THE Borneo Safari International Off Road Challenge is organised annually by the Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association, taking enthusiasts on an adventure through extreme terrain into the bowels of the jungles of Sabah.
This year, the event, which is often dubbed a “Pilgrimage For Hardcore Off Roaders”, was held for the 28th consecutive year, with its largest ever participation to date, registering 400 specially-modified four-wheel-drive vehicles and 1,030 participants, who spent eight days, from October 28 to November 4, in the North Borneo rainforest.
Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association president Faez Nordin forewarned participants that the chosen route for this year’s event was a 400km round trip from Kota Kinabalu through an abandoned logger’s trail in the vicinity of Kota Belud and Kota Marudu, with scarce water source throughout the track. There was no escape route, once you entreated the super hardcore section.
One definitely needs to be physically and mentally prepared for the challenges against nature and the unpredictable when being a part of the Borneo Safari.
The 400 vehicles were broken into two groups — the main convoy — which consisted of the Scouts, the expedition committee, track officials and marshals, recovery team, competitors and their support crew, medics and media. The second group was the tag on teams, or expedition group and accompanying medics. Both groups followed different routes within the same area and met up in designated spots during the eight days.
Flag off was as usual from the Sabah Tourism Board on Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, and it never fails to be a huge crowd magnet. This is a time for locals and many from afar to come and admire the participating vehicles, which are built for adventure, and to overcome the challenges of extreme terrain. This is also a time for those who share the passion for the motorsport to renew old friendships and make new ones.
The first set of Special Stages (SS) for the competitors were held at Kampung Penampang Baru in Tauran, before we proceeded to the campsite for the first two days on the beach front of Kampung Toburon, where a further three SS held. A total of 18 SS were set by the track officials throughout the duration of the event, during which the 27 competitors fought for the title of this year’s championship.
Day Three saw our group of nine trucks ferrying the freelance media from Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and China head towards Kota Marudu, but we were delayed as the main convoy ahead of us were queuing up to enter the “super hardcore” section of the track. We ended up spending the night at the entrance to the track.
We proceed into the first uphill section the following day, but as the competitors were still holding more SS ahead of us, and were not going to be moving far along the track that day, we decided to stop about 1km later and set up camp early.
The heavy rain that poured soon after was most welcome as we had not showered since we left Kota Kinabalu four days ago! Day Five saw us inching forward again, covering very little distance and having to recover one of our trucks from a ditch and fix two flat tyres. All repairs to the trucks had to be done on the spot. Members of the same team work together to get the job done, sometimes calling in for help from nearby teams on the radio, if help is needed. Spare parts, if not being carried by the driver, may be borrowed or bought from other participants or in times of dire need, couriered in by local villagers nearby.
We spent the fifth night at the start of the toughest part of the super hardcore obstacles — a 6km stretch of constant uphill and downhill obstacles made somewhat more treacherous by the rain and a number of vehicles passing through ahead of us.
It was 1pm, on Day Six, before the first truck from our team started off. It took us three hours to clear the first four v-gullies, and another two clear some steep uphill climbs on muddy slopes and rocks, which involved a lot of technical expertise in winching by the co-drivers and some excellent skill by the drivers, in handling and manoeuvring their machines. We caught up with the medic team just ahead of us and stopped for dinner at 6pm, on the track.
This was when we found out that the Russian team was just ahead of us, still trying to clear the “Bungee Jump”. We were now halfway though the 6km track and it took five hours to clear the first 3km of obstacles. We had a rest and cooked some dinner, but as we were ready to move two hours later, one of our trucks would not start. The problem was identified and the mechanics in our team set to work to try and service the starter switch, but after some deliberation we decided to send the co-driver out on foot to meet someone who brought a spare out as far as they could to us, without having to go through the obstacles again. By 11.30pm, we were ready to face the last 3km of obstacles, that would take us to Kampung Nalapak, where all the other participants ahead of us and the tag on teams would be spending the night.
We started on a steep downhill run on an extremely narrow track with trees on both sides. This was referred to as “goalposts” and you had to make sure you didn’t hit any. This was followed by another extremely steep hill descend, dubbed as “the bungee jump”. Each of our nine vehicles were strapped to each other to support the vehicle in front and slowly released down the steep and slippery slope. It was 3.30am when the last of our trucks cleared the final obstacle and we proceeded to Kampung Nalapak to set up camp, and catch a much-needed hours of sleep before the competitors started the morning SS in the river.
The river! We had not seen one for the entire expedition and the bath we had was much needed and appreciated!
Day Seven saw the main convoy move on to the beautiful river campsite of Kampung Tambulion in Kota Belud, where the last two SS for the competitors were held before the convoy headed back to Kota Kinabalu for the closing dinner and ceremony.
This year’s closing ceremony and dinner was as usual full of pomp and splendour, with traditional performances, speeches and prize giving and awards, plus attractive lucky draw prizes.
Anthony Wong, one of the veterans of the event, has been participating in Borneo Safari since 1993, and has been the much respected expedition leader since 1999. When asked what makes Borneo Safari different from other similar off-road events, he said: “The event is non-commercial and is organised and managed by the club (Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association). Nobody gets paid — all work are done by volunteers and club members. Its all about friendship, camaraderie and sharing a common passion.”
With so many experienced and well-known competitors this year, it was an exciting challenge and the leaders changed overnight, with Lo Fui Min (Lozai) making a comeback to win the title for the third time since 2014, together with his co-driver Bison Massang. They walked away with about RM50,000 in sponsored-items and a RM10,000 cash prize. Yap Soon King and Jufri Siri came in second overall, and the third place went to Ye Yong Chung and Liew Su Cheung.
Two Russian Teams made their debut in the competition this year. Streltsov Vladimir and Galvonkin Vladislav finished a respectable eighth place overall, and Vakhnuik Igor and Dus Pavel finished 12th.
They will be back next year, they said, and for all those who participated in the 28th Borneo Safari it was another year of memories and experiences at the event that is so much a part of their lives and will be a part of conversations for years to come.