Surrey Off-Road Specialists Limited

07.30 on the 30th of May. We are skimming across the Channel on a huge bubble of air at around 40 MPH. This is not entirely due to the delicious chicken curry that Sarah had prepared for us the night before. We are travelling on a Hoverspeed Hovercraft (Princess Anne) together with our vehicles. Having never been on one of these before and being in charge of bookings, I decided we would give it a go for a change and very good it is too, we had a great time thrashing along and it only takes 35 minutes to get to Calais from Dover.

We are on our way to compete in the Trophee Cevenol 2000. If you have read last years report, you will know that this is considered one of the toughest events in the G.R.M. calendar. Based in the Ardeche national park, the scenery is fabulous and the terrain offers just about every kind of obstacle you could wish to tackle.

On this occasion my travelling companions were Ros Joyce navigating for me in RedOct and Dave Heard and Sarah Malewicz in their 90 V8. We had a pretty awful drive down through appalling rain and spray with virtually nil visibility whilst overtaking trucks. Once South of Lyon, the weather improved and we pushed on to our first overnight stop at Valence, where we met up with Kenny Shann and Kath Holden in their TJ "Dangerous Daisy". We had a pleasant evening by the pool and a lazy start the next morning before pushing on to Les Vans to sign on, stickage and prologue. The weather was fantastic, blue skies and hot, a real contrast to the drive down. Once at Les Vans we met up with the rest of the Brits on the event and several old friends. This really is an international event with competitors coming from all over Europe.

Daisy tackles 'Lada Hill'Having gone through the formalities of signing on and plastering the vehicle with stickers, we were given a road book and we were off. Our convoy consisted of: Kenny and Kath in their TJ Daisy, Peter and Jacky Roach in their TJ Godzilla, Dave and Sarah in their 90 V8, Ros and myself in RedOct and Bob Cooke from Off-road and 4 wheel drive magazine in Daimler-Chrysler UK's Rubicon II TJ. In past years the Prologue has consisted of a fairly tough 10 minute long trials section, which once finished that was it for the day. The G.R.M. have now reacted to pressure from the drivers and now have a 70 kilometre long roadbook that lasts all afternoon. This is a great improvement and allows you to refresh your skills with both the vehicle and the navigation before starting the main event. Within a few kilometres of the start we caught up with a Lada Niva frantically trying to climb a short sharp hill with a few rocks on it. It had been fitted with a turbo diesel engine that sounded on its last legs and gave a huge gasp whenever he backed off. It didn't have enough power to drag itself up this hill, so I have no idea how it managed the rest of the event, although in fairness we did see it on the course from time to time. Our little convoy conquered the hill and moved on. Whilst we were waiting in a queue to tackle the next extremely difficult section, we were joined by Phillipe and Francois in the bright red VW . It only had a smallish engine around 2000cc but performed excellently and looked to be a lot of fun. We eventually got to the section that was causing the hold up, it was a cracker! It involved turning the vehicle around a 180° left-hand bend, which was very tight with the front right hand tyre going very close to the edge of a drop. You then had to do a couple of shunts and try to navigate your way over a very treacherous series of rocky ledges about 1 metre high that crossaxled the vehicle at the same time. Kenny went first and romped up it as usual, Peter did the same. Dave was still getting to grips with the newly installed Airlockers and was so stunned at the extra traction that he went completely off line and had to be recovered from a rather precarious position. I managed to wander up without incident; Phillipe romped up it in the VW and promptly parked the front end on a rock spoiling what would have been a perfect clear round. We pushed on and did a few more good bits without incident and practised our navigating skills with the Coralba rally trip and the roadbook. Ros had never been off-road before and had to learn everything from scratch as well as take the photos and use the video camera. She was going to have her work cut out. We eventually got back to Les vans about 18.00 and met up at the hotel with the rest of the Brits. There were the usual faces such as Rod Leighton and Dave Seager-Thomas this time in Rod's 90 rather than the Pinzgauer, Jonathan Maddox and Mandy Nokes in Mandy's well sorted 90 V8 pickup, …. And Opal in their 90 pickup. Lemy Gresh and Paul Kenrick showed up having just arrived in Lemy's well sorted YJ and we all went off for a Pizza in the town.

