Cross­ing the Ara­bian Sea

Land Rover AFRICA Magazine - - FEATURE - An­ton Pre­to­rius

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.

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