Crossing the Arabian Sea
Spilling across four Middle Eastern nations, the Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter desert has an arid climate with no reliable water sources and ever- shifting terrain. It is considered one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. To showcase the capabilities of the 2014 Range Rover Sport, Land Rover Global sent an expedition team to complete the automaker’s toughest challenge yet: to set the fastest recorded time in a standard production SUV in one of the most treacherous areas known to man or machine.
It was 04h00 in the morning somewhere in the Saudi Arabian desert. The air was bracing. A team of Land Rover drivers, technicians and production crew were working through their final briefing, preparing for what could be the most intense challenge that any of them had ever faced – to cross the Empty Quarter. Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter – is a world of harsh extremes that ranks as one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Taking up one fifth of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub’ al Khali is the world’s largest sand desert. It covers substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, parts of Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates to create a scorched wilderness larger than France. It holds about half as much sand as the Sahara desert, which is 15 times larger, but is composed mostly of gravelled plains and rocky outcrops. Because of the sandy expanses and overpowering heat, Rub’ al Khali has been considered unforgiving. Yet, a dozen Bedouin tribes ( known as Bedu) have lived and survived along its edges – and venture across it from time to time – since before recorded time. With daytime temperatures exceeding 50° C, the Empty Quarter covers 583 000 km2 of dangerous terrain. This made it the perfect challenge for the new 2014 Range Rover Sport. As the sun rose, vast sand flats, soft dunes and epic canyons appeared in the distance, the crew set off in a standard production all- new Range Rover Sport with a 375 kW 5L supercharged V8 petrol engine, running standard tyres. The only modification to the vehicle was the fitment of an underbody protection plate. Behind the wheel was Spanish off- road rally driver, Moisès ‘ Moi’ Torrallardona ( 47). Moi is a Dakar Rally veteran and has competed in 10 editions with a best finish of sixth overall. He also took part in the 1990 Camel Trophy in Siberia, where he finished in fourth position with the Spanish team. Moi finished in eighth position in the Trucks division of this year’s Dakar Rally with a time of 61: 31: 36
Attacking the challenge with fervour, Moi was able to drive at an average speed of 83 km/ h. This resulted in the fastest recorded time ( 10 hours and 22 minutes) to complete the gruelling 850 km journey from Wadi Adda Wasir in Saudi Arabia to the border of the UAE. That was achieved despite being left to finish the race alone, having lost radio contact with his support vehicle after driving over a 200 m high sand dune. Moi maintains that the challenge of the Empty Quarter desert is unrivalled. “It is a brutal, unforgiving and sometimes deadly environment. Knowing the right time to go full throttle and the right time to slow down takes experience and clear judgement. This way of driving requires a vehicle which has the same skillset – it must be incredibly fast and agile, responsive and well planted,” he said. Land Rover AFRICA Magazine spoke to Moi and Land Rover global marketing manager John- Paul Mooney about what this challenge meant to Land Rover as well as the perils and risks of undertaking a challenge of this magnitude.
John- Paul Mooney, Land Rover global marketing manager
WHAT GEAR IS ESSENTIAL DURING A CHALLENGE LIKE THIS? JP: A challenge like this involves a lot of logistics and safety is a top priority. Some of the more important equipment we took with us included four satellite phones; copious amounts of water; and recovery equipment, like sand ladders, air compressors, straps, ropes, shovels, tool kits, lightweight vehicle jacks and spares. We included GPS equipment and Moi and his copilot Sa’id wore professional fire- proof racing suits and helmets with radio communications. A trained medic was always present in the support car which followed close behind. WHAT WAS THE PROTOCOL WITH THE RECOVERY VEHICLES? JP: First off, we had the one Hero L494 ( Range Rover Sport) vehicle which was the main testing vehicle and was driven by Moi, with Sa’id and the director of projects. The back- up L494 vehicle included a driver, the medic and one Land Rover vehicle op. The plan was that its occupants would swap out at the halfway pit stops to avoid fatigue. The other five LR4 ( Discovery 4) support vehicles drove along the highway rather than through the desert. If one of the L494 vehicles got stuck in the sand, there was only one other L494 that could tow it out. HOW DID THE TEAM PREPARE TO DEAL WITH THIS HARSH, ARID ENVIRONMENT? JP: Most of the expedition team members have all been exposed to desert conditions before. Moi, Sa’id, Peter Richings and the five Omani drivers are all very experienced in sand driving and are familiar with all the aspects of desert survival. The five Omani drivers were taken on a training course in the dunes near the testing station in Dubai to ensure they were familiar with the Land Rovers they were driving. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAIN DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH A CHALLENGE LIKE THIS? JP: The main concern is fatigue. We didn’t know how long it would take the drivers, but we were guessing approximately 14 to 16 hours. We even factored in the time it would take to refuel. Moi was determined to just drive on through. We offered him a break in the middle leg, but he just wanted to clock a good time. The first three hours of the challenge, we had to think about things like arriving at the destination in daylight. The production team wanted to capture the finish over in the UAE with a helicopter, but flying a helicopter at night in the UAE is prohibited. Moi had to arrive in daylight or just as the sun was setting. We had to factor in stuff like that.
Moi Torrallardona, driver
HOW DID THIS CHALLENGE DIFFER FROM OTHER CHALLENGES YOU’VE DONE? MT: The Empty Quarter crossing was more of a personal challenge to try and set a record. It wasn’t a competition where you try and beat the rest of the field. But the most challenging part for me was that the car was a stock- standard production vehicle with no racing modifications at all. WHAT MAKES THE EMPTY QUARTER DESERT SO CHALLENGING? MT: The Empty Quarter is the harshest desert in the world. Locals will tell you not to go there; that you might not make it out alive. The huge distances, varied terrain and surfaces and the remoteness of this desert make moving fast over the wild environment a big challenge for the vehicle. The Empty Quarter isn’t just sand, it has all the terrain elements that a big desert can offer: rocky trails, flat gravel plateaus and soft sand dunes. It’s also difficult to read when driving through the Empty Quarter because of the different terrain. But the Range Rover Sport has a very good power to weight ratio – providing an excellent combination to fight the sand. The higher the temperature, the softer and more difficult the sand becomes. WHAT DANGERS WERE CONSTANT THREATS TO THE CHALLENGE? MT: When facing a challenge like this, you have to constantly deal with several dangers on a daily basis. If it isn’t breakdowns due to the tough terrain ( especially to the suspension), the high temperatures and the soft sand can really put strain on the engine. The Range Rover Sport took it all in its stride and the few minor problems we experienced were more due to human error than mechanical failure. You have to remain 100 per cent focused at all times. DO YOU THINK THE RANGE ROVER SPORT IS ONLY VEHICLE THAT CAN TAKE ON A CHALLENGE OF THIS MAGNITUDE?THE MT: Yes, I believe so. And it’s due to a combination of facts. It has excellent engine power, it’s very light with superb suspension and transmission, and it sports a huge amount of technology which helps the driver face all the challenges comfortably and with confidence. And to top it all, the vehicle looks great.