It was a BIG SPASH of water, water and water everywhere on 18 August. The opening ceremony at Shuijiao county, Fenghuang Town in Sanya had to be delayed. The rain came down in buckets and strong wind blowing furiously, it was a logistical nightmare to get everything going. From the supply trucks for the show to the grand stand, everyone and everything was soaking wet.
Story by Luis J.A.Wee
Photos by Atan Aris
However, the show must go on, come rain or shine. So, with great dedication, the crew got moving. Luckily, the rains abated a bit, and at last, the 3rd edition of China International Rainforest Challenge (CIRFC) opening ceremony was flagged of.
Mud, Mire and Water Battlefield
From the word “Go” and under intermittent rain, the international and local Chinese teams tackled the mud, mire and water at the Prologue Special Stages (SS) at Shujiao, about 15 mins drive from downtown Sanya. The organizer’s land at Shuijiao County at Fenghuang town in Sanya will be furtther expanded and improved in the coming years to make it an ideal outdoor recreational base for adventure sports to include not only 4x4s but also ATVs and Enduro motorbikes as well as leisutely pursuits.
Among the off-road warriors were 10 Malaysian teams (6 came from Sabah and 3 from Sarawak – both states from East Malaysia and 1 from Peninsula Malaysia), 1 Philippino and 24 Chinese (from Guandong, Guizhou and Hainan), all with impressive looking 4x4s vehicles. The Chinese machines have improved by leaps and bounds since the 1st edition in 2009. Now, their hardware not only looks mean and macho, but it’s engines can also vrommed and roared just like the international teams in the 10 SS on 18 & 19 Aug. The SS were already designed technically hard to test both drivers and co-drivers to the limit, but now, with the big deluge, it was a nightmare to get through them.
Battle of the Ground Anchors
Right at the start, it was the battle of the ground anchors. It was sheer hardwork for the co-drivers carrrying them through mud and water; and pushing them into the soft soil. Even for the top teams, it was a huge effort to complete them while the rest had to contend with DNF (Did Not Finish) points. Some anchors refused to stick onto the muddy and loose soil.
The weaker ones were completely overwhelmed by the 5 SS on the first day – while some put up a good show of determination, others had to tamely take DNF points. Other experienced teams also took a strategic DNF to save their vehicles and fight another day.
By the second day of the Prologue, the rains stopped. It was sunny and hot but still they had problems with the ground anchors sticking to the loose soil. It became an ordeal even for the top teams in the next 5 SS. Here, the teams learned valuable lessons in the techniqe of handling the ground anchors the hard way.
At the end of the two days at Prologue and 10 SS, three Malaysian teams set themselves apart from the rest. They were Team 117 (current CIRFC champion), Team 121 (CIRFC 2009 champion) and Team 111, a newcomer to RFC 4×4 series but an experienced 4×4 team in it’s home state. The local Chinese teams have not done too bad either, having got to top ten positions at the Prologue SS. However, it was these top three that were set to dominate in the following days.
Scorching Sun, Summer Heat & Beautiful Countryside
From day three, the dark clouds above Sanya opened up further with bright blue sky accompannied by scorching heat and humidity to match. From here onwards, the sufferings from the rain is history; now every team must battle both the heat and the SS.
The lush countryside with stunning mountains, valleys, banana palms, trerraced paddy fields, mango plantations and rustic villages were a far cry from the city centre. Here is where the CIRFC organizer has promoted a different Sanya, away from the sun, sand, sea, beauty pagents, boat shows and Chinese Riviera or Hawaii of China image in which the city is famous for. Hainan is China’s year-round tropical getaway and the local government is set to transform the island as a multifaceted destination. This Chinese version of the world’s most internationally represented 4×4 extreme challenge event – the Rainforest Challenge (RFC) is set in the untamed inland areas, doing its part on this transformation, by adding a new unique attraction from the world of high-end adventure and outdoor tourists for Sanya.
Splish, Splash at Stoney River
By day three, it was back to full 4×4 action again beside the first base camp at Nahui county, situated on a ridge above a fast flowing river strewn with boulders and stones of all shapes and sizes. The thunderstom of the last few days had turned the river brownish, but nevertheless, the scenery with mountain backdrop was still a breath- taking sight to behold. The temperaturs were in their high thirties degree Centigrade.
It was lucky in a way, that the SS were all held along this river, it was a real cool getaway from the scorching heat of the day for both participants and media.The SS made the 4x4s go through twists and turns in and near the boulder strewn river banks, through deep water and up steep gorges on the other side. Well, in the RFC style of events, every SS has to be fought and gained with respect. The 5 SS here made some teams improved on thier standings while others sunk into the rushing water.
The transport day on 22 Aug passed through the town of Yacheng with police in full force guide the convoy of 4x4s to pass through the busy township and narrow throughfare of the inner lanes. It was yet a sight of what the inland areas of Hainan has to offer, an inland town with culture, cuisine and beautiful scenery.
Upon arrival at campsite 2 in the vicinity of Niuluo Reservoir, the rains of the past few days had again changed the terrain where the last 5 SS were to be fought out. Dry sections have turned into wet soggy grounds. Another water torture to come, but this time, its the final battle of them all; the ones which will determine who goes to the podium and who gets into the top ten ranking. A watery Armageddon awaits.
Each of the contesting teams came out with their own startegies of how to tackle this grand finale. Some used momentum, some used their winching techniques to good use in the soft ground but some engines stalled, some got careles, some got heartbreaks getting stuck in the muddy and watery grave they dug into. However, from every angle, again and again, they had to make use of their ground anchor to get out of every tricky situation. The heat of the day and the SS can sapp the willpower and energy of even the strongest teams.
But, from the look on the faces of these 4×4 warriors, there is one thing you can be sure of, that is, their “never say die attitude.” This makes all of them winners in their own rights for finishing the event.
This 3rd eidtion of CIRFC is mainly focussed on the competition aspects in the 20 SS fought out mainly under watery and soggy conditions filled with boulders and rocks in between. The use of ground anchor is paramount this time as compared to the two previous editions. Only 3 SS offered fixed anchor points. In an off-road challenge event like this, both man and machine must be well prepared to face any kind of situation – extremely wet, muddy, hot or dry.
However, even with such extreme harship and human dramas, the competitor teams all earned top marks for showing sportsmanship and camaraderie with officials and the media.
As for the top three, it took only the last 5 SS to decide the number 1 spot and top prize money of USD 32,000. Team 117 won, with a margin of only 22 points ahead of Team 121 and 98 points ahead of Team 111. Even though the foreign teams took a lion’s share of the Top Ten positions, but two slots went to the Chinese teams (in 4th and 7th position). They have improved in both hardware and software.
Next year, CIRFC will evolve further to even the playing field of competition and differentiate the modified 4×4 vehicles (which maintains its original bulk-head and model of the car) and the tubular class (proto type) as well as the use of PTO and Electric winches. All in, an exciting year ahead.