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TReK is still King

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Posted On: Oct 2, 2003 By: M. Delcore & M.B. Debicki Category: Land Rover News

When we received our invitation to attend the 5th TReK competition last month, we hesitantly said yes. Hesitantly, not because we don’t like TReK, on the contrary, we love TReK, but because we feared that it would have been influenced by the G4 Challenge and the Land Rover’s relegated to moving the competitors around.

We needn’t have worried, TReK ’03 remained true to its roots and to Land Rover’s own heritage.

But first, a bit of history: TReK had its beginnings in 1996 as a team building event for the still fledgling Land Rover North America. Bob Burns, Training and Development Manager Off Road Programs for Land Rover North America created TReK as a way to: “test employees' mettle, ability to work as part of a team and Land Rover vehicle knowledge.” The idea was to “infuse the people who interact with Land Rover customers with product and brand knowledge and a level of four-wheel drive expertise not seen from any other automotive manufacturer”.

In creating TReK, Burns looked at the then going strong Camel Trophy and patterned TReK after it. The idea was to create a mini Camel Trophy event where 3-person teams from individual Land Rover dealerships competed over 2 days in a wide array of events. In a 2 day event, TReK could not hope to include the 1000-mile drives of the Camel Trophy; instead it focused on the Trophy’s special tasks competitions. The parallel to the Trophy was more than just skin deep, Burn’s crew of off pavement driving instructors were (and are) Trophy veterans.

TReK struck a chord within the Land Rover family and according to Land Rover executives “there is practically a stampede among Land Rover Retailers to enter TReK.” To accommodate all the teams that want to compete, TReK is held in waves. Each wave pits retailers from the same geographical area against each other, encouraging a bit of friendly cross town rivalries. The winners of each “regional wave” return to face one another in the TReK finals.

The first TReK was held in 1996 in Georgia on a 300 acre farm owned by Atlanta Land Rover dealer Mark Hennessey. The event used Discovery Series Is and was won by the hometown team of Land Rover North Pointe.

The very next year, TReK’97 moved to the Tinmouth hunting reserve in Vermont. The vehicle used was the then “new” 4.6 Range Rover HSE. The folks from LR North Pointe repeated adding a 2nd TReK trophy to their dealership’s mantle.

TReK’99 moved to the west coast, near Bodega Bay, California. The recently introduced Discovery Series II was used. The trophy stayed in Georgia but this time it went to Land Rover Buckhead.

The Greenbrier Resort, home of Land Rover’s own permanent, full-time off pavement driving school, hosted TReK ’00. Discoverys were again used and the trophy went to Land Rover Greenville.

TReK, and its impact on dealer morale and sales were noticed by the head office in the UK. Since 2000, TReK events have been staged around the world in most markets and in 2001 the first ever Global TReK competition was held in South Africa.

Although location, terrain and obstacles have changed from one TReK to another, all TReK events have had at their core off pavement driving, real 4x4 driving, including winching (not just “adventure sports” as in G4).

Land Rover TReK’O3: With trepidation and anticipation, we arrived at the Forbes Trinchera Ranch in southern Colorado. Would TReK ’03 prove to be a new kind of TReK? We fervently hoped NOT.

TReK ’03 began in the pre-dawn darkness with the “Service Drive”. Lined up next to us were the competitors’ TReK Discoverys, but where were the competitors? We were told that they had been given GPS coordinates to the vehicle’s location. And as we huddled against the night’s chill, we saw a distant sea of bobbing headlamps. As the teams reached their vehicles they discovered that each was missing a front tire. Taped to the windshield were the compass heading and distance to the tire’s location. Taking it in stride, the competitors fanned out into the darkness. One team found out the hard way that it really does pay to read the directions carefully. The directions stated that the bearing to the hidden tire was “from the center of the front of the vehicle”. The team either didn’t take the time to read the directions carefully, or ignored them and took the bearing while standing on the side of the vehicle. Those couple of feet between where they took the bearing and where they were supposed to take the bearing “made all the difference”. By the time they had paced off the indicated distance, they were way off course and the tire was nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile the other teams were busy installing their retrieved tires. In front of each Discovery stretched a lane with 4 stations. From the start, the teams drove their Discovery to the first station. At station 1 the teams spooled out the Discovery’s winch cables and proceeded to winch to station 2. Land Rover takes safety very seriously, and a driving instructor kept a sharp eye on each team’s winching operation. Stepping over a winch cable, a big NO-NO, would earn the team a 5 minute penalty, as would handling cable with bare hands or standing in “danger” zones. While winching, the judges also made sure the cable was spooled “neat and tight” as the competitors would need to use the winch later on in the competition. Next, the competitor’s used 8 wooden planks as sand ladders to get from station 2 to 3, a distance of over 300 feet. It called for teamwork and communication, because if the tires drove off the planks and touched the ground, the team would be sent back to the start. From the end of the “plank road” it was a sprint to the finish line pushing the Discoverys all the way!

