The Outback Challenge.
Grown men doing silly things in Morocco.
This years Outback Challenge was a great event, but as with many big do’s, the behind the scenes stories are often as entertaining as the actual competition. This event was no exception and sipping tea at an hotel on the outskirts of Marrakech I watched as competitors arrived in dribs and drabs. Most noticeable was the glamourous Nissan team comprising of four girls and two Paris Dakar veterans. Theirry Magnaldi who has competed 10 times and the jovial Jerome Riviere who surely must hold some record with 18 entries!
Our numbers were soon swelled by a few of the organisers and it was decided that we should visit a local supermarket to buy food for the next few days. This came a bit of a shock to me, a list man! When planning a trip I detail everything to be taken and pack it, right down to the salt and pepper. As I had flown out with just a back pack and a bag of nuts and berries, I had wrongly assumed that some kind of grub would be laid on for competitors and crew.
So it was that I found myself in a Hypermarket with two Paris Dakar heroes, the Nissan girls and a trolley. I had to make some quick decisions as to what to get that would prove wholesome and survive unknown temperatures and conditions, so went for vacuum packed salami, Dutch Gouda cheese, pre-packed German rye bread and apples. I was surprised at the choices in the other’s trolleys, considering they were all French, a nation renowned for gourmet food and fine wines. A litre bottle of Pernod and a kilo of fresh carrots seemed an unlikely combination of sustenance for a gruelling rally!
Meanwhile, in the scorching heat of the hotel car park the English had arrived. They had all driven about 1000 miles from the U.K. down to Sete in the South of France to catch the ferry to Tangiers and then a further 300 miles to Marrakech. Tales emerged of long nights finishing cars before dashing to Dover to catch the ferry. The workshops of Gigglepin 4x4 in Kent had been the last meeting point and Gigglepin’s Jim Marsden said his place looked like a who’s who of off road racing on departure night, with the cries of ‘can you just’ and ‘have you got’ punctuating the air.
Once safely in Marrakech the spanners were out again for all the jobs left unfinished at home. The English entries were all Land Rover based and a looked built to take on all the Outback Challenge could throw at them. They were in good company with a handful of French entered Land Rovers, sporting all the ‘must have’ accessories for this demanding event. Lively banter went on long into the night, a reminder that these challenge events attract largely the same gang of mates from around the World, all of whom were keen to include any newcomers and help with advice and practical assistance.
The following morning, with a police escort, all the entrants drove through the streets of Marrakech to the prologue section and here the experience of the Paris Dakar veterans was evident. In contrast to one or two of the other teams, they pottered around, preferring to pick up a few penalty points rather than risk any damage. But it soon became apparent that the two Land Rover based specials of Devon and Gigglepin were setting the quickest times. The Land Rover’s off road abilities left the rest of the field a poor second with their greater axle travel and better approach and departure angles. If they kept this pace up and nothing broke they were odds on favourites. Such was the dominance of Simon Buck in his Devon 4x4 Land Rover that on the water section a group of fellow competitors tried diverse tactics to distract Simon’s attention with a mass ‘mooning’ session. It would take more than that to put Simon off and his stunning overall victory is testament to his driving skills and the hard work and dedication of his staff at Devon 4x4.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder how an old 80 inch Land Rover would fare in the Outback Challenge. I thought back to my trialling days with the Peak and Dukeries and remembered water sections similar to the ones here and steep climbs, usually covered in mud. All the long sections rely on good navigation, as well as outright speed to record the best scores. The desert terrain is no different from that negotiated on a daily basis by countless Land Rover’s working in Africa and on the extreme sections, the nibble 80 inch would do well, as did the diminutive Suzuki SJ on this event. I realise it’s the stuff of dreams, but we all have to dream, don’t we?
‘Mooning’ photo courtesy of Stefan Pracht