The Optima Batteries 4x4 Challenge


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First round Ae Forest.

This event started our Challenge series for 2002. Started suggests a quick turn of a key and everything purrs seamlessly to life. Not so. This one was more kick started than turned. Two punishing days of navigation and off roading for no less than thirty two well equipped and enthusiastically crewed 4x4's, with more than our fair share of ladies crewing on this, the first round of the 2002 Optima Batteries 4x4 Challenge.

The hills are alive, to the sound of ……… engines? Somehow I can't see Julie Andrews quite making that work can you? Nevertheless at least one of the many off roaders in Ae's capacious embrace saw fit to burst into song at the sight of the green and rolling Galloway hills stretching off into the distance with their feathery caps of snow, that was after cracking the ice encrusted tent open of course! Views over the Solway firth to the hills of the Lake District, East to the Lothians or West over Galloway.

Transmission failures? Never in the field of 4x4 conflict have so many half shafts and diffs given up the ghost on the same event. All of course had one common denominator, they all originated from Solihull sired transmissions. That perhaps isn't altogether fair as there were only four non Rover products there, and one of those (the Vauxhall powered Suzuki SJ) was 'borrowed' by Phill Birt to stand in for an L/R based Tomcat that had been out on the tiles too long and so wasn't ready for battle. Jeeps aren't always reliable where axles are concerned (please Lord don't visit any misfortune on our Jeeps) but Tony Baskills G Wagen has always been a paragon of virtue in the transmission department so why doesn't everyone fit Merc axles? It appears that evolution works in a different way in 4x4, off road sapiens has now evolved to the point where some, higher up the evolutionary ladder, can actually change shafts and diffs in the sort of time F1 teams are doing tyre changes. Quite why evolution hasn't actually cured the problem rather than just speeding up the repair is a moot point.

Click here for pictures.

Commenting on the actual event is fraught with the danger of being too self congratulatory. I'm hardly likely to say it was poorly organised and conceptually flawed now am I? Personally I believe that the concept it is about as good as it gets, enough space to have real navigation as well as off roading. The idea was to make it a real team effort. Saturday in particular gave you 7 ½ hours of relentless action whether off roading or navigating. You people are the only ones whose opinion counts in that department and thankfully there has been a welcome response, in the affirmative, from a good proportion of you. There was no lack of effort on our part. I spent 6 days in the forest in total and Keith Bettis 5. Most of the marshals spent at least 2 days in the forest, some 3, though that isn't too much of hardship the 300 plus miles on forest tracks in a V8 can be. The bridge building exercise, (done by plumbers from Northumberland!) took on shades of the river Kwai, and it is with some embarrassment that I have to report it met its end at my hands, though I wouldn't have been so quick to admit it had not team 9 got pictures to prove it! At times we went for hours without seeing a soul, it was almost as if aliens had spirited 32 4x4's away into oblivion, then a little nest of 4x4's were found all burrowing into some hillside with frenetic activity. The Land Rover World and 4x4 Magazine official photographer, was chauffeured around in the 'splendour' of Harry Haighs Range Rover chasing rainbows as he put it. Come to think of it, on the weather front, rainbows and a tornado were about all we didn't see through the weekend.

It is obvious that a lot of people have realised that the specials class is not the place for the half hearted, 10 standard teams and 6 specials teams took the field. Yet again the points difference between the two classes was large, and seems set to continue that way, yet I am more convinced than ever that both classes still get their moneys worth from these events. Don't forget that next year the standards class will be restricted to Mud Terrain pattern tyres or less aggressive, any size, and that means exactly what it says. The eventual winners, Giles Evans, Paul Howes, Nick Pym and Steve Gaunt were men with a mission. They put down their marker on Saturday with a slender 6 point lead over second position team Tony Baskill, Dave Needham, Barry Pluckrose and Robert 'Phylosan' Phillips. Those 6 points were all on letter boards, the scores showed the former with 4 extra punches to their credit, the latter with 2 extra tasks, it's that kind of event. It was unique that the Saturdays positions remained intact through Sunday.

In standard class things were equally close. Phill Birt, Jim King (whose Suzuki had Phills winch bolted on just prior to the event) Ivan Nelson and Val Roberts were in the lead after Saturday with a comfortable 61 point lead over Andy Godward, Mike Drake, James Robson and Kevin Martin who in turn were only 6 points (yes, letter boards again, those innocuous 3 points per board are little b……….eauties aren't they?) in front of Darren McGuinness and Kevin Davis who were lucky in their bad luck when Darren lunched a diff but still managed to get back to control just in time. There are ladies who lunch, munch and go round in a bunch then there are real women. Six of the latter were with us in case you never noticed, Amanda Chapman being co driver in the second specials, a welcome return to her and Kurt after a few years absence from CoR events.

I would like to give a huge thank you to all the volunteer Redcoats. As nice a place as Ae is their job is a little like a soldiers description of warfare. 80% boredom, 10 % panic and 10% sheer terror as dozens of muddy, sweating, hyped up individuals descend like the hosts of Mordor. 4x4's tend to hunt in packs! Marshals came from the sunny Isle of Wight, Inverness, Aberdeen, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Durham, Northamptonshire and Shropshire and all are heroes, nay super heroes. Also John Goodwin of Ae 4x4 club is a real boon, sharing his knowledge of the forest and sorting the necessary permissions, true he nicks some of my ideas, but that is a fair exchange for what he gives us in return. Entrants were, as a group, cheerful hard working and helpful to each other.

A final thought after the trials, tribulations and trees of the Ae event;

Trees only hit 4x4's in self defence.


RESULTS Optima Batteries 4x4 Challenge Series 2002. First round Forest of Ae.

1st Overall T9

Giles Evans/Paul Howes Land Rover 90 V8
Nicholas Pym/Steve Gaunt. Land Rover 100" V8 2434 pts.

1st Special Class T2
Tony Baskill/Dave Needham Mercedes G Wagen V8
Barry Pluckrose/Robert Phillipson Foers Ibex 250S TD5 2248 pts.

2nd Special Class T5
Simon Buck/Matt Cook Land Rover 90 200 Tdi truck cab.
Kurt Lillywhite/Amanda Chapman Land Rover 90 Tdi soft top. 2240 pts.

3rd Special Class. T1
Steve Barras/Patrick Smart. Foers Ibex 250 V8 diesel truck cab.
Neil Redpath/James Feeney. Foers Ibex 250 V8 diesel truck cab. 2101 pts.

1st Standard Class T16
Darren McGuinness/Paul Davy Land Rover 300 Tdi 90 hardtop.
Kevin Davis/Mike Robinson Land Rover 300 Tdi 90 hardtop. 1436 pts.

2nd Standard Class T4
Phillip Birt/Jim King Suzuki SJ 1.8 Carlton engine
Ivan Nelson/Val Roberts Land Rover 90 D. 1408 pts

3rd Standard Class T8
Rod Elwood/the unknown warrior. Land Rover 90
Mark Hatton/ Chris Whitfield Land Rover 90. 1344 pts

Freshman Four Wheeler Award T7
Chris Dykes/Brian Bream Land Rover 90 Tdi
Graeme Mackinnon/ Eddie Macconachie Land Rover 90 V8. 1022 pts

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