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Feature: The Rainforest Challenge 2016

Feature: The Rainforest Challenge 2016
Omkar Thakur Omkar Thakur Thursday 04 August 2016, 13:54 PM

In India, motorsport is a niche. Off-roading, though, is catching up big time as a lifestyle sport. 30 participants from all over the country assembled in Goa to compete for the 2016 Rainforest Challenge (RFC). As the competitors grew in numbers and experience over the first two seasons, we expected the fight to go down the wire with two stages added to the format post Twilight to spice up the race.

The RFC started with Prologue – an introduction to the world of the Rainforest Challenge. Before actually going out in the wild, the cars, the drivers and co-drivers would be thoroughly tested. You had to prove your mettle over 12 stages spread across two days. The fastest time over a stage gets 100 points while the second fastest gets 95 and so on. The points are subject to penalties for safety and other concerns to get your final point tally for the stage. The final winner would be declared on the basis of the points accumulated over the 27 Special Stages (SS).

The Prologue itself proved to be quite challenging. The stages were short but tricky. You had to use the ladders or winch yourself out or both depending upon the obstacle and the judgement of your co-driver. Competing in the RFC would be impossible without a prudent navigator who will assess the obstacles and guide you through them. It is a team game where the driver and the co-driver complement each other to finish the stage as fast as they can. SS5 and SS6 proved to be quite a handful for the competitors.

The Predator and the Terminator legs were spread out in the picturesque countryside of Quepem in South Goa. Laid out across a defunct red-stone quarry, the stages were longer and of course tougher with multiple obstacles strewn across every stage. Those who could not finish a challenge went to the next. Those who suffered damage, repaired their cars between stages to be up and gunning in the next one. From SS13 to SS24, Day 3 and Day 4 were fought out closely. Stage 22 proved to be the toughest of the lot with competitors failing to finish one after other.

After four days of the tiring competition, the participants got a well-deserved rest day. So while the competitors breathed easy, we, the scribes, were in for our day out. The media challenge was across two stages driving the Polaris RZR across streams, slush traps, hill-climbs and mountain slopes. We all were surprised by the ability and composure of the puny off-roader as each one of us tried to go flat out across the terrain.

Twilight was the last leg of the RFC 2016 and the toughest of them all. On Day 6 the competitors had to wade through a real rainforest for over eight kilometres and had a full 10 hours of time to complete it. The Twilight stage is not timed and whoever completes it within the stipulated time gets a maximum of 100 points. But completing the Twilight was crucial as it unlocked the 200 points for the next two stages SS25 and SS26.

The camaraderie that we saw through the entire event got to new heights as drivers struggled to inch their way through the jungle. They helped each other with directions and tricks to overcome obstacles. Those who broke down or got stuck and could not go further stayed back and helped others. In the midst of the fierce competition, it was the spirit of sportsmanship that won respect and our hearts. 13 out of 30 participants managed to conquer Twilight.

It was a closely fought battle between last year’s winners Tan Eng Joo and Tan Choon Hong, their Force Motors team-mates Merwyn Lin and Hamizan bin Abdul Hamid and Gurmeet Virdi and Kirpal Singh Tung representing the Chandigarh-based Gerrari Offroaders. Gurmeet and Kirpal emerged to the first Indian winners of the Indian chapter of the RFC by a slender margin of 11 points over Merwyn and 66 points over Tan.

After witnessing the Rainforest Challenge, I want to go back there again next year to be part of the festivities. Even pictures will not be able to describe the kind of difficulty that the competitors face and for that you have to see the RFC live. The kind of effort that goes into building these insane jeeps, the kind of efforts the driver and the navigator put into every stage, the kind of speed with which the service teams repair the broken cars in those hostile conditions, would make anyone go wow. The brotherhood that underlines the competition makes every challenger a winner.


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