4x4 Adventures Ltd Taunton, Somerset
J33P Challenge 2011
Words by Will Overton, pictures courtesy of J33P.ORG

The 2011 edition of the J33P winch challenge was staged at West Harptree, a site nestled amongst the dry stone walls of the northern edge of the Mendip Hills, over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of October. Uncharacteristically the weather was exceptionally hot and more importantly dry, (the latter I’m told is a good thing at this site).

For those unfamiliar with the terrain at West Harptree, it is essentially a valley with limestone rock formations. Once used for lead mining in Roman times, the area is pock marked with a myriad of axle twisters and random holes, something that would be akin to a scene from Dad’s Army. Such is the extent of the lumps and bumps, it looks as though the Germans had strafe bombed it following air raids on Bristol and the south west.

The format was simple, 2 days to find 50 punches, 30 on Saturday, on the ‘reverse’ bank of the valley with a further 20 to find on the Sunday on the other bank. Saturday also laid host to 3 out of 4 “Special Stages”, SS1 appropriately named “Time Trial” and SS2 ominously but simply named “Rainbow” and SS3 the “Night Stage”. Sunday would just hold SS4, the slightly perturbing “Misleading Gates”.

Friday had been a stressful day for us, my jeep had just returned from the garage having just had a full roll cage fitted. Upon re-installation of my front winch, I found that one of my motors was not working and that the brushes were fubar, unfortunately not enough time to get a new set ordered up, and rather than pull out of the event, we decided that we would continue as planned anyway. As luck would have it James knows a lot of people in the surrounding area with ’spare’ kit and I was fortunate to be able to borrow a winch motor from one of the event marshals.

Following on from my winch motor fitting breakfast we headed over to scrutineering and the obligatory 4x4 adventures meticulously explained drivers brief. As it was a fun challenge weekend we were allowed to compete in teams although the scoring was for individual cars.

All questions answered and we were ready for the off. Punches were set out in a traditional punch hunt format, from right to left along the reverse bank, increasing in number and difficulty the closer you got to the wood. This punch hunt format was new to us as, in our limited experience of winch challenges we had only experienced taped sections that had 2/3 punches along the way. With this in mind we intrepidly set off and found our first punch. A major difference we found was how close the punch card was set in the car, with mine protruding from within the car past the wing mirror on the passenger side. Punches that looked easy, were suddenly not so, just due to how close you had to get the car to the punch/tree/blackthorn bush! We even found one that was so short that due to my suspension lift , we couldn’t get the jeep to be low down enough to reach it!

I perhaps should have listened to the drivers briefing a little more as around mid-morning, we were cracking on with a punch on a bit of what looked like (for that weekend) virgin ground. Great I thought, this is nice and easy, seeing as there’s no-one here we could get a few done, when I noticed just as we were about to punch the card it was number 40 or so, only then did I realise we were tackling some of the Sunday only punches and on the wrong bank of the valley! Bit of an RTFM moment, or should that be LTFB?

Anyhow, we realised that the special stages were now open, and we decided to go and have a go. Upon arrival at the starting area to SS1, run by event organiser James Trembath, we were given the instructions:

There are various gates laid out within the area. You must drive the gates in numerical order. You can cross your own tracks. A gate is determined as the space made by two adjacent trees or marker poles marked with either orange or white tape. Your whole vehicle must travel forward through the gate with the orange marker on the LHS of the vehicle and the white marker on the RHS of the vehicle to achieve the gate. The vehicle needs to be at the finish within 10mins of starting to collect any points. You will be penalised for touching the trees, you can drive over the roots. Co-driver and driver must start and finish in the vehicle with all your kit. You may not travel backwards or the wrong way through a gate.

Simples! We had watched other teams drawing out the route and seeing as we had nothing to write on or with we decided to have a quick walk round and just get on with it. I started well and was soon flicking my front locker in and out to try and assist myself driving out of the mammoth axle twisters and get round the tight corners, I touched one gate and was pleased with my time. Fellow Jeeper Kevin Williams got the best corrected time of the day in his small block (355) Chevy V8 powered very yellow Jeep CJ, a good result for the Jeeps!

Onto SS2, run by Spirit of the Event award winner Anthony Counsell. ‘Rainbow’ Special stage was a series of 7 coloured tennis balls suspended from trees on string. The idea being that you had to touch each ball with a part of the car in order of the colours of the rainbow, in the shortest time possible. My Wb for the weekend was friend of mine Pete, who for his normal job is a sprayer amongst other things. So, as he was used to paint colours I presumed that he would know the colours of the rainbow, colour shades, yes, colours of the rainbow, no!! Fortunately, Anthony was on hand to give us a clever mnemonic to remember the order, “Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain”. 3-2-1 and we were off, wheels in the air the red earth being flung about by my fully powered up Simex, nudge red, back up to orange, glance past yellow, nearly missed green, but a handy door open to tap it got round that problem, blue and Indigo hit like a game of swing ball, then where’s violet? Damn it had been knocked off and was on the floor, Anthony held it up in place and we gave it a quick whack and then reversed out to the finish, a time of 3mins 27 saw us into a very respectable 3rd overall.

