The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Goes to Battle
It’s been over 25 years since Jeep offered a truck. So, what better way to shake off those pickup cobwebs than by entering its all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator in the hardest one-day race on the planet? If it all sounds a bit crazy, don’t worry, things only get more unbelievable from here. With less than two weeks until the start of the 2019 King of the Hammers Every Man Challenge, Jeep handed off the keys to a 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon to the team at Savvy Off Road.
With a track record for pumping out winning Ultra4 Racing vehicles, Gerald Lee and his Savvy team pulled long nights to get the truck ready for the 4600 Stock Class. To make sure the Jeep would have the best chance at success, it secured racing icon Robby Gordon and two-time KOH winner (and 2018 Ultra4 Series Champion) Erik Miller to pilot the truck. Gordon would take on the first half of the race that largely consisted of high-speed desert conditions, while Miller would be tasked with getting the 137-inch wheelbase through the rocks.
Given Jeep is already touting the Gladiator as the “Most Capable Midsize Truck Ever,” putting the somewhat unproven platform in the middle of race where the majority of the field does not finish was a risky proposition. Despite this, the Jeep Gladiator managed to take the checkered flag after a grueling 165-mile race. Here, we’ll take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of what it took to get the Gladiator ready for battle.
With only 949 miles on the odometer, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator arrived at the Savvy Off Road shop in Corona, California. This Rubicon edition was outfitted just the same as if you bought it off the lot. No special frame or custom race setup. From the push-to-start button to dual-zone climate control, this Gladiator would start out as a premium pickup.
Powering the truck is the 285hp 3.6L Pentastar V6, which is backed by the eight-speed automatic transmission. Even the stock 241OR 4:1 transfer case would remain intact.
More Seats, More Fun
Given it’s a four-door truck, the Savvy team (at Jeep’s request) added an additional Sparco racing seat in the back of the truck. Along with a custom ‘cage, each occupant would get a five-point harness.
Since few (if any) aftermarket companies have had a chance to get its hands on a Gladiator to start building parts, the Savvy team had to work fast to come up with armor for the truck. These aluminum rockers ended up working with a set of custom steel rocker guards that were welded to the frame. To shave a little weight, the team swapped out the full doors for a set of half doors from Bestop.
Since this truck would take a pounding off-road, Savvy didn’t want to risk an axle failure. So, they swapped out the stock axle set with a pair of ProRock XD60s from Dynatrac. These ultra-high clearance axles unit uses a 10.1-inch ring gear, which was paired with a 35-spline ARB Air Locker. In the front, the high-pinion diff feeds a set of double-heat-treated, U.S. forged 1550 axleshafts. The steering was also upgraded with a Yeti XD draglink from Steer Smarts.
While the Gladiator’s front suspension is pretty much carryover from the JL, the rear suspension is more akin to the Ram 1500. This suspension design is part of the reason the truck has a best-in-class 7,650-pound towing capacity. Unfortunately, this style of four-link with track bar isn’t as free-flowing as what is in the rear of a Wrangler.
To free up some travel and articulation, Savvy ditched the stock upper control arms and track bar out back. In their place would be a set of triangulated uppers that would bolt to the Dynatrac ProRock XD60 rear housing. This setup would be teamed up with a set of Rock Krawler control arms and coil springs.
One of biggest challenges when building the truck was the length. To try and keep the belly of the truck from being hung up in the rock sections, Savvy built a custom belly pan setup that would protect the powertrain and allow the truck to have a flatter underbelly. Doing this required the use of the high-pinion ProRock rear along with a custom carrier bearing to support the rear driveshaft.
Racing in the 4600 Stock Class means you are limited to a 35-inch-tall tire. The Gladiator got a chance to give the lakebed a workout with a stack of 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers. These were paired with a set of 17-inch Raceline beadlock wheels.
With next to no test time, the truck’s first real shakedown was during qualifying. Here, Erik Miller laid down a time that landed the Gladiator the pole position on race day. Despite taking the first spot in its class, the truck would still be the 49th vehicle off the line on race day. This was due to the 4500 Legends Class and 4800 Modified Class also racing at the same time.
Equipped with 5½ inches of lift dampened by Fox remote-reservoir shocks, the first leg of the race was a high-speed desert jaunt that squeezed every inch of power and travel from the truck that it had to offer. With Robby Gordon keeping the truck on pace in the desert, it was Erik Miller’s turn to get the truck through some of the toughest rock trails on the planet. Unfortunately, a compressor wiring issue caused the truck to lose the ability to switch on the lockers later in the race. This made the Warn winch play a more vital role along with help from Miller’s two co-drivers Rob Ruggiero and Nathan Stowers.
After a grueling 165-mile race day, the Jeep Gladiator managed to check a box that few can: finish the Every Man Challenge Ultra4 Race. While a handful of minor issues slowed the truck, no flat tires or serious equipment failure kept them from taking the checkers. This was by far one of the boldest moves we’ve ever seen a vehicle manufacturer do with a vehicle that technically isn’t even available in dealerships yet (hurry up spring!). The fact that only 48 of the 130 vehicles that came off the line would finish this year makes their finish ever more impactful. While the truck definitely has battle scars throughout, it still remains a fully functional pickup that you could (and Savvy did) drive home after the race. We’re looking forward to seeing more of this and other Gladiator builds very soon!
Additional photos provided by Savvy Off Road & Dynatrac