Russia is a tough country in any season, but winter is the toughest of times. It is, thus, rightly that this RFC battle be fought here. The RFC is one of the ten toughest motor races in the world, and its format is brought over to Russia by Pro-X, the associate partner of the Rainforest Challenge.
Story by Luis J.A. Wee
Photos by Pro-X
It was already the beginning of April; spring should be on the way at last. The cold wintry spell should, be over by now, with sunshine and temperature hovering around 20 Celsius taking over from the gloomy dark cold days. But, no, it was not meant to be…yet. The heaviest snowstorms in a decade with temperatures descending into minus 20 Celsius have swept across much of Northern Europe including Russia, blanketing the region snow white. It was like an Armageddon, the last battle by 4x4s against a backdrop of deep freeze, in a land famous for its long extreme winter, which back in history, had defeated numerous mighty armies.
With one week left to go before the event at X-Arena at Rakovo, Pushkin district (Moscow), Alexey Menshenin (Course Design) from Pro-X shook his head in disbelief at the arduous task ahead. “With over 1 meter snow over the grounds of most of the Special Stages (SS), we are unsure how the ground conditions below the snow would be like; so we have to dig and clear the snow away in the preparation for the SS,” he commented. The preparation, which began in February took so much harder and time consuming under such frozen conditions.
When D-Day took off on 13 April, at last, sunshine greeted the 26 teams coming for the battle of 4×4 supremacy in 3 classes; the LIGHT (mostly newcomers with basic modifications); the MEDIUM (for modified 4x4s as per RFC specs) and the HARD (buggy/proto-type).
“The RFC Prologue SS is a good way to attract spectators and provides excellent visibility and exposure for our partners, sponsors and, it is also media friendly” said Yuriy Selifonov, the owner of Pro-X. “The SS format, rules, scoring of the competition including style/coordination from Event HQ is new for Russian off-roaders but it has a great potential for spectator viewing and sports tourism” added Yuriy, a tough, rugged off-roader backed by years of military training including serving in the naval special forces before coming out to be a private citizen.
This inaugural RFC West Russia was unleashed during a bright sunny weekend but the air is still lingering with cold winds blowing from the north. A few days before, slightly warmer temperatures had returned thawing the snow and turning certain sections into muddy stretches but it was still not warm enough to melt away all the snow. It was, however, enough for thrills and spills in off-road competition under snow, ice and mud.
The 10 SS were bitterly fought out in the cold and wintry wind on the first day. The passion and toughness shown by the Russian off-road teams is most remarkable as they drove, slided, twisted and turned their machines across the icy terrain. Even though they wore protective warm and wet roof clothings, the cold and dampness still got to their bodies in the long hours of exposure. They had to drive and recover their machines across the multiple obstacles like V-gully, undulating and slippery surfaces using all kinds of recovery techniques (including extreme winching exercises and using the Hi-Lift jack) just like in the RFC, but this time getting down and dirty in cold mud, snow and frozen grounds.
They had also to contend with changing ground conditions as some parts of the snow and ice covered SS melted during the day. However, contingency plans had taken these into consideration by allowing a wider space for the teams to maneuver.
SS 4 in particular was a water crossing but had frozen into thick floating ice, which sank many teams with DNF (did not finish), but all relished the challenge with undampened fighting spirit. In spite of such difficulty, 1 team in the LIGHT category, 4 teams in the MEDIUM and 1 team in the HARD category made it through successfully.
The 5 SS on the second and last day across more muddy sections and snow driving sealed the victory for the leading teams in the 3 categories. The SS were a good punishment test for the engines, winches (all using electric), tires and most of all the fighting spirit and sportsmanship of all the 26 teams.
This “winter in spring” experience ended in a victory for 4×4 warriors unlike the military defeats of the past and, it has, in turn, gave the inspiration for more such RFC events in future editions cumulating in a championship series.
For the winners, after conquering the cold, they now have a chance to conquer their fears in the hot steamy jungles of Malaysia this December. From the look on the faces of the Russian teams here, they are more than ready.
1. Anton Beknev – Malishev Alexey (1,424 pts) Land Rover Defender 90
2. Okineshnikov Vladimir – Basov Alexey (1,242 pts) Suzuki
3. Merkushin Maxim – Kaulin Stanislav (1,085 pts) Toyota LC70
1. Nikolaev Aleksander – Kalinin Dmitry (1,421 pts) Toyota LC70
2. Lozin Ivan – Kuprin Alexey (1,266 pts) Jeep Wrangler
3. Protopopov Alexander – Protopopov Alexey (1,189 pts) UAZ
1. Nikoshin Vladimir – Liamenkov Pavel UAZ
2. Sokolov Alexander – Blinov Alexander (team BT624) Buggy Toyota+Volvo Laplander
Special Award for driving the longest distance to be in the event
(2,000 km from Chelybinnsk in the Ural Mts)
Sergey Timofeev – Evgny Shatelov Land Rover Defender 110