1530hrs saw the end of the Hunt Punch and cards were collected, it transpired that there had been a few breakages throughout the day and the 3 hour wait until the night section was very welcome to some of the teams needing remedial work to keep them in the running. We elected to walk the taped night stage at this point to get a feel of what was to come upon nightfall. Around dusk we headed for the night stage briefing where we learned it was to be another timed section with a 10 min DNF, with penalties awarded for breaking the tape, though perhaps extra penalties should have been awarded for competitors trying to run over Mark Walford, the night section marshal! We were also given the chance to walk the section again, now it was dark. In hindsight we should have done this as for some reason or other terrain seems to change monumentally when its dark, and what had looked like a fairly straight forward blast, turned out to be quite a technical drive.

We were the first Jeep to have a go, and started off quite well through the seemingly obligatory axle twisters, not having to back up to have another stab until we got to the first big corner about 2/3rds of the way through the course. In the light I had thought I would just drive round this, however now in the dark I was acutely aware of a large drop off to the left, potentially through the tape and so had to shunt a bit to get round safely. Following this were a few lumps and bumps which got me totally off the line I was trying to achieve to drop down into the big hole. Deciding not to shunt (and waste time) I tapped my lockers in and dropped into the hole. Sensing that my rear wheels were leaving lead mine valley, I did what all Jeepers should do in times of worry, stamped on the go button and with all 6 cylinders charging, powered my way out of the situation! We finished off the rest of the section no problems and finished with a 2 min 11, first jeep, but 6th overall.

A delicious BBQ concluded Saturday, cooked by J33P committee members Chris McCullom and Kevin Williams, topped up with a few drinks and some good banter from the day’s proceedings.

Sunday saw the rise of another astonishingly (for October) hot morning and the day’s events (20 punches and one Special Stage) were to start at a slightly more manageable 0900hrs, with the event coming to a close at 1430hrs and the eagerly awaited prize giving at 1530hrs.

Teeming with confidence from Saturday’s special stages, we sauntered over to SS4, run once again by Anthony Counsell. We read and re-read the rules, then were given 2 minutes to walk the course. With such limited time to jot the course down, Pete my WB went right and I went left. Convinced that we had all the gates spotted we reconvened at the jeep, ready to start the stage. Another 10 min DNF section, 10 gates were to be driven in any order as long as the orange cane was on the left and the white cane was on the right. A few canes in and it transpired I hadn’t spotted all the gates on the left and we ended up shunting far too much, and finished with a poor time…”Mis-leading” indeed!

Having recced the Sunday cards on our little illicit trundle over the other side the day before, we were flying through the punches and making up for lost time due to electrical issues, when up a particularly greasy slope down by the wood, I could smell burning and it seemed to be coming from my newly installed in cab winch isolators…not good, petrol engine and all that. Due to one thing and another I had fitted the wrong Isolator (a cheap copy) for my main front winch and this had now burnt out. I had the correct one with me and although a bit of a fiddle in the field, managed to fit it, so we pressed on. Lady luck was not with us and further along our foray into the wood, I clean snapped the lower mounts off my 8274 housing after coming to the end of the rope and neither of us realising the problem. Pete was up a bank and out of sight and I was in the cab!

I was aware that we still had a 100 mile drive home, so we opted to knock it on the head and trundle back to base camp. I also had to un-motor my winch and return it to whence it came.

Overall we had a fantastic weekend and formed many new friendships. I would highly recommend it to anyone wishing to take part in a well-run, fun punch hunt. West Harptree is a prime candidate for such an event where, with the lack of trees to inflict body damage, standard-ish cars can quite easily get in with a chance of some chocolates.

It’s worth noting from the results that there were only 3 cars in std+1 class. You never know next year I might see if I can get rid of a winch and a locker and try and mix it up with those Landrovers!

Class results were as follows:

Class 1
1st Jeroen and Ger 63%
2nd Graham and Andy 54%
3rd Ian and Jon 52%
4th Rob and Kev 31%
5th Tony and Eric 22%

Class 2
1st Steve and Jade 93%
2nd Chris and Gary 59%
3rd Steve and Joe 55%

Class 3
1st Eddie and Mike 89%
2nd Mark and Russell 85%
3rd Kevin and Dale 65%
4th Will O and Pete T 57%
5th Will C-H and Pete A 48%
6th Mike and Chris 16%
7th Kevin and Leon 11%

Overall results

1st Steve and Jade 93%
2nd Eddie and Mike 89%
3rd Mark and Russell 85%
4th Kevin and Dale 65%
5th Jeroen and Ger 63%
6th Chris and Gary 59%
7th Will O and Pete T 57%
8th Steve and Joe 55%
9th Graham and Andy 54%
10th Ian and Jon 52%
11th Will C-H and Pete A 48%
12th Rob and Kev 31%
13th Tony and Eric 22%
14th Mike and Chris 16%
15th Kevin and Leon 11%

Spirit of the Event Award went to Anthony Counsell, who new to off-roading had come along to help marshal in his 90, by midday Saturday, he was minus a winch motor (me) minus the entire 8274 (Cuffy) and later in the day had lent out a CV joint and a TDS winch to some Landroverists so they could carry on competing, hats off to you mate, well done.

Big thanks to James Trembath and Mike Cuff for organising the event, Chris and Kev for the BBQ and of course to the marshals, Anthony and Mark.

Some pictures from the event