Taking the high road: The Rainforest Challenge in Goa
A pack of motor-crazy, moustachioed, stubbled men are heading to Goa. They’re in tees, cargoes and windcheaters. With heavy boots. Slush in their shoelaces. And adrenaline in their mien. But they’re not trooping alone. The beasts are revving too. Four-wheeled beasts, to be precise.
Aspirated V8 3,000 cc engines. With 5,000 kg (rated) recovery straps. A minimum four-point harness. Monster tyres. Waffle boards. Winches. Shovels.
In short, it’s the tough men and their tougher machines prepping for the slushiest offroad battle — the Force Gurkha Rainforest Challenge (RFC) India 2017.
As the rain pelts Goa savagely, this race is not an easy-peasy splash in the puddles. No, this is extreme off-roading, as extreme as it can get. Mighty challenges lie ahead for seven days (July 22-30) — vertical walls, wanton streams, glutinous mud, deep trenches, beefy hills, and steep inclines. All this will be conquered by the aforesaid men in their machines with stop-watches ticking menacingly.
Founded and created by Luis JA Wee, RFC (Malaysia) is listed as one among the world’s Top 10 Motor Races (it’s the only Asian race in the list). Ashish Gupta, Director, Cougar Motorsport, brought RFC to India in 2014.
Now in its fourth Indian edition, 40 teams will vie for the RFC Champions Trophy, including four top guns from Chandigarh, three teams each from Delhi and Goa, two from Pune, a record seven teams from Kerala, eight from Karnataka and seven from Hyderabad.
Of the 40 teams, 15 are making their debut this year. The mighty off-roaders to watch out for are the American William Dwaine Jungen who will represent the Chandigarh-based team IronScorpion, and Malaysian driver Merwyn Lim, who is a part of Mumbai’s Team Fairmont.
Jungen will ride the meanest machine — the Scorpion MKI that won the 1998 US Top Truck Challenge. The Scorpion is Brobdingnagian. It has a patented suspension, with a 52-inch articulation, a 12-degree chassis role, a 5.7 litre V8 petrol engine that is coupled to an automatic transmission.
But the other machines are no pint-sized midgets. A few have naturally aspirated V8 engines with massive torque; others have trimmed-off inches to lower the centre of gravity; all spec-modified to be terrain-ready.
Divided into 26 Special Stages (SS), the event will have 3000+cc petrol and diesel engines compete separately. The spine-and-axle-breaking challenges and night stages will be held in far-flung locations in Goa (Xenem, Gancim; Suquerbag, Quepem; Green Hills Agri Farm, Maina, Quepem) while the spectator days will be hosted at Rajiv Gandhi IT Park, Dona Paula, Goa.
For a week, the men and their machines will test their mettle in the monstrous courses designed by David Metcalfe, RFC India Course Master. This Australian veteran off-roader has an eye for dangerous spots where he pegs a Start/Finish sign. The vehicles have to pop out of deep ditches, and drive through large, muddied ponds. It’s a course so undulating that the vehicles could actually fly in the air. Or waddle through a river.
Imagine an SS with no roads. No tracks. Where off-roaders have to find their way through trees, rivulets, fat boulders and the slopes of mountains.
Buntings merely set the markers and incessant rain plays the wicked villain. Contestants help each other, find new paths to scurry up the mountain, huddle boulders over a rivulet to make a bridge (A few will topple over, another will make a somersault.)
Tempers will fly around. And penalties will get stacked by marshals who clock timings to the tiniest second. At RFC India, the might of the man and the machine is put to the ultimate test.
In the end, the best team shall win, and romp home with $8,000 and an automatic fully paid-for entry in the RFC 2017 Grand Final in Malaysia. A Rookie of the Event will be crowned too.
On July 30, during the prize distribution ceremony at the India International Centre, the scruffy drivers will metamorphose into gentlemen. Shaved. Scrubbed. In ironed shirts. And the champion, standing atop his machine, will be bathed in champagne. That moment is still seven days away.