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A History of the Land Rover G4 Challenge

  • Greg Fitzgerald
  • Oct 2, 2020

 

Land Rover G4 LR3

 

Five years after the final Land Rover-sponsored Camel Trophy, a successor event was announced. The G4 Challenge would become an international, multi-destination, multi-vehicle competition, featuring the same global competitive spirit as the Camel Trophy. There would only be two G4 Challenges, in 2003 and 2006, with a third 2009 event cancelled at the last minute due to the global financial crisis. Though it was never as hardcore of the iconic Camel Trophy events of the 1980s, the G4 Challenge has cemented its place in Land Rover lore.

The G4 trucks were kitted out similar to Camel Trophy trucks, with roof racks and winches and ladders bolted onto every surface. The iconic Sandglow yellow paint of the Camel trucks became Tangiers Orange. While in the Camel Trophy, only one Land Rover model was featured (usually Discovery in later years, with Defenders for support), the G4 Challenge utilized the entire Land Rover fleet. And while Camel Trophy focused on one part of the world every year, the G4 was a travelling event, visiting multiple continents in the span of a few weeks.

 

G4 Challenge 2003

2003 G4 Challenge

 

The first G4 Challenge kicked off in the center of the known universe, Times Square in New York City, in the harsh Northeastern winter. On Sunday, March 30, 2003, 28 bright orange Freelanders tackled an obstacle course set up in the middle of Broadway to kick off Land Rover's next great venture. An NYPD escort led the teams to the George Washington Bridge, where they began a week-long exploration of the Northeast. After a day of running and showshoeing in the Catskills, they headed to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. They were then off to The Equinox in Vermont, where Land Rover has long had a Driving School at the resort, for a slalom driving event. The stage ended in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Wildcat Mountain.

After 5 days of competition in America, it was off to Cape Town by plane, where a new country awaited with new terrain, a new season, and new trucks -- 29 shiny orange Defender 110s. First there was kayaking on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, then off-roading on the shores of Table Bay. From there it was a trek across Western Cape province, from Cape Aghulas (the southernmost point in Africa) to the town of George. The journey was peppered with kayaking, rappelling, biking, hiking, and even bungee jumping.

The third stage in Australia took four flights to get to from George, with a fleet of 28 then-just-released third-generation Range Rovers waiting. The competition grew more robust with the event now half over. The same mix of outdoor sports defined the event, though the snowshoeing in New York had long been forgotten as they took on swimming and running in the hot Australian sun. They explored the remote Pilbara Region for four days, then got a rest day on the beach to recuperate from two and a half weeks of intense competition before flying to Sydney for a final urban challenge.

The final stage took them back to America, this time to the off-road playground of Utah. They flew into Las Vegas, and made their first camp at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah. Snow returned, just like their last time in America. They continued to Lake Powell, Capitol Reef, and Moab. This stage explored Utah's magnificent off-road trails, as well as its incredible hiking and climbing; to many, it was the highlight of the event.

The winner of the event was Belgian Rudi Thoelen, and by winning the event, he was entitled to a brand-new 2003 Range Rover on his return home. He turned it down, though, and like a real Land Rover enthusiast, asked for two Defenders worth the same money, instead.

 

G4 Challenge 2006

2006 G$ Challenge in Bolivia

 

The next G4 Challenge was set for 2006, and it looked like it was set to be held every three years, instead of annually like the Camel Trophy. (Of course, it required more logistics than the Camel Trophy, and didn't have a major tobacco company underwriting a large part of it.) This time there would only be two continents taken in, and four countries. The first two stages would be in South East Asia, taking in Thailand and Laos. The last two stages in South America would focus on Brazil and Bolivia.

Again, the entire Land Rover lineup would be represented, though Defender and Range Rover were only used in support roles. The Freelander continued its role, used in the short Brazilian stage. The Range Rover Sport and Discovery 3/LR3 had debuted in the past few years, and both featured heavily -- LR3 in Bolivia, Range Rover Sport in Thailand and Laos.

The event began in Bangkok during record heat. The first stage of the competition was an obstacle course type event, which included dragging the competitors' Range Rover Sports out of their shipping containers. They then headed into Laos, ferrying across the Mekong River. One event took them through Tham Xiangliab Cave, while other days were filled with competition in the local tak-tak vehicles, a kayak race on the Nam Hinboun River, and a quintathalon of kayaking, swimming, rappelling, mountain biking, and off-roading.

