4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
March Madness 2011 Winch Challenge, 26th/27th Mar 11
Words by James Trembath (Event Organiser) and James Pugh (Event Marshall)

Photos: Steve Taylor, James Trembath, David Bowyer

What a great weekend. A new year and a new style of event for us! Following on from our popular Interclub team events we decided to raise the “ante” somewhat for 2011 starting with a two day, two vehicle, special stage only team event. Take 20 vehicles, put them in a perfectly formed wood combining in equal measure - deep mud, claggy clay, water, trees, a surprising amount of rock and a fair number of side slopes, along with a few 4 to 5 foot rocks steps, and some really very deep gullies. Top this little melange off with levels of organisation which would make the MOD jealous, a camp site which included a 4 foot bonfire, hot tea and burgers all day, and a BBQ to die for in the evening (Courtesy of Philon Parapottas- very tasty, thank you Philon) and you have the makings of a seriously rewarding weekend.

We were lucky to be joined for the weekend by Dave Ashcroft, well known proprietor of Ashcroft transmissions. Dave kindly agreed to present the prize for the winner of the timed night stages, which turned into a very tight fight between Team Devon and Mark Dyer/ Justin Jewitt with the latter producing an outstanding effort to win the stages by just 7 seconds. The competitive spirit for the night stages was enhanced by a superb prize: a brand new Ashcroft Air Locking Differential. 4x4 Adventures had a number of competitors selected by Ashcrofts during the past 12 months to test the brand new “locker” and it is already proving to be a very desirable piece of kit- entirely reliable and highly effective with a innovative and positive locking mechanism. Mark and Justin were even more pleased to have won the nigh stages prize as they had destroyed an ARB locker that very morning!

Roan Land Rover Services had also kindly agreed to sponsor the event. A well known, reputable firm in the local area they have a sound strong following and were keen to be involved in and support an event on their doorstep. Andy Pike, the proprietor, was on hand over the weekend to see the action, catch up with the teams and see another element of the sport to compare to his trialling and comp safari background.

Our third sponsor was actually competing for the weekend. Nick Anderson from the Wooldridge Group had kindly agreed to sponsor not only this event, but also the remaining 4x4 Adventure’s events this year. Nick headed up the Wooldridge Demolition team alongside co-driver Nev and had teamed up with Kev Pocock and Dan Elias, in the first run out of Kevs’ “new” vehicle; they certainly started the weekend in a strong position with two very well prepared vehicles..

The format of the weekend consisted of combined special stages to be driven in full by teams of 2 vehicles; the stages had elements of trialling (the whole course was limited by tape), "hunt-the-punch" courses- there being 4 punches on each SS (which people often just drove past), and a comp safari speed element (all SS' were against the clock, the night stages were "best time"). All the stages bar the night speed sections required winching and quite often needed the full 3 winches- front, rear and centre. The result of such shenanigans were stages that were not only technically difficult but time critical as well- a 30 minute window to collect just 4 punches laid out in a row doesn't sound hugely difficult, but the results clearly showed just how challenging the stages actually proved.

4x4 Adventures is gaining a bit of a reputation in the winch challenge world of setting the bar for difficult events- and March Madness ‘11 certainly cemented that reputation! The day kicked off with scrutineering at 8am followed by competitors briefing at 9am where the 20 lucky teams found out what the day had in store (The marshal’s, being a keen lot, decided they should meet at 7:30am!). The new 50 acre wood of Upplands Coppice (West of Birmingham) had been set out with 10 stages in a roughly clockwise fashion. Each of the 10 teams started at an individual stage and they had a 40 minute window to complete the stage they were on and reach the start of the next stage. For any competitor of any discipline, 5 hours of competitive timed events is going to be hard work, but it wasn't just man power that was going to suffer. The testing nature of the course soon showed up any weaknesses of kit, and within the first hour one team, Formula Devon (Jones and Farr), had already retired with a catastrophic gearbox failure of the Jones car on the first stage, leaving the team out of the running for the weekend. The weekend took the usual numbers of half shafts, CVs and diffs, not to mentioned winch motors and winch lines, with repairs being conducted well into the night for some teams including Wooldridge Demolition and ‘Gun-it Geezer’ (Billing and Woodhouse) who both suffered broken diffs. More unusual failures such as burst oil filters, and damaged armoured fuel tanks left The Challenge South West team (Pardy and Parapottas) and Team Gigglepin (Morgan and Dyer) high and dry with frustrating work to be completed in order to be able to compete on Sunday

