Report & pictures by Bryan Au
Human beings have an innate obsession of travelling regardless of distance and are constantly working to find ways on how to reduce the time it takes of travelling from point A to B. Early American pioneers with their horse carriages would take up to six moths travelling from California to New York and have no problems with it, as compared to 42 hours to complete with a car on modern interstates, and just 5 hours by plane. Even then, travellers still feel that it takes a huge chunk of time to travel from one end to another.
With that said, there are unique individuals out there who still wish to travel into remote areas on roads less beaten, which means paving their own path to desolated areas where not many are able to experience. These people also enjoy travelling at a much slower pace. Even now, with all the modern equipment like GPS and radio communication, it’s still an adventure in its own right.
This year marks the 26th running of the annual Borneo Safari International Offroad Challenge and participation for the event has exceeded the 350 car target. The event attracted 430 four-wheel drive vehicles and 987 participants who took part in the grueling eight-day event, where both participants and competitors travelled a distance of 680km through the Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran, Ranau, Kota Marudu and Kota Belud districts.
Event director Faez Nordin said a 350 target was set this year but an exception was made for seven vehicles only for one of the most challenging expeditions in the Borneo Safari history whilst more applications had to be rejected due to the set limit.
Faez also added that the event will be more challenging because there are more participants than ever. The majority of the participants are Malaysians and the international participants hailed from Brunei, Indonesia, China, Japan, Thailand, Ireland and Portugal.
The eight-day off-road adventure promoting 4×4 Motorsports and eco-tourism has been held annually since 1991, covering an approximate 1,000km, consisting of extreme hardcore driving conditions and competition through the most challenging terrains of Sabah. The event was organised by the Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association with STB and mainly supported by its Diamond Sponsor Isuzu and Platinum Sponsor UMW GRANTT, as the main lubricant for all vehicles.
This year’s Borneo Safari is the 10th consecutive year of sponsorship by Isuzu Malaysia and the company has pledged to continue supporting the premier international off-road challenge in the region for years to come. And being the Diamond Sponsor, Isuzu has invited 14 members of the media to experience first hand of this competitive expedition that is designed to unleash the spirit of adventure, teamwork and puts the true skills of the individual’s four-wheel driving to test.
Isuzu led a fleet of four-car Media Team across various road conditions to experience the off-road capabilities of the D-MAX and the mu-X. The fleet consisted of three D-MAX pickup trucks and a mu-X SUV that were specifically modified to tackle the muddy and challenging off-road path. The modifications made were to the exterior featuring LED light bar, roof racks, kangaroo bar, winches, suspension lift kit and mud terrain tyres. The only areas untouched were the engine and transmission.
The adventure began with a pre-event briefing held at the Dewan Hakka Sabah, just half an hour away from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, this is where participants are briefed on the event and activities before adjourning to prepare their vehicles and themselves for the long eight-day event.
Day One kicked off with a flag off ceremony held in front of the Sabah Tourism Board building, which saw the entire convoy parade to the first stop at Tuaran, where the first two Special Stages (SS) were held.
The competitors run a completely different vehicle setup as compared to the expedition and support vehicles; these heavily modified Suzuki Jimnys do not carry its own supplies, instead only carry support equipment such as winches and anchors to take themselves out of sticky situations within a short timeframe. The competitors are required to finish a SS in the fastest time to win a stage.
The Media Team convoy then headed over to the first campsite located at Kg. Gana, Kota Marudu. This is where teams spend the night before starting the first leg of the hardcore section of the expedition. However, mother nature had other plans for the participants, due to the monsoon season, the hardcore trail which takes teams an estimated time of three days had to be delayed due to the logging road, which has been abandoned for 20 years, being affected by landslides and broken bridges. And the heavy rain that had constantly bombarded the trail continued at night. This had caused the convoy an additional two days of waiting for good news from the scouting team who had set off to see if the hardcore section was clear to go.
On the third day, teams were cleared to go, however, with the massive number of participants, the time it took to clear two kilometers took more than an hour for the earlier batch of cars to clear, this meant a lot of waiting. With the worsening weather, things were not looking good, as the trail became softer, forcing the expedition participants to face challenges in traversing the hardcore section in worsening conditions.
With the setbacks faced, this did not stop the seven-seater Isuzu mu-X from conquering one of the toughest expeditions in 12 years as the nearly 430-strong convoy struggled with slippery and muddy conditions and numerous steep uphill and downhill slopes that tested driving skills to the limit.
The Isuzu mu-X performed flawlessly, even in the ultra-tough hardcore section of the trail stretching some 30 km from the entrance arch near Kampung Garung to Timberwell Camp that took the teams three days to complete together with the three ‘battle-hardened’ Isuzu D-MAX Monsters that accompanied the mu-X Monster had also successfully completed the challenge. This is a testament of Isuzu’s D-MAX and mu-X capabilities when it comes to traveling into desolate and challenging road conditions that normal off-roaders simply can’t overcome.
To locate a showroom to test-drive the mu-X or D-MAX, visit www.isuzu.net.my.