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Rainforest Challenge Sri Lanka: RFC Sri Lanka Trophy 2012 thrills and spills.

A super start it was at the Prologue SS (Special Stages) held at Sappers 4x4 track "Gympo", Sri Lankan School of Military Engineering, Tunkama (Embilipitiya) for the 17 well prepared extreme class entries this penultimate event under the RFC Global Series which is the RFC Sri Lanka (Taprobana).

This Prologue SS is more than just superb 4x4 action, it is held here also for a humanitarian side of it, that is, in aid of the disabled personnel of the Sri Lankan armed forces. The grand stand and the special stages were meticulously designed and constructed for a grand show in front of thousands of spectators who were all safely behind the barricades to ensure safety of the first degree.

Top Guns Face-Off Unfinished Biz

Sri Lanka's Indika Sanjaya and his co driver Navin Marapana donning competition number 105 from the mother event RFC in Malaysia in 2009 was ranked no 3 while Malaysian Team 129 of Mervyn Lim and Hamizan Hamid was ranked no. 2 in that same year.

Since then, Mervyn has clinched the RFC Champion’s Trophy in 2011 and also captured the 1st Runner Up in RFC China (Sanya) in 2010, however, he has never "face-off" again with Team 105, until now, and this time, on Sri Lankan terrain.

Thus, there was anticipation in the air of how these top two in the line-up would fare against each other. Well, in the subsequent days, they lived up to their names as "top guns." However, both of them were also wary of another RFC experienced local team of 106 (Suresh Chathuranga/Raveendra Sanjeewa) as this one is also on home ground.

Restricted Entry

"Due to strict pre-event scrutineering to ensure safety on 4x4 cars, only those conforming to vehicle rules are allowed to compete in the extreme class, thus we have to reject 7 entries and only accepting the well prepared ones," commented Sean Hameed the Event Director. This is good for the future of such events as both well prepared man and machine will ensure top action as well as safety (to both teams and spectators).

Apart from Top Gun Team 129, the other internationals came from the Malaysian contingent of Team 104 (John Yap/Ricky Low), Team 123 (Ricky Tan/Jacky Ho), Team 155 (Chin King Seong/C.K. Danny and Team 103 (Bueford Bakri/Wanrizundiun). With the mother event RFC held in Malaysia, most naturally, they are viewed as "dark horses" with the potential to spring a surprise or two in the event.

There is also Team 113 of Sri Lankan (Deepthi Perera) and Malaysian (Francis Khoo) to be contended with. The seasoned local Team 102 (Osanda Maligaspe/Shammie Buwaneka) and Team 107 (Ravindra Rathnasiri/Harsha Kumara) both with RFC experience were also ready to give the rest a "run for their money."

Well, for both the locals and internationals, it’s anything goes in the 17 SS in the following 5 days. Apart from the extreme class, there were also 14 novice class entries for standard 4x4 vehicles to encourage "new blood" in this 4x4 sports.

"Sink or Swim" SS 1 & SS2

Sappers 4x4 tracks has been designed for spectators able to view all the SS in action. Therefore, it has a series of water obstacles, speed, rocky surface, winching from ditches and finally to the finish line with two cars starting at the same time in two lanes. Then, after finishing, they switched over to the other lane to gather points for each of the two SS totaling 400 points in total.

The most dramatic section was the water obstacles right in front of the grand stand, which turned out to be a "sink or swim" SS with water level reaching to the bonnets for some while over the bonnets for the others. However, it was an amazing sight to see how these 4x4s were able to overcome such level of difficulty, four-wheel-drives can really go places.

In the day’s action, the top 3 did not disappoint but, it was Team 105 which clinched outright victory in the Prologue SS. The surprise "dark horse" for the Prologue SS however, came not from the international teams but from a local Lankan entry of J.A.N.Wajira Kumara/A.B. Charith Madushanka who came third place.

This was a sweet victory for two reasons, firstly they are newcomers and secondly their vehicle was rejected last year due to improper modifications, but this time they came fully prepared. The strategy to reject non-qualified cars is justified.