From a spectator and marshals points of view each of the stages had its own particular flavour- although one suspects that from a drivers and co-drivers point of views all the stages were rewarding/difficult/enjoyable in equal measure. SS1 was the “arse-tightening” fun and games of side slopes, where those brave enough took speed honours, and those foolhardy turned their trucks over. SS2 proved a rollercoaster of a stage, with 2 notable obstacles combined with a bit of speed, whilst SS3 was more like a quarry event, with short sharp climbs. SS4 & 5 proved to be some of the harder stages, with a lot of very technical rock obstacles including a number of sheer 4 and 5 feet vertical steps! SS6 and SS7 opened out again but combined the river and mud elements of a top course along with the mud holes of SS8. SS10 proved another particularly hard stage- with a long climb to exit- AFAIK only Paul Radford in a standard class truck managed to drive the climb without a winch on that Saturday-showing even the fully modified trucks a clean pair of heals! SS9 consisted of a deep gulley and was a truly technical challenge that really tested the time limit. If a team finished over 30mins then nothing would count.

By lunch time, the day had included at least 3 rolled vehicles, including the beautifully prepared West Mids 4x4 truck which had a particularly unlucky episode, doing an “endo” whilst catching a root block descending a very steep drop off on SS3.

SS7 certainly took its toll on the unwary. Team Gigglepin were first in and it wasn’t long before Dyer was suspended upside down on his roof having slipped off a ‘little’ 5ft rock climb beside the river! They unfortunately snapped a shaft at this point so lost a fair bit of time both recovering and fixing the vehicle but a bit of hard work soon saw them back up and running.

Saturday had proved a difficult and testing day for all of the teams, but with a bit of hard work 19 of the 20 starting trucks were still running for the night stages.

As night fell, the Smith clan (who own the woods) lit a massive bonfire (asll we needed was a “guy” and some fireworks!), and the night stages kicked off. These were 2 pure speed stages against the clock, with the now 19 vehicles running individually.NS1 kicked off in the trees, with a tight course which demanded respect, but needed commitment to get the best time.

NS2 proved to be spectator friendly and a bit of an adrenalin shot for the teams. It commenced with a rally style stage start down a long fast sprint for a quarter mile, followed by a return journey over some "4x4 Adventures-made" obstacles- first of which was a 40 metre pile of unstable loose logs. This proved treacherous; too aggressive on the throttle and you spun the logs, a momentary lapse of concentration and you slipped sideways off the logs and risked rolling the vehicle. Once this was cleared you met a truly massive mound of stumps which, with a large enough right foot could be clambered over, but you needed to pick a line and not worry about vehicle damage. The back end of the course held a 50m section of elephant's feet, offset to leave any 90 and 100" vehicle cross-axled with tyres swallowed by the earth- as if this wasn't enough, the whole course was finished off with 2 massive berms to drive through. Time only stopped when the vehicle came to rest in the finish box, with all kit stowed.

The combined time per vehicle was added to their team mates vehicle to give a team score for the weekend. Team Formula Devon had an outstanding two runs (well the Devon side of the team did) snapping at the heels of Team Gigglepin. With Jason Farr and Rich Sims in their D44 sponsored truck clearing both sections with no winching (primarily as Rich didn’t want to get out!). They beat Dyer and Jewitt by 1s on NS2 but were 8s behind them on NS1 meaning 2nd place overall for their only two complete stages of the weekend. Despite only running one vehicle for the night stages Team Formula Devon still managed a creditable 5th place overall! Team Gigglepin were therefore the proud collectors of the Ashcroft Locking Differential.

The day finished under the stars with competitors, spectators and marshals enjoying BBQ heaven courtesy of Philon (a fine effort with mountains of rotisserie meat, fresh salad and huge chunks of fresh bread- a fine way to re-charge after a busy day). The night finished early for most, as a hard day, and the promise of a harder Sunday saw tired heads hit pillows early- the camp site was quiet by 11! Mind you there were a few teams still hard at work fixing things late into the night!

Sunday came an hour earlier than most needed with the clocks changing. The day was a rerun of Saturday but with the stages run in reverse- i.e. if you went down a hill on Saturday, you came up it on Sunday. A bit of clever stage planning meant that the ten stages felt like completely new ones, with new obstacles, and new challenges. With most of the crews still running, the marshals were kept busy, but SS12 (formerly SS9), was proving to be one of the more technically achievable stages- out of 8 teams which attempted, 2 DNF’d, 2 Ran with time to spare (a course best of 13 mins by Philon in his immaculately engineered truck), and the remainder all took over 29minutes. Team ‘Gun- it Geezer’ took the time honours for cutting it fine, finishing the stage in 29min 59.1 seconds- 0.9 second later and they would have scored zero points for their hard work.

