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Old 14th August 2016, 23:32   #1
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Smile Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa

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It is RFC time again. The annual RFC event has had a strange impact on the offroaders in the country. This is something I had not foreseen. Come July, lots of who-is-who of the Indian offroad scene of the past and present show up at the RFC event, at least for a day or two. This time I met at least 70+ offroaders from my past, some I haven’t met since 7-8 years. In other words, RFC at Goa has become the annual pilgrimage destination for the Indian offroaders, to meet old friends from all over the country, and watch the best offroad action in the country. Recognising this, the annual India 4x4 week, country’s largest 4WD convention is held around the same place at the start of the RFC.

Thus I arrived at the hallowed ground at Dona Paula (Goa) on the evening of the first day of Prologue driving my own 4x4 SUV through pristine landscape mostly through heavy to light rain. I drove 320kms entirely along the coast starting from Manipal, it felt like I was driving through a series of postcards. It was a great way to build the expectations for the events to unfold in the next few days.

The Prologue stage is quite unique in its character. Unlike the usual offroad events that are held in the heart of remote hills and jungles, the Prologue stage is held in the urban settings. They have found a huge undeveloped ground near Goa university where general public and their family can come and watch this unfamiliar but super exciting motorsport. The purpose of this urban show is to popularize the sport of offroading to the masses.

I started my RFC 2016 experience on the second day of Prologue stage. It was raining as I walked into the ground, and it rained most of the day. That means photography was a challenge despite carrying a fully waterproof camera. That is because there is nothing one can do against moisture and condensation other than packing away the camera.

Also, I don’t try to cover every Special Stage (SS). I pick the interesting ones and then cover them extensively, often spending 2-3 hours at a single SS to get the full essence of it.

Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 10:40.
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Old 15th August 2016, 00:00   #2
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

First I showed up at SS-11 where the B.O.D.A team of Siddu/Jamio were about to take off.

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I am looking at a RFC prepped vehicle after a gap of two years. So I was naturally curious to look closer and discover what has changed. It was clear that juggad had given way to cleaner and professional mods.

Competition winch

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Elevated fuel outlet

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Hydraulic independent left/right rear brakes.

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Imported mud tyres

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Ground anchor, sand ladder, spare tyres & rear winch all packed neatly and securely.

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And now they are about to take off.

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This SS required the participants to dive into a small pool of water, then stop with only the front wheels out of the pool. Then they should change one of the front tyres with the spare tyre. Then they can continue, do some simple maneuvers and then get back. The entire thing depends on how fast you can change the tyres. Considering even the smallest RFC tyre weighs 40Kg, this is not as easy it seems.

Here they get into position:

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The navigator Jamio is throwing the ladders down before removing spare tyres.

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Meanwhile driver Siddu is loosening the wheels bolts.

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Once they finished changing, they go through the rest of the circuit, which at one point requires the ladders.

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Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 12:28.
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Old 15th August 2016, 00:02   #3
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

By this time rain was getting bit hard, and lens started fogging. How do I compensate for foggy photographs? Go Black & White.

I moved to another SS, this one was SS-12 i think. A rather easy stage, which means speed was everything to score in this.

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Old 15th August 2016, 00:10   #4
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Next I moved on to SS-8 which was nothing but a big hole in the ground.

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The idea was to enter the big hole and get out of it in different ways repeatedly. Let’s just enjoy the photos and videos, for there nothing to explain here.

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The insistent rain has dramatically increased the water level in the big hole. Compare the water level in the following video with the earlier images.







The big hole SS may look simple, but it was quite challenging to handle.

For example, notice this Gypsy struggling to climb out. It had lost the rear wheel drive ability, due to a broken rear prop.


Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 10:44.
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Old 15th August 2016, 00:18   #5
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Now letís come to the most talked about offroad machine of RFC 2016, the Super Jeep.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-56.jpg

Back in 2012 when I was buying a MM550 built by Vivek Kuriakosse, he showed me a monster engine and some imported parts of a very secret dream build. That is how I know for how long this super jeep was being built. Contrary to many mistaken claims, this is not based on a Thar. It has a MM550 body, on a Bolero chassis, with a petrol V8 engine. Each wheel weighs 90Kgs and the whole vehicle weighs around 3.5 tons. It was not built considering the RFC, because the build pre-dates the RFC in India. However, it was later modified to fit the RFC requirements.

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It is the proud creation of the brothers Vivek and Ashok Kuriakosse, who were competing with their experimental prototype.

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The Super Jeep was the crowd puller everywhere it went. Even when it was simply parked, people were taking selfies and group photos braving the rain.

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And I was no exception.

