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UK CHALLENGE
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MACMILLAN 4X4 CHALLENGE 2002

Written by Russ Brown

8 Teams

3 years preparation

900 miles driven in 27 hours

£7,000 raised for Macmillan Cancer Relief

Looking for a new winter event after last year's Croisiere Blanche Colin Argent and I had the very good fortune of discovering the Macmillan 4x4 UK Challenge. The Mac 4x4 as it has become known is a navigational non-damaging challenge event open to any standard road legal 4x4 vehicle. The teams consist of a driver and navigator, the designated driver must drive all off-road sections, but to keep the event flowing and safe the navigator is allowed to drive some of the on-road sections while the driver sleeps. This year's inaugural pilot run consisted of nine teams, five from the Beds, Herts and Cambs Land Rover Club and three other independent teams consisting of Land Rovers, a Frontera and a Nissan Terrano. We were all amazed to discover that one of the Land Rover teams driven by Mike Pleasants and navigated by Nigel Christopher was going to attempt this endurance event in a diesel Series III.

Coming from trialling and green laning backgrounds none of the BHCLRC contingent had any experience of a competitive navigational event so did not have a clue what would be expected of us on the Mac 4x4. We knew from our pre-event instructions that we would be starting from Hereford and, judging by the maps we were required to supply, would get to know Lancashire and the Lowlands of Scotland a lot better than we did before, outside that the event was an open road-book.

We were however inspired and perhaps a little intimidated by the credentials of the event organisers.

The Event Co-ordinator was Joe Bain, Joe started off-road driving in 1975 whilst in the army (not by choice), and was army driving champion on no less than six occasions. Joe went on to win the 'Arctic Super Challenge', an event covering over 1,500 miles in five days, travelling through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Lapland. He also holds the record for winning the army driving championships as both driver and navigator and eventually became part of the organising team for the British army motoring association.

Clerk of the Course was Selwyn Kendrick who is widely known in off-road circles as the former UK No. 2 in off-road racing and as an originator of Hill Rallies. Selwyn now runs the British Off-Road Championship for the RAC MSA.

We arrived to sign on in an access road to an industrial unit in a bleak corner of Hereford early on Saturday morning, an ironically unglamorous location for what may well become one of the key events in the UK 4x4 calendar. We then received a drivers briefing from Selwyn Kendrick, our charismatic Clerk of Course, introducing us to several new navigational terms to which we nodded approvingly as if we had a clue what he was talking about. We were issued with our road-books for the day detailing our required tasks and checkpoints, a series of 'extra' maps and Polaroid cameras. It soon became clear that we weren't going to Scotland today.

After one hour to plot our route for the day we moved up to the start line, having the privilege of being team number 1 we were first to go. The count down was in true rally fashion and my heart pounded as the seconds ticked away, then we were off. The adrenaline rush was instantly extinguished as we got to the top of the road where we had to stop to let a little old lady pass in a Mini Metro. The reality of having to navigate through Hereford traffic would have been a serious stress factor but fortunately this event isn't a race, your points are based on arriving at the checkpoints on time not first.

Our first task was to photograph the village sign at 'Melbourne', Leicestershire. This was followed by a short hop up to Castle Donington racetrack for our first off-road stage, an RTV style trials section on their off-road course where we made one mistake allowing our near-side wheels to slip off a log putting us in equal first place for the section.

A brief lunch stop and back on the road. We soon realised from the co-ordinates we had been given that there was an international theme to this event, our next port of call was 'Boston' Lincolnshire to take our second photograph. This was to be the routine for the rest of the day as we worked our way up the A1 corridor photographing village signs with names such as 'Gibraltar' in Lincolnshire, 'Toronto' and 'Quebec' in Durham. At about 8:00pm we reached our overnight stop at 'Washington' services just south of Newcastle having completed about four hundred miles of the challenge. Here we received our road books for the following day; then spent an hour planning our route before settling down for some sleep in preparation for Sunday's 1:02am start.

