Page Number :
Warming up to 4x4 challenge
Words : 1272
THE day was hot and humid. The stage, a dusty laterite hilltop, was interspersed with cracks and bushes. In the distance, something was roaring and rumbling, leaving behind a trail of dust and dry mud, as it made its way towards the plateau, the vantage point we were on.
On the left side of the plateau, facing the distant skyline of Ipoh, was the television crew. Photographer Roslin Mat Tahir and I were sitting beside a nearby bush. Others were standing behind the route markers at one end of the plateau.
Eager for action, our eyes were focused on the almost vertical laterite ramp in front. Will someone dare to make the jump and soar into the sky? From the roar emanating from the spectators, we knew this was definitely going to be "the jump". Yes. This was it. This was going to be a fully air-borne baby.
And there it was. Out of the blue, a huge piece of machinery appeared, its belly fully exposed. Its four tyres spun wildly in the air. From where I was sitting, it looked as if the vehicle was a full two metres in the air. Yes!
One second. Two seconds. It's back on the ground. Right on cue, the air was resounding with the triumphant shout of those present. No one could deny it. That was definitely one hell of a jump.
OK. It might not really be that great. But that was the only car that flew on all its four wheels throughout this special stage (that is, circuit and obstacle test) held at Ulu Kinta, or any special stage throughout the whole five days of the National 4x4 Challenge for that matter.
Hungry for action, I was looking forward to seeing some stunts. Maybe a flip in mid-air or a flying jump across a 100-metre deep gorge. The special stages include uphill and downhill driving on hole-ridden tracks, reversing into a river using the winch and driving across a deep mud pool.
Although tough and rather tricky, they were quite tame in my opinion. But then the competitors - 42 drivers and co-drivers in 21 4WD vehicles - were mostly city folks, executives, businessmen, contractors and such, not stuntmen. And the Challenge was not really the ultimate.
As event director Luis Wee constantly reminded me, the National 4x4 Challenge was a warm-up and a prelude to the coming international Rainforest 4x4 Challenge at the end of the year. That's where you can see some real action, he assured me. After all, it will pit competitors from all over the world through 2,000 kilometres of Malaysian rainforest, and in the rainy season too.
Nevertheless, our guide from the Police Field Force in assured me that the very same tracks I had considered as quite easy can be real hell during the rainy season. But I did get my fix when two vehicles overturned on two separate occasions. One while negotiating down a steep slope in Gunung Kledang, another while speeding down the bumpy hill in Ulu Kinta.
Originally, the National Challenge was planned to include 12 special stages at various locations in Perak. However, we had to settle for only 11 due to the tight and tiring schedule. After all, we also had to attend other functions including some community work at the Orang Asli settlements of Kampung Tonggang near Tanjung Rambutan and Kampung Sungei Dala in Hulu Perak. And with more than 80 people in 29 vehicles tagging along, mainly event officials and the media team - six TV3 crew members, me, the NST photographer and a woman from a motor-sports magazine - it was more than a competition. It was also a community and friendship drive.
Our itinerary started with the flagging off from Kuala Lumpur for Ipoh on Sept 20 where the first two special stages - finding the best route through difficult hill terrain and then a sand-driving circuit - were held near Gunung Kledang in the suburbs of the Perak capital.
We were officially flagged off the next day from Ipoh by Menteri Besar Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib. He and his wife also joined us to visit Kampung Tonggang where we were welcomed by the ceremonial Orang Asli sewang dance.
Three special stages were also held the same day at the Ulu Kinta Police Field Force training circuit before we drove into the jungle to spend the night at the Orang Asli settlement of Pos Poi, more than 50km away from civilisation.
On the third day, we covered some twisting and turning hilly logging tracks, had two special stages at the logging camps en route to Kampung Sungei Dala for a night circuit test.
Just when things were getting monotonous, then came next day's evening special stage which had the competitors grouped into teams of four cars to get past a difficult mud pool before going for another muddy river crossing.
Talk of foul play was rife as the last team was made to struggle through the mud pool which some claimed had been purposely dug deeper by the previous team. It seems that by not engaging the 4WD mode while they were there, the "conspirators" had used the rear wheels to furiously dig the mud.
"They were trying to get us disqualified," said a member of the last team. They missed the one-hour time limit by less than a minute.
Nevertheless, they didn't make a formal complaint, saying that everybody knows about it and there's no need to make such a big fuss.
Anyway, we concluded our round of special stages on Sept 24, the last day of the Challenge. Action was mild, with a short marathon run, a tyre-replacement speed drill, and another run - this time with team members rolling the huge 4WD vehicles wheels through mud, sand and water.
We left Sungei Dala by noon, crossing the Perak River by an old metal ferry before driving off for an official reception in Kuala Kangsar, and yet another reception back in Ipoh, covering a loop of 500km throughout the State, 200km off-road. That's it?, you may ask.
Still, it was quite testing for competitors Zawalan Razak and Abdul Hadi Yaakob who teamed up in a Landcruiser.
"We have been in the game for quite some time now and go off-road twice a month. I'd say this one definitely has its tough moments," Zawalan said.
Both of them, being among from the last teams for the Sungei Dala special stage, were badly caught in the mud pool, all soaked in the gooey stuff trying to pull their vehicle out as the day turned to darkness.
"At the end of the day, it's a great stress-buster," Abdul Hadi interjected.
For Cheras-based Zamri, the jump that he did (the one mentioned earlier) was the peak of the event, except perhaps for the team event at Sungei Dala. The 28-year-old interior designer still proudly recalled the moment, saying his boss, driver Martin Wong, was really surprised and almost wet his pants when Zamri, who was then the co-driver, took over the wheels and attempted the Ulu Kinta circuit on full throttle.
"What I can say? He owns the car. So he's the driver. Perhaps I did the jump to prove a point, that I can do it," Zamri conceded.
Perhaps city-slickers parading their gleaming 4WDs around the city should let him have a go. Then he can put the Pajeros, the Mussos and the Landcruisers out of their misery - by testing it in real jungle rather than negotiationg the occasional flood in Jalan Bangsar.