The event then flew to South America, with a fuel stop in Johannesburg, a massive stint on a charter 767-300 that ended up taking 27 hours, including a delay in South Africa. They landed in Rio de Janeiro, and the next leg began on Copacabana Beach. An all-day competition featured the Freelander and various competitions on the iconic sands. Then it was off to Stage 4 in Bolivia. The first challenge: swim across a frigid lake, read a list of destinations visited or to be visited on both continents, swim back, and repeat the list from north to south. Then they took their LR3s across Bolivia, exploring the jungle and performing various physical tasks, including horseback riding.

The Bolivian scenery was ever-changing, and the events were short sprints as opposed to the endurance events held in 2003, taking a toll on competitors. They headed up to the Salar de Uyuni, leading to one of the most iconic images of the G4, of the convoy racing across the salt flats, orange specks on an immense white plain. Much of the final stage took place above 13,000 feet. The competitors began to make mistakes, including long-time leader Dmitry Timokhin of Russia losing his electronic scoring tool, losing several days' worth of valuable points. One Range Rover Sport carrying press and staff even rolled over, dropping several hundred meters and tumbling three times -- triggering all the airbags before landing on its wheels and starting back up.

After an elimination race, the final event involved a zipline, a maze, kayaking, mountain biking, off-roading, a riddle, and finally, wading across the river to slap the hood of a new Range Rover as the grand prize. Martin Dreyer of South Africa won the 2006 G4 Challenge.

The 2006 G4 Challenge notably made large strides in environmental care, as the world had turned much greener than the glory years of 1980s Camel Trophies. The entire journey was carbon offset, and plastic bottles in camp were replaced by 20-liter jerry cans. It couldn't be used for showering, either -- you could bathe in rivers if you wanted, with biodegradable soap. They also brought along a waste compactor (neither main competition country recycled at the time), and teams used Norwegian-designed biodegradable toilets. During the Copacabana event, all the trucks drove on a flat-pack course that didn't damage the beach. Of course, Tread Lightly principles prevailed throughout the event -- Land Rover being an early supporter of the movement.

G4 Challenge 2009 (Cancelled)

The third G4 Challenge was scheduled for 2009, and in fact, trials had been held throughout 2008 to pick many of the teams. This year was going to focus even more on off-roading than 2006 did, harkening back to the glory days of Camel Trophy, perhaps. Events were to be held in Mongolia, with a three-week route across the country. There would also be two-person teams from each participating country, instead of the one-person teams in 2003 and 2006. Even more than the other G4 Challenges, it really did seem like a proper successor to Camel Trophy. The Americans and Canadians would participate again -- having skipped 2006 -- and trials were held in Nevada in June 2008 in an event called the "Nevada Passage."

Then, in the fall of 2008, the global economy collapsed. Seeing a massive and sudden increase in risk with their position in the luxury car market, Land Rover slashed any expense it could to focus on necessary upcoming vehicle launches. The 2009 G4 Challenge suddenly became an extremely extravagant thing to spend money on. It would never happen; the plug was officially pulled in December 2008.

The G4 Challenge Legacy

The G4 Challenge never became as iconic as the Camel Trophy, but it has its own strong place in Land Rover history. The two events solidified Land Rover's off-road chops in a new era, with new vehicles. There are marketing images from the event that are just as famous as any Camel Trophy photos. The G4 Owners Club in Europe is just as passionate about ex-G4 trucks as the Camel Trophy Club is.

The 2003 event perhaps had more in common with the softer Camel Trophies of the late 1990s, but 2006 showed a more hardcore, driving-focused turn that was on track to become even more traditional in 2009 as the Mongolian trek had shades of classic Camel Trophy.

G4 edition Discovery 2s were sold in the USA 2004, in Tangiers Orange with a decal package and off-road gear; a few of the original event trucks are still in America, as well. These G4 trucks still roam the roads of this country, owned by enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike.

It's entirely possible that we could see another G4 Challenge, one day; much more than the chance of ever seeing another Camel Trophy. It won't be any time soon, considering current global conditions. But perhaps some day, we'll see a string of orange-painted new Defenders taking up the mantle of the aborted 2009 event for a new era.


  • Written By
  • Greg Fitzgerald
  • Adventure addict. '90s Land Rover daily driver. Historic preservationist. Personal vehicles: 1994 Discovery I, 1994 Range Rover Classic, 1961 Series II.
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