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Nor was DBHPian Dhanus who covered the RFC 2015 for Team-BHP.

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But the real whopper came later in the evening. A construction worker who is originally from Belgaum wanted a family group photo in front of the Super Jeep. I talked to him later, and he was positively thrilled to find that the Super Jeep was from his state. He told the kids with him that the great looking Jeep was from their own state. He looked really proud.

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Old 15th August 2016, 00:23   #6
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

I wanted to cover one complete SS with the Super Jeep. But it was raining quite heavily when caught up with the action. As usual, black & white to the rescue.
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Many people there who were not offroaders were disappointed with the performance of the Super Jeep. They apparently expected it to perform spectacularly in every SS. But those of us who were offroaders, understood the dilemma the brothers were facing. The original design weight of the vehicle was around 2.7 tons. But the effort to make it compliant with RFC specification made the vehicle lot heavier and increased the center of gravity significantly. This monster can easily tip over at angles that even a stock Jeep can easily handle. Next let’s consider the drivetrain. The torque generated by the engine, before it reaches the tarmac and makes the vehicle move, has to pass through the gearbox, transfer case, propeller shafts, differentials, drive axles, wheel bearings, and the wheels. The torque also gets multiplied at the gearbox, TC, and differential. If this Jeep was made in the factory, this drivetrain would undergo end-to-end torture test under all kind of load conditions. But the Super Jeep was built in a workshop, and there is no way they can do end-to-end drivetrain testing like a car manufacturer and redesign the build based on the test results. Instead, most components were put together looking at the datasheets and design decisions are made based on subjective judgment and hope. So you don’t drive this Jeep with pedal to the metal, you never know what are all the weak links in the chain.

On the very first day, even before they got on the field, they broke the wheel bearings. They had originally assumed it to be bulletproof. It was quite a miracle that they found a weaker but acceptable alternative part locally. Otherwise, nobody would have seen this vehicle in action in this RFC. As a result, the Super Jeep was driven very carefully all the time, the engine rpm rarely ever raising above idle.

Notice how Vivek handles it at the big hole SS. Most expected him to revv the V8 engine and get on the top. But he takes the sensible route and winches himself up.



The SS-11 where they had to change tyres was an insurmountable challenge considering it takes 4 people to carry the 90kg tyre. But in order to earn the 20 points, they had to go through the motion of changing the tyres.



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Do notice how they use the winch in a creative way to raise the spare tyre back to the rear mount.

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Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 10:49.
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Old 15th August 2016, 00:28   #7
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Later I went around visiting the stalls setup by 4x4 vendors, this was done as part of India 4x4 Week.

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And I surprised to find this fellow selling coil over springs, it was Shravan whom I used to meet in offroad events back in 2008.

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And that was the end of prologue stage. The results of prologue for the first and the second day were as follows:

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-day1result.jpg

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-day2result.jpg
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Old 15th August 2016, 00:43   #8
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Predator Stage

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Today we start with SS-18, because was the most interesting SS of the day. And because I spent 3.5 hours to capture it well. However, as I walk in, I discover that the photos are fogged. The lens looked clear, the photos are still fogged. What happened? Condensation on the sensor.

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So I removed the lens and stood airing the mirrorless body, trying to dry out the condensation on the sensor. Lucky me, there was no action for a while because the last vehicle that entered was waiting to be recovered. Half an hour later when the next vehicle drove in, the condensation had dried out.

First I see a Thar coming through. What you see below is the first obstacle after following the trail marked by the bunting tape on the left. After riding a hump, the vehicle needs to make a very 90 degree turn.

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After that was done, they need to get down a 5ft drop. I am thinking it shouldn’t be a challenge, just straighten yourself along the drop and just roll down. Then I see the co-driver climbing up to remove the sand ladder. Curious that....

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Then things get really bizarre. He places the sand ladder (that is not needed in the first place) at 45 degree angle across the drop.

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It is one of the cardinal rule in offroading that you should never go cross axle into a drop. It is the sure recipe for a rollover. I was sure driver is going to refuse that crazy maneuver. But he doesn’t.

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They continue to persist in this madness for a while before realising it is not going work. Then they break another cardinal rule. Never turn away from the tilt. They do, the driver is asked to turn away from the tilt and he does.

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It takes another 2-3 minutes before they realise they need to winch out of the situation they put themselves into in the first place.

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As expected, they run out of time while trying to recover from the self goal, and end up with a DNF. Once they clear out of there, the next competitor comes in with full vigor. However, before even reaching the first obstacle, they need to pass by a tree on the right side, literally brushing against it. But they give a wide berth to that tree, and try to climb the wall on the left side. Next moment the vehicle was lying on the side.

