, is highly developed. Mid-mounted for improved approach angles, the widened drum is geared faster with air free spool and upgraded for strength. For GPS stages, a modified marine system lights the way. With everything you need and nothing you don’t, the truck is an exercise in race car minimalism, with one notable exception.
“One of the things we always needed was a cold drink at the end of the stage. We removed the centre console and put a fridge in there.”
With the community as much a part of the adventure as the racing, the car is developed and maintained with Jesse’s Dad and his best mate Alex. With five years of fast-winching under his belt, the reason Jesse sticks to the sport is in the people who do it.
In an early race he suffered a frightening engine fire from a combination of a loose engine mount and a wandering winch cable,. Jesse thought his weekend was set for a DNF. The community came together to get him back on the trail.
“Everyone wanted to help us get back in. We were rookies and everyone was willing to help. We pulled winch leads and batteries out of other peoples cars, joined them together and taped them up and we kept racing.”
With hundreds of hours spent in the shed, or on the tracks, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It’s always on your mind, picking up parts after work or helping bogged vans at work sites,” says Jesse. “The hours I have put into my 4WDs is countless… The sense of achievement, using what you have built, it’s great fun.”
It sure looks it.