99 turns and 999 steps lead up to the natural rock arch of Heaven’s Gate, a famous landmark within the Tianmen Mountain National Park located in the northwestern part of Hunan Province, China. To get to the arch, tourists have to take a tram and then a bus and then up the 999 steps.

Earlier this week, Land Rover showed a faster way up from the bottom of the legendary 11.3-km Tianmen Mountain Road (known as the Dragon Road). It used the new Range Rover Sport PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) for the journey and the petrol-electric performance SUV became the first vehicle to climb the stairs to Heaven’s Gate.

The challenge was taken on by Ho-Pin Tung, a driver in the Panasonic Jaguar Racing team competing in the Formula E championship. Once settled into the seat of the Range Rover and before moving off, Tung put the vehicle’s Terrain Response 2 system in Dynamic mode. At the summit of the road, he optimized the system for the second part of the challenge, conquering the towering 45-degree staircase of 999 steps.

The new PHEV powertrain gives the Range Rover Sport a zero-emission EV range of up to 50 kms when fully charged but Tung also had the use of its advanced 300 ps Ingenium petrol engine to supplement the 116 ps output from the electric motor. Depending on the situation, one or both propulsion systems kept the vehicle moving forward and up.

“This was the hardest Range Rover Sport challenge I’ve ever been involved with because, until we reached the top, we couldn’t categorically say we would succeed. By making it to the summit, we’ve proven the phenomenal capability of the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid like never before – with a genuine world first,” said Phil Jones, Land Rover Experience expert.

“I’ve experienced Formula E, Formula 1 and won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans but this was without doubt one of the most demanding driving challenges I’ve ever faced. The Range Rover Sport PHEV performed brilliantly as it inspired real confidence on the mountain road and climbed the stairs up to Heaven’s Gate effortlessly,” added Tung.

The Dragon Challenge was the latest in a series of adventures completed by the Range Rover Sport after the PHEV model made its debut in a race against 2-time open-water swimming world champion Keri-anne Payne and endurance athlete Ross Edgley in the UK.

Previous exploits include a record-setting hillclimb at Pikes Peak in the USA, a record crossing of the ‘Empty Quarter’ desert in the Arabian Peninsula, and a 2,170-metres descent of the legendary Inferno downhill course in Murren, Switzerland.

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