At 12:25 I was woken by a tap on the window and the smiling face of Macmillan's Peter Rowland, the Secretary to the Challenge. Apparently overnight road works were causing delays further north so the start had been brought forward half an hour. In short we had six minutes to prepare ourselves and get to the start line. It is amazing how quickly the spirit of competition wakes you up so in no time we were back on the A1 heading for Scotland for the night Navigation section. Despite the road works we made good time and arrived at the time control fifteen minutes early. This meant we had to park up outside the control zone until our allotted time or we would be penalised. After what seemed an age it was 2:02 and we could advance into the zone to be issued with our night navigation co-ordinates. We had 30 minutes to plan our route for the section, the object was to complete the course within a time limit and record as many SCs as possible (SC = Secret Checks, letters marked on yellow A4 cards secreted along the route on trees and telegraph poles). We completed the course on time and thought we had done well recording 25 SCs which stood out like neon billboards in our driving lights, turned out we had missed 3, never mind.

We had conveniently ended this section next to a twenty-four hour Garage giving us an opportunity to refuel. As we did a new element was introduced to the Challenge, it began to snow.

A short break and we were heading West across Scotland in a blizzard in the dark for a couple more sign photos in 'California' and 'Moscow'. We could blame the fact that it was 5:00am, or the fact that all of Scotland was varying shades of white, but if we were honest we would have to blame ourselves for not reading the road book properly, as we missed several SC's that we were supposed to note en route, costing us a seriously large number of points.

With photos stuck in the appropriate squares of the road book we were heading South for the 'Scatter' section. The blizzard that ensued made keeping to the schedule quite tough and overtaking snowploughs is something you would normally avoid but was necessary and gave us the opportunity to drive on fresh snow. The better traction this gave us gained us quite a bit of time to the extent that we stopped at one point to offer to tow a milk tanker up a particularly steep hill, the driver decided that going back to his bed was a better option so declined gracefully.

The Scatter was similar to the night navigation section but in open forest, giving far more opportunities to take the wrong route. An added complication was that the SCs were white this time with small black numbers and it was still snowing, we only found 4 out of a possible 12, not good.

Scatter complete and the little bit of spare time we had gained absorbed in a Macdonald's breakfast we continued south to Gretna to receive our day navigation instructions. Route prepared we had a seventy-five mile dash down the M6 in a force ten gale to the start of the section just north of Lancaster.

Colin was determined to prove we were good navigators so we decided to utilise the full one and a half hours, plus fifteen minutes overrun allowance to ensure we recorded every SC on the forty mile trek through a very scenic section of Lancashire. The strategy worked, we recorded all twenty and checked in at Charnock Richard services with 30 Seconds to spare, our Mac 4x4 was complete.

Suited and booted for the prize giving dinner at the De Vere Daresbury Park Hotel, Warrington. Colin and I were very pleased to discover we had come second overall, behind the extremely well navigated Nissan Terrano, driven by Dave Roderick with Chris Wright navigating. Third place went to BHCLRC's Jason Foley and Matt Page who were elated this being their first ever competitive event. The award for the highest sponsorship went to Frontera driver Jim Smith who raised a very impressive £2635. By an amazing coincidence all the other teams won a stage trophy for the navigational test that they excelled at. There was not a formal trophy for the spirit of the event but the competitors unanimously decided that this accolade should go to the SIII team, together with their Macmillan sweatshirts awarded by Peter to keep them warm!. They returned such incredibly efficient times that we did wonder if they had a 4.6 HSE with a trailer following them around. In reality they were a classic example of the hare and the tortoise fable.

I firmly believe that the Mac 4x4 will become a popular event with a wide cross section of the 4x4 community. It is an event where you can feel that you have genuinely met a challenge, raised money for an extremely good cause, but know you will bring your vehicle home in the same condition it left. The 2003 event is scheduled to take place over the weekend of 8 - 9 March. It will be limited to 30 teams so if you want to take part you'd better sign up quick because we're all coming back for another go.

If you want to enter the 2003 Mac 4x4 you will be required to raise a minimum of £400 sponsorship per team on top of your entry fee. You can get an application form either from the event web site at www.mac4x4.co.uk where you will also find the full results and pictures from this year's event, or by contacting Peter Rowland on 01981 252 954.

Things to remember.

  • On a navigation section where there is a large triangular junction the SC will invariably be hidden on the side you didn't drive.
  • When one is about to photograph a sign for a row of houses called 'Jerusalem' do not believe a fellow competitor who tells you that you should be photographing the sign for that well known International city 'Skellingthorpe'
  • However well equipped your 4x4 is and no matter how good an off-road driver you think you may be you will not win this event without an excellent navigator.

Russ Brown