With the sun barely above the horizon, the side by side and head to head competition of the Service Drive gave way to 6½ hours of “against the clock” events. Each team rotated through 4 different exercises. In “Land Rover Cross” teams drove Freelanders though two different autocross style precision driving courses delineated by orange cones. Each team member got one practice lap and one timed lap. Hitting a cone earned you a 10 second penalty, missing a gate a 20 second penalty. The team’s combined time was used to determine the team’s score. Having spent summers on SCCA SOLO courses, we were itching to have a go at the courses. We got the chance and were impressed with the technical nature of the courses. The tight turns and very narrow gates, not to mention the trees and boulders, demanded very precise driving.

“On Time Delivery” was a classic time-speed-distance rally using mountain trails and featuring creek crossings, mud holes, and steep climbs. Adjusting average speeds to compensate for a spot of winching to get up a hill or across a swamp added a “TReK-style” wrinkle to this old automobile favorite. Hidden checkpoints along the route ensured teams adhered to the prescribed speeds. In contrast to the very poor navigating shown by some of the G4 Challengers, TReK competitors demonstrated excellent navigation skills.

When most people see a rock strewn and tree studded ravine they usually look for a way around it, but if you are one of Burns’ instructors you see the perfect spot for a gated slalom course, the “TReK Trials”. Starting high on one side of the ravine, the course dropped steeply, around a number of boulders to be rocky bottom, then across a serious sidetilt, and up along a loose rock ramp to the top of the ravine’s far side. A hairpin turn dropped the Discovery down a nearly vertical chute to the bottom of the ravine. A number of off camber rock steps had to be climbed to reach the finish line back on top. All along the course, drivers had to thread their Discoverys through VERY narrow gates (10 second penalty for every cone touched). And of course, there were no practice laps!

Navigational skills were once again put to the test in “Find Your Way to the Centre”, an orienteering course with a twist. Some of the 18 control-points were shown on the map, others were specified only by GPS coordinates, and others were found by following compass headings. The teams had to decide whether to reach a particular control point by driving their Discovery, riding their mountain bikes, or running. Those that got the mix right and navigated with precision won the event.

After a quick lunch, the competitors, tired and sporting a few ‘battle scars’, headed back out on their Discoverys for the first event of the afternoon. The “Solihull Regatta” was a mini-adventure race, mini in duration only. The teams didn’t have a marked race course to follow, instead they were given a long list of GPS coordinates and told to visit the waypoints in the order listed. Also at some of the waypoints, additional instructions directed the teams to search for “clues”. The Regatta turned into a physically and mentally grueling mountain bike, kayak, running and driving race.

The crown jewel of the TReK competition has always been the “TReK Test Drive”. On identical, side by side courses two teams at a time compete against each other and the clock. Between start and finish lines, was an amazing collection of obstacles, demanding excellent off road driving, vehicle control, team work and precision winching. To an off pavement driver, the TReK Test Drive courses are nothing short of works of art. “Cavemen” engineering Burns calls them, we think they are extremely clever constructions that not only test the competitor’s abilities, but also showcase the tremendous off pavement capabilities of the Land Rovers. From the starting line, teams first had to deal with a long row of articulation pits, small size bomb craters that alternatively lift one tire and then another off the ground. Next a 50-foot long hood-deep water trough where a proper bow-wave was a necessity. With the tires dripping wet, a steep muddy climb usually defeated the drivers, and the Discovery had to be winched to the top of the hill. Steep sidetilts, log bridges, a very tight mineshaft, a corral, a pivoting bridge all lay ahead. A series of tall rock steps forced the teams to stack rocks for the vehicle to climb to the top, and stack them again so it could go down the other side. This year’s TReK Test Drive finish line lay some 30 feet in the air. To cross it, the team’s Discovery needed to be winched up a log tower! Cavemen engineering indeed.

This year TReK Trophy went to Land Rover Eden Prairie of Minnesota. In presenting the trophy, Burns said “you can’t just be a rocket scientist, or you can’t just be a super-athlete, but when you combine the two, you have Land Rover Eden Prairie” whose members, by the way, were the oldest in the competition.

TReK is a great event for the Land Rover retail community, but what do we, as owners get out of it. Well “It's the same principle as purchasing skis in a specialty shop from a salesperson who skis and understands skiing techniques and equipment” said LRNA’s chief executive. We couldn’t agree more.

After an amazing week, as we drove our G4 edition Freelander towards the airport, we smiled and thought, silly of us to have worried about TReK becoming just an Adventure race where the Land Rovers are simply used to ferry competitors around, Burns and his crew would never let that happen! Now if only they would stage a TReK-like event for owners…

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