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However, they had a certified recovery expert (Tejas of Offroad Junkie) in their support team. So it was time to witness how a recovery is done by the book. The tow rope was not just connected to the body, but had encircled the whole vehicle for better control. At first the driver turned on the engine, but it resulted in too much white smoke.

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Meanwhile, I noticed something strange, the rear winch cable was not even slotted through the fairlead.

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Notice how the vehicle is also anchored to the tree to stop it from running away if is was not in gear. Also take notice of the tree which has been brushed hard from the earlier vehicles while passing by. This one tried to avoid that and experienced a worser fate.

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The vehicle is finally on its feet. It is clear from these pics that he moved far away from the tree, climbed the side and induced the unnecessary tilt.

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At this point, the driver was still confident of continuing in the SS, apparently he still had time. But as he turned on the engine, that confidence starts to go up in smoke, literally… and he takes a DNF.

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Next competitor comes along and passed the tree without any drama and reaches the 5ft drop point. In my two hours of waiting, I hadn’t seen anybody get past that point. The co-driver gets out and signals the driver to get down sideways, just like the earlier Thar. Those of us sitting at the gallery seat to this drama loudly groaned in frustration… But, there was hope. The driver refused that instruction. The next two pics are not in focus, my camera was having some trouble.

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Instead he decides to straighten the vehicle along the drop and roll down in reverse, a very sensible technique. But in his attempt to straighten, he broke the bunting tape. Next he does something very strange. As he was unencumbered by the nominal bunting tape, he drives completely out of the track and sets himself straight for a clean reverse roll down.

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And he rolls down very easily and cleanly. But the damage was already down. He had taken all 4 wheels out of the track and there by disqualified himself. They get the DNF too.

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Old 15th August 2016, 01:07   #9
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

By this time we were all getting very frustrating by these self goals. We wanted see at least one team do it cleanly without any unforced errors. Then I saw a veteran pair (Prithvi/Pradeep) of BODA team coming next, and assured the guys around me that we may finally have some deliverance.

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They get through the first obstacle

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And manage to straighten the Jeep for the drop without breaking any bunting tape.

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And then roll down the drop easily.

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Next they needed to climb. The ladders are placed, and they decide to winch instead of trying to power it up.

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However, they make a small mistake in the choice of anchor and end up tearing the shrub out of the ground.

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But it turned out the winch was not necessary at all. Prithvi then managed to climb by powering it up.

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Then they move on to climbing a flight of steps.

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And thus they proceed to the final obstacle, which no one has scaled until then. This was purely a winching exercise.

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And they become the first team to achieve success in SS-18.



After 2.5 hours I had finally caught a successful action, so I walked out SS-18 only to see another veteran team (Siddu/Jamio) from BODA entering the fray. Siddu has always been an exciting driver to watch and I was not about to miss the unfolding action. So I ran back into trail, this time I was on a different vantage point.

See how the Gypsy brushes pass the tree with barely a tilt. It takes creativity to topple here.

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Now he is straightening the Gypsy at the drop point without hurting any bunting tape.

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He gets down cleanly.

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Next was the climb, they decide to try without winch first.

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After succeeding without winch, he tries next one too without winch.



After succeeding even there, he reaches the final obstacle which can’t be done without the winch.

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By now, it must be very obvious to the readers that there was a surprisingly huge skill gap between the last two teams that succeeded and the ones that came before them. Now get ready for even bigger surprise. Despite the above performance, Siddu and Prithvi placed 10th and 13th in this SS. There were so many others who performed much better. This should give you an idea how good the top ten teams of RFC 2016 were. But I couldn’t wait around for the leaders, I had other SS to cover.

Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 12:57.
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Old 15th August 2016, 01:12   #10
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Meanwhile I was hearing that the SS-17 hasnít had a single success all morning. I gave them a visit after lunch and they were inactive due to a recovery somewhere down. So I continued to SS-16 which seemed to have some activity. In fact, the very last vehicle was taking off.

It was the easiest SS of the day, probably designed to give some breathing room for lagging teams to gain some points. It was literally walk in the park, just driving on some muddy trail.

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As I was looking around, the final vehicle made it back without breaking a sweat.

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The officials for SS-16 were done for the day at 3:20pm and were positively thrilled at their own efficiency.

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Old 15th August 2016, 01:20   #11
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Meanwhile, SS-17 was yet to register their first success. And then we heard a huge noise, somebody had just done it. It was almost 3:30pm when the first success was registered. The jinx had broken, it was time to follow SS-17. I was glad I didnít pick this as my first SS of the day.

