Let's Rock

THE OUTBACK CHALLENGE’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL IS AS TOUGH AS THE EVENT ITSELF. WE RECAP THE 2018 EDITION OF THIS GRUELLING OFF-ROAD RALLY.

WORDS NORM NEEDHAM

TO PARAPHRASE Steve (Chippa) Tjepkema at 4X4 Australia and then editor Ron Moon, the initial driver briefing for 2018: “The fact that you guys are here is evidence that the event’s new format is working.” The inaugural Outback Challenge was run in 1999. It was fully supported by the publishers of sponsored by ARB and Warn, and organised by Sharyn and Paul Vanderhorst (Sharyn being Ron’s deputy at the time). The event developed over the next decade from a muddle of stages more like a travelling 4WD club gymkhana, to a week-long, true hardcore off-road navigational race.

Chippa, a two-time winner of the event, reinvented the Outback Challenge in 2014. Using the traditional format of six days and up to 25 special stages – in terrain varying from the cloying mud of the Darling River overflows around Menindee, to the yellow sand dunes of Denien and the brutal rocks of the Barrier Ranges – he finessed the event further, to make it a true trial of vehicle and a demanding test of the crew’s navigational skills.

A big part of the event was always the self-reliance aspect, where crews were penalised for seeking outside assistance. Crews could help each other, and great effort was put into completing stages and achieving as few DNFs (did not finish) as possible. The camaraderie, the compromise and the improvisation in repairing breakages became legend.

But the event’s participation rate was waning. Maybe the cancellation through wet weather of the 2016 event disheartened many; it wasn’t the wet conditions of the competition areas that saw it cancelled, but the closing of public roads between those areas. Or perhaps it was simply getting too hard for some?

Myriad ideas were thrown around to generate interest. Many diehard, long-time competitors wanted no change, but changes were needed or the event faced extinction. Shortening the OBC to three days and having a central camp with pits where vehicles could be repaired was the chosen format. And for the first time, motorcycles were included in the final, long special stage (dubbed Mad Max because of nearby Silverton’s association with the Max 200kmspecial stage was promoted as a "hard enduro" with the catch word being "epic"

The four-wheeled vehicles, which have now developed intomuch specialised winch-event machines, competed for the traditional trophy of a mounted Barrier Ranges rock, over the three days. Obstacles included crawling and bouncing over boulders, fast sandy creek punishing seven special stages Max), most involving cross-country, point-to-point navigation, with some random navigation stages.

All special stages were on private property, with the base camp being onMount Gipps, about 35kmfrom Broken Hill. Other properties used includedWendalpa and Poolamacca. Because of the Silverton Hotel’s support in the past, ameet and greet was held there on the Wednesday preceding the event – a cheerio to the publicans, Pete and Patsy.

Much of inlandAustralia is currently in drought and, with the Barrier Ranges receiving little rain at the best of times, the area can be best described as a dustbowl. Major creeks on the properties used are totally dry, and farm, feral and native animals are all suffering – kangaroos rest lethargically in meagre shade. The several hundred people, spectators’ and support vehicles, combined with the 60-odd bikes and 30-odd competing cars, churned the central camp into something resembling a scene from an oldMiddle Eastern-based desertmovie. But that’s the Outback Challenge: take the conditions as they come and conquer them.

Scrutineering took place on the Wednesday afternoon and Thursdaymorning at ARB Broken Hill, and teams were into it by 14:00 Thursday. y.The first second special stages seeded competitors the following special stages.

SS1: ROCK N’ ’RO ROADSAFE

A SHORT course (relatively speaking) right central vehicles clambering formations size buses, there mandatory winch metres start. Traction king, good third field drove second where thought winching would again mandatory,

CARS SCRAMBLED AND SCRAPED THEIR WAY OVER BOULDERS AND WINCHED UP IMPOSSIBLY STEEP GORGE WALLS

SS2: DYNAMIC DARKNESS

AT 19:00 field camp random point the object being reach many points possible, including compulsory points, within two-hour time.

Now seeded, competitors faced evening virtually nonstop racing. Point-to-point navigation was the order, through rocky terrain, with loose climbs spectacular ultracreek-bed runs. Checkpoints between stages meant time management paramount.

Rallysafe system (app.rallysafe.com.au) was used show where competitors were 156km stages: Racebred Rocks, Safari, White Knuckles, Harrop Highway Narva Night Moves. The stage names reflected sponsorship, with ARB, B,WAR WARN and Narva being majors.

AT 08:00 the Saturday bikes started 200km special stage, cars started hours later; course for most with plan being bikes would clear before cars came through. worked. Eight hours time allowed while number cars crossed finish line, only four them made through waypoints and home within allotted time.

The Barrier Ranges, and particularly property Poolamacca, known for their rocky terrain. particular roughness gorges hills around abandoned Paragon copper mine. convoy spectator vehicles (about Christian Whamond jovial local known simply Simmo longtime supporter OBC) were escorted points interest during Friday Stages, copper mine There action aplenty scrambled scraped way boulders and winched impossibly steep gorge walls reach waypoints.

In the washup there can one winner, finish Outback Challenge, particularly have stage (arguably toughest event Australian off-roading) worthy achievement. regard, entrants winners. s.The 2018 event driver Moulday navigator Glenn nTh Thomas, team Silvertec, victorious. Previous winners Coops Hummer (driver Cooper navigator Chris Hummer) rolled into second place, with driver Peter Thorpe and navigator Russell Andrew taking third. results available Outback Challenge Facebook page.

Unsurprisingly Dan’ Patrol, which with manualised four-speed auto. diffs with lockers complete running gear, made own engine/gearbox adapters. Dan and Glenn first raced together this year Patrolapart Winch Challenge, both have wide experience major comps including fourth place 2017 Outback Challenge, rookie.

Like most motorsport events, Outback Challenge with help volunteers. Wo Working tirelessly, the OBC marshal did miraculous often into night recovering broken vehicles from impossible situations.

ROCK ON!

THANKS to all volunteers and sponsors that made this event happen. With a staff of more than 90, 2018 was epic in every way. The amount of work that takes place behind the scenes is unbelievable, but the volunteers love it; they see spectacular places and are rewarded with being part of something epic. It’s about mates, old and new. I met so many amazing new people this year who worked their butts off and left with a smile. It’s our goal to make the Outback Challenge a great experience for everybody, and that is how we get more volunteers every year.

The sponsors also make the Outback Challenge what it is and give it a prestigious name. Narva, ARB, Warn, Dynamic Wheel Co., Harrop Engineering, Roadsafe 4WD, Racebred 4WD, Coates Hire, Secondair and Dynamica Rope; you all know most of these companies and know the quality of their products. Please support our event by supporting these companies and make your next purchase with them. Lets take 2019 to the world!

– Steve ‘Chippa’ Tjepkema