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China-Sanya 4x4: Enter the Dragon, Summary of RFC China.

The inaugural 2009 China-Sanya International 4x4 Challenge, a signature event from the founder of the Rainforest Challenge (RFC) turned out not only as record breaking, but also as the thriller of the year for Chinese 4x4.

Record Breaker

It is the most internationally represented 4x4 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.. It also set a record for successfully bringing in two 4x4 vehicles (one upgraded production series Land Rover Defender 90 from Philippines and the other a modified hybrid Suzuki from Sarawak, Malaysia) were cleared at Haikou port for a 4x4 competition event, a feat that has never been done before.

In spite of he worldwide H1N1 flu pandemic, which caused some other events to be cancelled, 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 4x4 event ever held in Sanya - from 40 teams which registered, 33 finished the Prologue Special Stages (SS), 22 reached camp 1 at Bao Long mountains, 13 were fit enough to enter the adventure route and only 2 vehicles made it out to camp 3.! What an elimination process it turned out to be.

The Thriller

The last two days of the event certainly earned its thriller status. Rain storms and winds of typhoon ferocity suddenly lashed across the region and transformed the adventure route from camp 1 to 3 into an epic struggle for man and machine. The route has now earned its status as the "Twilight Zone of Sanya," worthy of its RFC fame.

Rivers became impassable torrents, uphill and downhill turned into a driving and recovery nightmare, every twist and turn became treacherous and if these were not enough - the adventurers were invaded by leeches. In the end, 11 4x4s out of 13 had to be left behind, to be recovered after the event, "a la RFC 2007’s Great Escape."

The Beginning

RFC marshals were brought in to do the ground work one week before the event. Prior to that, the recee for the event was carried out in March. On D-Day, it all began very hot and sunny in the vicinity of Sanya Phoneix International Airport on 19 Sept. The Right Honourable Vice Mayor of Sanya, Li Boging and other high ranking government officials including from the Tourism Bureau did the honours as the VIPs in attendance..

Battle Stations - the Prologue SS

It was certainly the hottest 4x4 action in the city, well literally, as the temperatures soared into their high thirties degree centigrade. It was also the hottest 4x4 extreme action in China. Most local 4x4 events were the rally oriented circuit driving and cross country types. This, however, was different - speed is not the king here. Having the right driving, recovery techniques and right mindset for endurance are the traits to acquire for winning the top positions in this extreme sport..

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.

4x4 Jungle Supremacy

Now its 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 4x4 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 4x4 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.

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 10 km 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.

Leech Infected Country

The wet, cold and dampness combined with struggle across difficult terrain were enough to make even the toughest feel 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.

Mother Nature Rules Supreme

Without a doubt, Mother Nature always is the winner, anywhere on earth. Two days after the event, the weather has not improved for the better and the weather forecasted of more stormy days ahead. "This has been one unforgettable and harrowing experience for everyone involved, but a good learning curve for our local organizer. As for the Chinese teams, it must have been the Mother of All 4x4 Events that they have ever experienced. 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 4x4 Challenge seems complete from the shouts of joy, jubilation and spirit of camaraderie shown on the awards night. Mother Nature and the Spirit for Adventure both won!
Check out for more pix of the event.

2009/10/09 | 18:17 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Luis J.A. Wee

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