SS-17 gets on after the jinx is broken

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The Jeep has to travel along the bottom of a hill and then climb it at the end using winch.

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Then climb down that hill and return back to the starting point. Simple, NO?

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Actually, NO. They got caught in the final part of the ascent, and lost the SS by 10 seconds.

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It was time to explore the lower parts of the hill where the vehicles were getting murdered since morning.

This initial descent becomes a crazy ascent on the way back.

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This is how it looks from below, a pretty scary climb.

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Meanwhile the Lokesh/Rohit of BODA had started their run.

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This was a very dicey part, hardly visible from the top.

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They get through that part and enter some bushes.

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Meanwhile, the malay teams were keeping a close watch on the toughest SS of the day. This was an usual scene throughout the RFC. Driver/navigator pairs from the top teams were often seen studying the tough SS of the day for long duration whenever they had some spare time.

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From below I could see the Gyspy climbing the hill before turning back.

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Then they get back through the bush. This part is very tricky. Right at the exit of the bushes, the track turns acutely. Many drivers tended to go straight and out of the track. But navigator Rohit was alert and physically blocked the driver from going straight, and pointed him to turn and stay in the track.

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Then they encounter the dicey rocky stuff yet again.

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But they get through it very fast, surprisingly fast.



Now for the final ascentÖ

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And they make it, becoming the second team to make it, and the fastest yet. They finished 4th in SS-17 at the end of the day.

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That was the end of Predator stage for me. The final results for the day were as follows:
Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-day3result.jpg
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Old 15th August 2016, 01:30   #12
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Terminator stage

I started the day with SS-19, and I had finally run into the leader board. The top 5 were doing their run here.

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The trail starts with taking a U-turn at a hill that requires winching.

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Getting the right anchor for winching is the key here.



Then there another climb, not so tricky. Didn’t see anybody struggling there. But then these are the competition leaders, they can mask the difficulty level by doing it easily.

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Next series of turns was very difficult, again these leader board guys were making it look too easy. Just notice the fresh tracks along the bunting tapes.

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The first turns are done without winching, but the teams were winching the at final turn.

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After that they climb the final hill and get out of it.

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After seeing two Force Motor teams do it well, I was about to leave. Meanwhile, competitor Abhinav Nukala, the lone south Indian in the top 5 was standing next to me, and was scheming to do that series of turns without any winching. He wanted to straighten the vehicle and power over it. He was hoping to leapfrog the others by saving time there.

This I had to see, so I decided to follow him into trail. Here he takes off.

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At the first U-turn…

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Then a near disaster happens, the winch anchor comes off sliding up the tree.

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Then they give up on the tree anchor and resort to ground anchor. But removing ground anchor, using it, putting it back takes time.

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They had lost valuable time here, so there was no question of leapfrogging anymore, only make up for lost time.

Now they show up at the point where all others winched.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260180.jpg

And now for the much anticipated part, can he do it without the winch?



I love it when drivers can plan a creative maneuver and execute it to perfection the very first time. No wonder why he is in the top 5. Although I was bit confused by the action of Navigator Laxmikanth, where he is holding the tow rope to stop the Jeep from toppling over. Can one man really prevent the Jeep from toppling, or was he overly influenced by the movie Baahubali? If the giant statue can be held back by one man, why not a small Jeep, eh? BTW, I have to confess Laxmikanth does resemble Prabhas to some extent, really.

Since Abhinav covered this turn so fast, he made up for the lost time. And then he finishes in style.

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Last edited by Samurai : 15th August 2016 at 11:07.
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Old 15th August 2016, 01:36   #13
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

Then I move on SS-20, where next set of leaders (6-10) were competing. And I see this...

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260186.jpg

What is this, another man influenced by Baahubali, towing the Jeep all by himself? Well, I mean Kodavas (Coorgs) are known to have that kind of confidence. But no, Navigator Chetan Chennappa was merely looking for an anchor point. But I had missed the action by 10 minutes. The Coorg team was just wrapping up SS-20.

Meanwhile my camera was having fresh problems thanks to the moisture. The shutter was getting stuck in closed position. If I do get it unstuck, it was getting stuck at the next click. So I had to miss action from the next two competitors. Me with a non-working camera is like a RFC competitor with a broken down vehicle. And unlike them I canít change the part in the field. It was time to do some juggad. Unlike my newer camera (EM5mkII), this one (EM5) didnít have electronic shutter.

How to fix a lethargic shutter? With all those quickfix mechanic guys around me, I got some inspiration. How about I switch to hi-speed continuous shooting mode? In that mode, the camera acts like a machine gun, every time I press the button it can shoot 9 snaps a second without giving any time to get stuck. I tried it, and it worked! The shutter didnít get stuck anymore, but I ended up shooting 5-6 shots every time I clicked. Now I was ready for more action.

