Reconnaissance: The American Standard Dictionary defines this term as a "preliminary examination as to the general natural features before a more exact survey; often used for military and engineering purposes."
However, a "recce" in Land Rover lingo is a way to drive some of the world's best 4x4s over challenging terrain. It's also an opportunity to get up close and personal with a cadre of the world's top backroads drivers (who are also multisport athletes); motor along with a Land Rover "works" mechanic who's assigned to keep all the vehicles in top order ... and be fed by a gourmet Land Rover chef to boot. To be succinct, a Land Rover recce is educational, challenging, and fun, but it's also a dry run-an opportunity to prep for the exam: in this case, for Land Rover's 2006 G4 Challenge.
Loosely modeled on the old Camel Trophy, the G4 Challenge is a global adventure, combining four-wheel driving with dynamic competitions that take in sports such as mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, orienteering, and absailing. Inaugurated in 2003, the first globe-hopping Challenge started in New York City before heading to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Successive stages were then held in rural South Africa, Western Australia, and back in the States-in the stifling, dusty heat of Moab.
On April 23, 2006, the G4 Challenge returned with four equally exotic and rigorous locations to be conquered, in four stages and two metropolitan competitions. An urban competition in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok kicked off Stage 1 before moving to the isolated, dense jungles of Laos. From there, it was off to Brazil, where the adventure continued in Rio de Janeiro before concluding in Bolivia, where participants traveled upwards from the lowlands into the Andes, and onwards through the eerie salt plains of Sala de Uyuni to altitudes of over 13,000 feet.
We recently spent five days on a Land Rover recce in Bolivia, the most isolated and impoverished country in South America. In true Land Rover fashion, we learned about the Bolivian culture as we traveled nearly 750 miles through broad, sweeping valleys and the foothills of the Andes; witnessed the behind-the-scenes methods for preparing a technical and environmentally friendly course (Land Rover was one of the founding members of Tread Lightly!) to traverse a landlocked nation with few roadways; and participated in a few of the challenges that competitors from 18 nations will have faced this spring, including driving through rivers, over sand dunes, along rutted and muddy tracks, and across narrow and death-defying high mountain passes.
For Asif Mustafa, a mechanic from Land Rover's Vehicle Operations unit, who was on hand to do vehicle maintenance and repair, the Bolivian recce was a chance to experience some extreme vehicle testing. "In the U.K., people drive their vehicles up and down the motorways. The average LR3 or Defender wouldn't put on these kinds of miles-this sheer abuse-in a lifetime."
Although we're veterans of Land Rover and Camel Trophy adventures around the globe, it was midway through our journey, when we set up camp on the banks of a muddy and swift river near the Santa Rosa Bridge, that we added another experience to our personal list of life's greatest moments. Sleeping under the stars, after a campfire meal of feijoada (chef John Nicolle's one-pot rendition of bacon, several types of beans, tomato, garlic, onion, and pasta), we awakened to a day filled with personal challenge. Led by our well-trained guides, we each tried our hand at absailing off the wide-span bridge, kayaking in the fast-running waters, and mountain biking down steep and slick terrain.
Although humbled by the skill level and stamina that the G4 participants would need to complete their nearly month-long event in four locations on two continents, we were reminded of the Land Rover credo. We were challenged to do our personal best as we participated in an adventure that many would dream of, but few would ever experience.
There were teams from 19 nations represented this year: Argentina, Germany, Russia, Australia, Greece, South Africa, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Taiwan, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Turkey, France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Land Rover fielded a U.S. team in 2003 but decided not to field a U.S. team for 2006 because of the recent introduction of a number of new products into North America. Land Rover North America will field a team in the 2008 Challenge.
What It Takes
The Land Rover G4 Challenge is an epic event that is as much a test of initiative, strategic thinking and team spirit as physical fitness, sporting skills, and driving ability. Every aspect of a competitor's character is tested, including the flexibility of working as bi-national team players. Competitors pair up with different teammates during each of the four Challenge stages and are scored individually, and as part of each team they are on. Competitors must also adapt to vehicular changes, as the stages of the Challenge are run in different Land Rovers: for 2006, a Range Rover Sport, a Freelander V-6, an LR3 HSE, a Range Rover HSE, and a Euro-spec turbodiesel Defender TD5.
Entry to the Challenge is free, and is open to men and women with a thirst for adventure. Thousands of applications are reduced to approximately 50 per nation, employing a rigorous recruitment and selection process. Just three short-listed applicants per nation (including at least one female) emerge as candidates from these events, and the final round of selections takes place at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, UK, the spiritual home of Land Rover. A brand-new Range Rover awaits the winner at the end, but all competitors have the satisfaction of knowing that they'll have completed a tough test of both body and mind. The next G4 Challenge is scheduled for 2008; if you're interested in entering, keep an eye on these pages in the future for details.