Race of the Monsters

RFC_1‘Rainforest Challenge’ toughest in Asia

And I thought monsters were ogres that walked on two, their eyes blood shot, their biceps beefy and their intent diabolical. One rainy morning in Goa’s Rajiv Gandhi IT Park, I stood corrected. Monsters were standing on four. Their hiss loud. Their strength matchless. These monsters were vehicles. Big SUVs and jeeps propped on fat tyres; their engines buzzing with upped horsepower; their backs laden with winches and waffle boards.

The men on the steering wheel raring to drive up vertical walls, slushy deep ditches, steep inclines and hazardous routes where nothing called a road existed. The crowd was clamoring for a look at the men and their vehicles; marshals were whistling for a start, journalists were taking notes. Dark clouds had gathered in the grey sky and the air was heavy with exhilaration. In the midst of a tough offroading challenge stood Luis J.A. Wee, the man who founded Rainforest Challenge (RFC) in Malaysia in 1997, and Ashish Gupta, Director, Cougar Motorsport, who brought the tough motor race to India.

It was the second edition of Rainforest Challenge and 22 teams from various parts of India and Malaysia were to rev their way through 26 challenges over 7 days to finally hoist the championship trophy. At RFC ‘tough’ is a polite understatement. ‘Backbreaking’ is more apt. Has to be. After all, RFC is listed among the Top 10 Motor Races in the World (the only Asian race to figure in the list).

Day 1&2 at Dona Paula was the Prologue. Course Director David Metcalfe, an Australian veteran off-roader, had designed SS (special stages) for the contestants. One had a vertical wall. Another a long ride through the muddied pond. Each marked with a start/finish sign. And a stop watch to man timings to the tiniest second. One hoot and the event sped off. The Force Motors team in red vehicles vroomed ahead and the Gerrari Offroaders (Chandigarh) hurried to another.

The BODA (Bangalore Offroaders Development Association) offroaders were strategizing smartly and Northern India Offroad Club was planning its first move. The crowd cheered and by the evening the points and faults were added.

The men behind RFC: Ashish Gupta (left), Director, Cougar MotorSport, and Luis J.A. Wee, founder RFC
The men behind RFC: Ashish Gupta (left), Director, Cougar MotorSport, and Luis J.A. Wee, founder RFC

On Day 3&4, it was the Predator and Terminator challenges in Goa’s Quepem, Sanguem. If Prologue had me drop a couple of jaws, I redefined tough men and tougher terrain during SS13 to SS24. David had picked the toughest spots in a 75-acre private property in Quepem. Day 5 was the day of ‘rest and recuperation’ for the drivers, navigators and their beasts. The engines had fallen silent and the winches were rolled. Today, it was the turn of journalists from 11 media houses to get ‘badder and dirtier’. No navigators. Every journalist on his own to maneuver through the two challenges (special stages).

Day 6&7 were set aside for Twilight challenge. At RFC, twilight is not about stars sequinned in the sky. No romance. It is in the middle of a dense forest in north Goa’s Sattari (Morlem). No penalties. No need for speed. No service team carrying food and water. No help.

Contestants get 10 hours to complete 4 kms. Wait! before you dismiss it as child’s play. These 4 kms can wreck even the devil’s nerve. There is no road. Make one through trees, rivulets, fat boulders and the slopes of mountains. I waded through rivulets and jumped over boulders. I could barely do 500 meters of the 4-km stretch. By night, the men and their machines trudged through the toughest SS.

RFC_3And the best man won. Rank 1: Tan Eng Joo/Tan Choon Hong. Rank 2: Mervyn Lin/Hamizan Bin Abdul Hamid. Rank 3: Kabir Waraich/Yuvraj Tiwana.

Trophies were handed out at India International Centre, Goa. Luis left for another RFC in Russia. Ashish got the gumboots cleaned for another offroading expedition. The men and their vehicles washed the grime and headed home. But they shall all return. For the third edition of Rainforest Challenge in Goa from July 22 to 29, 2016.

Preeti Verma Lal

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