SS17 with its combined rock steps and technical winching was also taking its toll with no team completing the stage within the time limit. Following the scoring system, if no one team completes the stage then points are allocated in this instance for punches only. This was also the same for SS20 where only three teams even managed to negotiate the course to collect any of the punches. Some tactical decisions were taken here as some teams correctly assessed that nobody would be able to complete the stages, and therefore chased punch scores rather than time scores- it was better to finish the stage with points and no breakages, than let the “red mist” descend and break vehicles in the process.

Team West Mids picked up their second roll of the weekend, this time with their team vehicle crewed by David Cornwall going over. Clive Billing from the ‘Gun-it Geezer’ team was also heard to comment that he had never been over prior to the weekend, and by Sunday’s finish he had not only had a lie down on his side but had also had the truck on its roof. It would seem the time element was putting a lot of pressure on the teams which led them to push both their own, and their trucks limits, a little further than they normally would.

Team ‘Tree-Bus’ consisting of Paul Radford and Josh Jacobs combined with Dan and Bert Smith had their fair share of mechanical issues. Paul managed to break a std CV on Saturday and duly fitted a spare from Bert; for Bert to then go on and break one of Sunday was just bad luck and meant an early retirement for them on Sunday afternoon.

The ‘Mid-West Offroaders’ consisting of Eddie Hart (the only competitor to drive to and from the event) along with Justin Dean had a good methodical approach to the sections, they weren’t the quickest but they didn’t take risks and did concentrate on finishing the sections with all the punches; notably some teams would have scored far higher had they not missed punches and exited the stages early. (if you didn’t get all the punches you didn’t get the time bonus). With this excellent approach and some mechanical sympathy they were in a strong 2nd place after the day stages.

By the time Sunday ended there were 3 retired teams, and some very tired competitors- along with over 20 exhausted marshals who had overseen some 100 hours of competitive offroading between them. Happy faces all round showed that the teams had certainly enjoyed themselves.

We are indebted to our sponsors for their generous support and to Nobby Signs for the art work and door cards.

Speed style events are increasing in popularity and they would just happen if it weren’t for the marshalls. A big thank you goes to all the marshalls for their support and help over the course of the weekend, David Webber even came up two days prior to the event to help out – now thats dedicated! As a small offer of gratitude a marshalls draw was held with Ben Snelson being the lucky man taking home a Leatherman supertool.

A big well done to all the competitors – some very, very impressive driving was displayed over the course of the weekend with some excellent co-driver interaction and displays technical control. All of the competitors were remarkably friendly even when the marshalls were docking them points! A big thank you goes to Philon for the BBQ, to the other marshals for working so hard, and proving such a friendly bunch of people, and many thanks to James Trembath at 4x4 Adventures for organising and running such a fine event.

Special mention must also be made of Bob Smith (site owner) and his clan- who clearly spent some time preparing for the event, unfailingly got stuck in, were, as ever friendly, and provided as much wood for the bonfire as we could burn – thanks guys.

Event Results

Saturday Scores
(HPS 47.5)
Night Scores
(HPS 5)
Sunday Scores
(HPS 47.5)
No. Competitors Position Event Score Position Score Position Score Position Score
1 Mid-West Off Roaders 2 28.88 3 2.55 7 7.77 6 39.2
2 Andy Dawkins 9 6.31 10 0 8 3.24 9 9.54
3 Team OEC 5 21.88 8 1.88 5 15.97 5 39.72
4 Challenge South West 6 18.47 2 3.14 2 35.85 3 57.46
5 West Mids 4x4 3 24.5 7 1.91 3 24.11 4 50.52
6 Formula Devon 10 0 5 2.44 10 0 10 2.44
7 Gigglepin 4 23.27 1 3.71 1 36.89 2 63.87
8 Wooldridge 1 40.49 6 2.13 4 23.36 1 65.99
9 Tree-Bus 8 12.19 4 2.49 9 1.66 8 16.34
10 Gun-it Geezer 7 15.89 9 0.83 6 9.88 7 26.6

Video clips of the event...

Some pictures from the event