Gday mate. Toss a few shrimp on the barbie. Say we toss back a few tinnies and have a chinwag around the fire." Let us help with the translation: Hey buddy, let's barbeque some shrimp, have a few beers,and swap lies around the campfire. Sounds good! When you pass the equator heading south for the land down under, a strange phenomenon occurs, a transgression to another dimension. Words take on new meanings, the sun rises in the wrong place, toilets flush backwards, and unknown constellations paint the night sky. In a land with dozens of venomous snakes, deadly spiders, 8-foot goanna lizards, giant Red Kangaroos, and 16-foot saltwater crocodiles that are known to pluck tourists off the shore, one would expect an Australian off-road competition would be no less harrowing. Right-o, mate! This summer (winter in the southern hemisphere), we made the hop over the big pond to the land down under, for Australia's premier off-road event: The 7th annual ARB/Warn Outback Challenge.
In any sport, there are as many brands of competition as there are continents, and in the off-road world, competitions are as varied as the seasons. Europe has Paris to Dakar; Russia, the Ladoga Trophy; Malaysia, the Rainforest Challenge; and the U.S. has desert and rock racing. In Australia, it's the Outback Challenge (OBC). Attracting competitors from as far away as Scotland and South Africa, the OBC takes place near the New South Wales towns of Broken Hill and Silverton, an area known to locals as "the real outback."
The OBC recipe for extreme off-road is a multistage, six-day trial of endurance, where mechanical and mental preparedness are paramount, and a self-reliant steadfastness is essential for survival. Suffering from a seven-year drought, the arid and parched western outback savanna was ideal for a no-holds-barred, survival-of-the-fittest run for the gold in Australia's toughest off-road event.
Under Australia's Cross Country Driver's Association rules (CCDA), all vehicles must be street legal, including lights, turn signals, windshield, registration, insurance-everything! They are also limited to 36.5-inch tires and required to have an OEM body and frame with at least 50 percent of the sheetmetal remaining.
However, this is where the gloves come off. Choice of engine and drivetrain, axle type and placement, and suspension configuration are completely free (open). Because OBC obstacles range from high-speed desert runs to rockcrawling and gumbo mud bogs, the most successful rigs have a balance of horsepower, an agile suspension, and locking differentials. Above all, a drivetrain durable enough to sustain six straight days of solid abuse is paramount. Believe it or not, many competitors actually drive their rigs to the event and home (if they are still running).
The OBC is all about survival of the fittest-push your rig and your team to the brink of snapping and hold that line. Cross that line and you end up on the side of the trail with a welder in hand. There are no hotels or showers at night, no cold beer and pizza for tea (dinner) after a tough day of competition, and as for cappuccinos for brekkie (breakfast), forget it. Shut-eye, when available, was in swags (sleeping bags) under the stars with a bug net to keep the omnipresent flies (giant moths) out of your gullet. With the exception of fuel, competitors were required to be fully self-contained: food, clothes, camp gear, tools, spare parts, equipment...everything. If outside assistance were required, it would cost penalty points.
Australia Keeps The Gold
With teams coming from South Africa, England, Scotland, and New Zealand, the Aussies had their work cut out for them. However, having a home-field advantage paid off for the Aussie blokes, taking all top 10 positions. The veteran Aussie team of Norm Walters and Kym Bolton pulled off a First Place finish, followed by Trent Leen/Dave Hickman and Dean Kilmurray/ Jack Talbot. The highest honors to an international team went to South Africans Terence Reinders and Warner Trimmer, in 12th. Of the original 57 teams, eight were disqualified due to mechanical failures.
Major sponsors of the Outback Challenge are companies which make products designed to survive in Australia's toughest off-road event. The companies are ARB Off Road Products, ProComp Tyres (that's Aussie for tires, mate), Warn Off Road Products, and Safari Snorkel. The Outback Challenge has a seven-year history as one of the toughest multiday international off-road events. If you think you've got what it takes and a few good sponsors to help with the $$, the Outback Challenge encourages and welcomes international competitors. For information on the 2006 Outback Challenge, visit: www.outback4x4challenge.com
Cool Aussie Tricks
OBC teams are master packers. When faced with 500 kilometers between fuel depots, and the prospect of being penalized for not being fully self-sufficient, everything from your toothbrush to extra fuel and water must be stowed in the back. And unlike short-course rock buggies, OBC rigs need to be equipped to function under extreme conditions for extended periods of time. Dual spare tires, dual air compressors, welders, winch anchors, and reliable auxiliary lighting are all part of the game down under. We even saw Warn 8274 winches with dual motors mated together, dual alternators to keep everything energized, dual GPS systems in case one fails, dual air pumps, submersible cab-mounted water pumps to vacate incoming floodwaters, winch anchors, banks of three to four batteries, and auxiliary lights (lots of them). Necessity is the mother of invention, and we dig checking out purposeful inventions and innovations designed for events like the OBC.