Now I decided to follow Dr.Chaitanya Challa. In these long tracks one has to run behind them all the way to keep up with them.

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At this climb I had seen many climb easily, but it can easily go wrong.

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Then he winches himself up and returns back to the start point.

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The final climb is the toughest one of the day.

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It was time to move on to the next SS, which turned out to be the toughest one in Terminator.
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Old 15th August 2016, 01:41   #14
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

The SS-22, starts with a nice drive in the water, following a winched climb out of the water.

The scene reminds me of the movie Lake Placid. And yes, the marshal team that finished SS-16 by 3:20 (a record time) previous day is now in-charge of the toughest SS of the day, whose first success didnít come until 3:40pm later that day. However, that is still 3 hours away.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260264.jpg

I start with watching a Gypsy come towards the showstopper obstacle of the day.

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And then they give up as the time ran out. What is so difficult here?

Letís look at it from the other side. The Jeep will approach the near vertical wall sideways, and then has to somehow winch up the wall when facing 90 degree away from the wall. Nobody had managed to do it since morning.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260303.jpg

Meanwhile, a prominent offroader who is part of a support team grumbles to me in frustration.

He: David [Metcalfe] has gone mad. How could he design a track like this? People are breaking their winches while trying to this obstacle. There should be some limit to the degree of difficulty. Is it even possible to make it any more difficult?

[my creativity was on overdrive since the shutter fix solution]

Me: Yes, I think David can make this track tougher.
He: What!!! How it is possible to make it any tougher?
Me: Drop some crocodiles in the water.
He: Ha...ha...ha..

Then he quickly looks around to see if David was around to overhear the idea. So, if next year you find crocodiles as part of the challenge, you know who thought about it first.

Then another competitor enters the track.

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Then I notice that the exhaust is under water, which means he simply cannot afford to switch off. I start taking a video of that, and then the marshal next to me tells me about the driver, listen carefully. It is a very heart-warming story. This driver eventually finished the RFC at 12th place, but I think he won lots of hearts.



The winch had to be ground anchored to climb this first obstacle. This is how most did it. By anchoring it to the wall on the side.



Meanwhile, some of the BODA support members around me are brainstorming. Look at the following photograph. Is there any real need to get into water and then get back on, only to end up sideways along the wall? The bunting tape roughly indicates one has to get into water before reaching the wall. But there is no bunting tape of the left side. There is nothing to stop a driver from driving over the bush and then end up facing the wall, all ready for a straight winch operation all the way. Nobody knows the terrain under the green bush, but it looks like a promising route, especially considering the alternative. So BODA drivers are going to try that path.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260301.jpg

Around this time I do something stupid. I tried to check whether it is safe to go back to single shot mode. The shutter gets stuck again. Until it clicks back, I am out of commission. I decide to take the lunch break.
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Old 15th August 2016, 01:49   #15
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Default Re: Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa: Official Report

An hour later I was able to get the shutter to release again. I quickly moved back to high-speed continuous shooting mode. And I got back to SS-22 where success still eludes the competitors.

I see a Jeep being recovered as I walked back into the track.

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Many were watching the action from the high places.

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BTW, I heard some good news. Lokesh/Rohit from BODA had breached the insane wall and managed to complete the full SS, but missing it by 10 seconds. They had executed the tactic cooked up by the BODA team, driven over the bush, winched up the wall. Now everybody who followed knew how to crack the insane wall. That means expect the crocs next year.

Now I noticed that the second set of leaders (6-10) had entered the fray. The top leaders (1-5) would come even later. Bit of an unfair advantage for the top 10 since the puzzle was solved by the lower ranked teams after lots of sacrifices.

Letís see the first effort now.

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260340.jpg



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Now they approach the water and donít get in, instead they go over the bush.

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The terrain under the bush is deep enough that the front tyre entirely sinks out of view. Thank god for coilovers.

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And here is the successful climb that eluded everybody for the first 5 hours.



After that they return back from another side.

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And back towards water and it is then just a race back to the finish line. They have done it, or did they?

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Back in the water, the engine sputters and mysteriously switches off. So close to victory, yet so far.

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This was probably the most heartbreaking scene for me. The second team to complete all obstacles in SS-22 is also unable to finish. The first team lost by 10 seconds, and second team goes dead in the water. Will this jinx break at all?

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Meanwhile the top ranked teams are watching the drama with some serious concern. What kind of SS remains unconquered for so long?

Report: The 2016 Rain Forest Challenge @ Goa-p7260374.jpg
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