Enter The Dragon – A Summary of RFC China 2009

Published on October 8th, 2009

The inaugural 2009 China-Sanya International 4×4 Challenge, a signature event from the founder of the Rainforest Challenge (RFC), turned out to be not only a record-breaking 4×4 event, but also a thriller of a 4×4 event for this year, especially for the Chinese 4×4 community and fraternity.

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Record Breaker

It was the most internationally represented 4×4 event of the extreme off-road type for China, with teams and media representation from UK, Poland, Netherlands, Russia, France, Italy, Hungary, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and the host country itself. It also set a record for successfully bringing in two 4×4 vehicles (one upgraded production series Land Rover Defender 90 from the Philippines, and the other a modified hybrid Suzuki from Sarawak, Malaysia) that were cleared at Haikou port for a 4×4 competition, a feat that has never been done before.

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In spite of the worldwide H1N1 flu pandemic and subsequent fears and scares, which caused the cancellation of some of the other events, this event eventually took place, albeit with a rescheduled date from Aug to Sept.

Most Punishing for Man & Machine

Also for the record, it was the most punishing and demanding 4×4 event ever held in Sanya – from the 40 brave and daring teams that registered, 33 of the teams managed to finished the Prologue Special Stages (SS), 22 teams reached camp 1 at Bao Long mountains, 13 teams were fit enough to enter the adventure route, but only 2 vehicles made it out to camp 3! What an elimination process it turned out to be.

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The Thriller

The last two days of the event certainly earned its thriller status for the challenges and obstacles that were faced. Rain storms and winds of typhoon ferocity suddenly lashed across the region and transformed the adventure route from camp 1 to camp 3 into an epic struggle for both man and machine. The route had now earned its status as the “Twilight Zone of Sanya,” worthy to be inducted into the RFC hall of fame for unforgettable 4×4 experiences.

Rivers became impassable torrents, uphill ascends and downhill descends turned into a driving and recovery nightmare for the competitors, every twist and turn became treacherous and if these stumbling blocks were not enough – the adventurers were swarmed with leeches. In the end, eleven 4×4’s out of thirteen had to be left behind, to be recovered after the event, ‘ala RFC 2007’s Great Escape.’

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The Beginning

RFC marshals were brought in to do the ground work one week before the event. Prior to that, the recce for the event was carried out in earlier this year in March.

On D-Day, it all began with very hot and sun shiny weather around the vicinity of Sanya Phoenix International Airport on 19 Sept. The Right Honourable Vice Mayor of Sanya, Li Boging and other high ranking government officials including those from the Tourism Bureau did the honours as the VIPs in attendance.

Battle Stations – the Prologue SS

It was certainly the hottest 4×4 action in the city, well literally, as the temperatures soared into high thirties degree centigrade. It was also the hottest 4×4 extreme action in China. Most local 4×4 events were that of rally-oriented circuit driving and cross country types. This, however, was different – speed was not the king here. Having the right driving style and approach, recovery techniques and proper mindset for endurance were the traits necessary for winning the top positions in this extreme sport.

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A total of 8 SS were staged on the first day, which had all the elements of the RFC format. Obstacles such as log bridge crossing, steep uphill ascends, undulating terrain, muddy stretches, downhill descends and water crossing tested the competing teams to their limits under the hot sun, which nobody seem to mind. The spectators loved it. Winching was the order of the day in some of the SS. Might is not always right in these SS but strategic thinking and right techniques will win the day.

Battle Stations II and Transport Day

2 SS were carried out on the morning of the second day which required maneuvering skills more than anything else. By now, the weaker vehicles began to fall out of the game, with most suffering from mechanical failure, engine fatigue and inexperienced driving.

By afternoon, it was transport stage into the picturesque Bao Long mountains some 35 km north of Sanya City. This ex-logging route was a thrill to drive in day or night, with thick jungle canopy on both sides of the tracks. Even though winching was not required, the terrain posed a good challenge for driving along uphill undulating terrain. It took a good 3 hours to reach camp 1.

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4×4 Jungle Supremacy

Now it’s time for the jungle battle to begin. 4 SS were fought out here which required winch power, right tactics, strategy, skills and a well prepared 4×4 machine. Some came out with good battle plan to tackle the various SS and won convincingly. The SS were designed to make use the difficult terrain which included river banks and steep slopes. Here, unlike the Prologue SS, it’s conquering the natural terrain in the true fashion of a 4×4 warrior.

The Wrath of the Dragon

By day four, the sky turned dark with rain laden clouds loomed in the horizon. The weather has changed for a really stormy day ahead. This turned out to be the ‘Longest Day’ for the event which even the seasoned RFC-experienced team had to struggle for every km gained. The dragon has been unleashed, so to speak.

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Adventure Time

The remaining 13 vehicles which were deemed fit to continue this most difficult section of the event were given instructions to finish this route as a group. All would get the 200 bonus points each for doing so. The group had to follow a “close convoy” procedure with each taking care of the other right to the exit at camp; 3. As things turned out, they have more than they had bargained for. Only two vehicles would eventually reach camp 3.

The Twilight Zone

This comprised of a 10km route with four river crossings and numerous uphill and downhill obstacles, but in the heavy rain, these tracks were transformed into slippery and muddy slopes with fallen trees in between. This struggle of moving forward took hours upon hours of hard work with the overstrained winches. Even walking on foot was difficult, let alone to drive in this “war zone.” From day four, the rains came unabated day to night. Thus began the unforgettable extraordinary two long days and nights of the event. The local and international media who followed the convoy through the route also suffered the same ordeal. All of them had to spend an unscheduled extra night here in the TZ.

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Leech-Infested Country

The wet, cold and dampness combined with struggle across difficult terrain were enough to make even the toughest felt drained of energy and willpower. But their woes were further compounded by presence of leeches of all types. That’s double trouble for everyone, keeping up with the struggle and having to watch out for the leeches at the same time.

Dramatic Finale

After a night in the wet and cold and with still 12 cars still stuck inside the Twilight Zone, it was a tough situation on the morning of day five closing ceremony). The weather was not getting better, some cars suffered mechanical problems while others were still moving painfully slow, food and water supplies began to run out. The evacuation order was then given to get everyone out on foot and leave the machines behind.

The rescue operations began in the morning and did not end until 5 pm in the afternoon. Slowly everyone was out to the makeshift relief centre at camp 3. By closing ceremony, all were back safely in the hotel for the awards.

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Mother Nature Rules Supreme

Without a doubt, Mother Nature always rules and as they say in the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas, ‘the house always wins’. Two days after the event, the weather has yet to improve and the weather that was forecasted ahead predicted of more stormy days ahead.

“This has been one unforgettable and harrowing experience for everyone involved, but a good learning curve for RFC’s local organizers, the Chinese. As for the Chinese teams, it must have been the Mother of All 4×4 Event that they have ever experienced thus far. It was a dramatic finale to remember,” remarked Luis J.A.Wee, the founder of RFC.

The making of this year’s China-Sanya International 4×4 Challenge seemed complete, from the shouts of joy, jubilation and to the spirit of camaraderie and friendship forged shown during the awards night and the closing ceremony. This time, Mother Nature and the Spirit for Adventure both triumphed!

text: Azdee Amir  pix: RFC

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