October Rains

This year, the rains came in heavy showers as compared to last year as the event is held towards end of Oct. Inter monsoon showers were already lashing across the island well before the event and it also came down during the Prologue day resulting in the water section getting deeper than normal. However, it was a wonder to see the passion in both the extreme and the standard classes so much so that the rains did not bother them at all. Come rain or shine, everyone took their turns and completed all the SS.

Call of the Wild at Monaragala

After the thrills and spills of man-made terrain, it was time to roll off from Embilipitiya and into the jungle stages at Monaragala, the 4 nights call of the wild has begun. Driving through natural mud pits, including V-gullies, ascend/descend, speed and night SS were all part and parcel of this challenge for 4x4 supremacy.

However, with the incoming rains and impeding flooding in some sections, changes in schedule had to be made. "With the current rainy spells, even the farmers have to use tractors to move around, so logistics will be a challenge including river crossings. The jungle stages will be monitored to ensure getting out the quickest way possible with a back-up plan," said Sean.

The planned SS will be 4 a day but depending on weather conditions. The planned ending at Panama beach has been cancelled to avoid getting stuck by the rain including 2 river crossings due to strong currents and rising waters. Out of the 17 extreme teams, only 13 teams entered with 15 official cars including marshals, officials, chuck wagon and four doctors, making a total of 69 adventurers in total heeding the call of the wild.

Tough Going

For the next five days, it was tough going in the 15 jungle SS from day to night. For both local and international teams, they lived up to their fighting spirit in these challenging times even though some had better results than others. Meanwhile, true to form, the top two teams led the way with each scoring top marks in 4 SS each and both securing second to third places in the other SS, they were neck to neck, the fight for supremacy was tight with less than 50 points between them. No room for error using both accelerator power and strategic thinking and maneuvering skills.

"It was really exciting yet tough in the most uneven terrain here in the jungle. Water crossing is also so tough but we took the challenge and kept our heads on the target," said Indika and Navin after finishing all SSs on Thursday. We lost our way in the last stage that resulted in a DNF but so far we have completed other stages with confidence and with better timing, they added. Team 105 held their ground and won by just 45 points over the defending RFC champion team 129.

It was the last SS of the event which decided the fate of Mervyn & Hamizan. Perhaps, a little nervousness caused them to lose control of SS 17. His comments before the last 2 SS were, "the obstacles look easy, but tricky’ I am a little bit nervous but, let’s give it a try, never give up." He flipped his Suzuki Jimny in the end, resulting in a DNF (did not finish) with 40 points.

They were eventually crowned 1st Runner Up in the overall category, but not after putting up superb performance which defined the spirit of 4x4 especially in SS 14 (where he overturned thrice, but still managed to complete the SS, where a lesser experienced team would have meant "game over.").

Ending at Colombo Motor Show

When it was finally all over at the Colombo Motor Show held at BIMCH, it was smiles all over for completing the event. From the Super Stage Prologue SS, heavy rain, swollen rivers, mud, jungle terrain, speed, ascending/descending terrain and extreme winching they have all done it albeit with varying degree of success.

"However, winning or losing in the standings in such an adventurous event is secondary, the triumph is having done it, facing the odds in the spirit of 4x4," concluded Luis J.A.Wee, the Chief of RFC Global Series now in its second edition in this island paradise on the Indian Ocean.

Final Results Top 3 Overall

Team 105 (Indika Sanjaya/Navin Marapana) Sri Lanka 1,535 points.
Team 129 (Mervyn Lim/Hamizan Hamid) Malaysia 1,490 points.
Team 106 (Suresh Chathuranga/Raveenndar Sanjeewa) Sri Lanka 1,418 points

Final Results Over 3,000 CC

Team 104 (John Yap/Ricky Low) Malaysia 1,124 points Team 103 (Bueford Bakri/Wanrizundin Wan Jalil) Malaysia 828 points.
Team 146 (Anuradha Abeywickrama/Shavin Wijerathne) Sri Lanka 767 points.

Camaraderie Award Winner

Team 147 (J.A.N Wajira Kumara/A.B Charith Madushanka) Sri Lanka

2012/11/09 | 13:13 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/WEE

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