We started our first day from Les Vans. The route would take us through villages such as : Albourniers, Malons, Concoules, Genolhac, Chamborigaud (lunchstop), Le Paulin, Le col de la begude,Coudouloux, Le Pont de la Rastel, Gibenne finishing back at Chamboriguard. This circuit utilises an existing purpose built off-road route that features some good hillclimbs and lots of driving through overgrown tracks with lots of bumpy switchbacks. The mornings sections were not that interesting, there were a few interesting obstacles including a couple of very narrow parts that had the left hand wheels right on the edge of a drop and a razor sharp rockface on the right that would slash the tyre to ribbons if the sidewall made contact. Dave had a mishap with a fallen tree and managed to put a hole in the sidewall of his tyre big enough to get a fist in. as usual, everyone rallied round and his spare was fitted within minutes. After an enjoyable lunchstop in Chamborigaud we set off on the afternoon run. As the afternoon progressed it got better and better culminating in one of the most scenic parts of the event that involves driving along the top of a ridge that has a sheer drop off to the left and a side slope of approx. 30° running off to the right. The surface is covered with Broom with glorious yellow foliage. Last year it had been very treacherous after the rain and had vehicles sliding all over the place on the wet bark and sap of the abundant Broom bushes. This year however it posed no problems allowing us to stop and take in the fantastic 340° view. Moving on down from the side slope the hill starts to get steeper and requires some concentration to get down in one piece. Ros and myself were happily following along at the rear not really paying attention and chatting about of all things "Carry On" films when we entered the second stage of the downhill run. This was a lot steeper and it was only when I saw Dave's 90 waving wheels in the air diagonally whilst pointing downhill at a fairly alarming angle, that I realised I should probably be paying more attention to my driving. Before I had a chance to say " Ooooohhh Matron" I had bounced the right hand front wheel into a fairly large rock that stopped us dead in our tracks. The problem of using a vehicle with all the whistles and bells as well as masses of axle travel is that it makes things appear very easy, it doesn't really have to try very hard most of the time and you get complacent. Having regained our composure and backed up from the rock, we carried on down and agreed that I should probably pay more attention to the road. I intended to stop and give the vehicle a checkover after its mishap, but the opportunity did not present itself and I forgot all about it. We ended the day with a good variety of obstacles several fairly severe axle twisters before finishing up at Chamborigaud. RedOctThis was the first time we had actually finished the roadbook in time. Definitely a cause for celebration. We headed back to Les Vans. Dave and I went off in search of the Point S tyre repair man to see if we could find a replacement 33x12.50x15 tyre for Dave's 90. They didn't have any, so I donated my spare tyre and had it fitted on his rim on the basis that I could borrow a spare from Kenny or Peter if I had a flat. Then it was back to the hotel for a shower and delicious supper at the Hotel Restaurant Du Vivarais where we were all staying. This degenerated into a late drinks session with some of us getting to bed at around midnight. We had to be up for 05.30 the next morning to give us time to get back to Chamborigaud for the 07.00 start!

The second day's routes started at Chamborigaud at 07.00 and would take us through villages such as: Pont de Rastel, Belle Poêle, Mallenche, Besse, Bordezac, Génolhac (lunchstop), Gagnière, Foussignargues, Castillon, Courry finishing back at Les Vans.

The day started well enough and we had an interesting drive up onto a hill that had been burnt at some point. It was quite a surreal sight to see masses of black burnt firtrees poking through a dense green mass of bracken. There were some tricky rocks on route that stick out of the ground vertically like knife blades. It is truly amazing how much punishment the tyres have to absorb on this event. Ros and I were in our usual position at the back of our group and had just finished negotiating a couple of extremely difficult axle twists over some very sharp rocks when I felt a clunking from the front end.RedOct's turn! I climbed out and had a look. To my horror I found that the right hand bracket that locates the front radius arms onto the axle case had broken. After some frantic communications with the others who had already gone down the hill ahead of us, we pulled off the track and started trying to figure out a safe quick way to get the Jeep to a garage to get the bracket repaired. Kenny radioed back that he was coming back up the hill the wrong way and that I should stop the traffic. Every time he was about to start, another small group of vehicles would emerge preventing him from returning. After about 1/4 hour of this Lemy suddenly appeared on foot with the ratchet strap I had requested from Dave. I got under the vehicle and using a combination of the ratchet strap to pull the front axle back to the bracket and Kenny's Hi-Lift from "Dangerous Daisy" who had made it back by now and the scissor jack from RedOct we managed to get things to line up.Four wheels good. Two wheels bad! I used the choker chain from the Warn winch accessory kit to keep the arm roughly in place, backed up with the ratchet strap. The Marshalls showed us an easy way off the course and with Lemy and Paul accompanying us in their Jeep, we made our way down to the nearest village. The only garage in the town was shut. A friendly old chap offered us the use of his DIY Arc welder, which was very kind, but not really big enough to do a good weld on the 1/4 "steel bracket and axle case. We pushed on with Lemy interrogating anyone we met with his perfect French. We were directed to Génolhac and told to find Joseph the welder. Lemy managed to track him down and he set to with his Arc welder and we were soon up and running again having lost only 3 hours. As luck would have it, we had chosen the town that the lunchstop was destined to be in and rejoined the rest for a delicious lunch. The afternoon sections consisted of more bumpy overgrown tracks and included a drive along a disused railway track through a couple of tunnels (possibly the same ones as used on the Mille Riviere) as well as some river crossings. Bath time!This year the rivers were very shallow, there had been no rain for 3 weeks, which was rather disappointing. However with my track record it was probably just as well. At one river I felt the need to paddle and wandered around cooling RedOct off. After last years mishap I took the carpets out before leaving the UK. With the Catalytic converter under the front floor, it was a relief to be able to cool the tub down at every opportunity and the rivers were just deep enough to achieve it. Bob was rushing about taking photos and fun was had by all. The rest of the day was uneventful but fun and we eventually ended up at Les Vans where a refreshing shower followed by pizza at Pizzeria Chris'ta in St Paul Le Jeune approx. 15 kilometres down the road.

We started day 3 from the signing on point in Les Vans. The weather had been glorious throughout the event and today was more of the same. As the day progressed, our little group gradually became increasingly separated which meant that everyone had to navigate. Ros had got to grips with the Coralba and the tulip books and we made good progress. We drove some of the biggest hills on the event that are quite spectacular. The heat was really starting to get to some of the vehicles, Dave and Sarah in the 90 V8 were starting to experience evaporation problems with the SU carbs, a side effect of high ambient temperatures, racing headers and low speeds as well as a matt black bonnet, all conspired against them. When you opened the bonnet the heat was almost unbearable. They spent most of the day stopping and starting; we brought up the rear to make sure they were ok. My Airlockers unusually started playing up, again not helped by the heat, forcing me to try and recall how to drive off-road properly without the luxury of the phenomenal grip that they give. I made a real "pigs ear" of a couple of difficult parts but got there eventually. Bob Cooke in the Rubicon II TJ was also having a few Airlocker problems, the compressor was getting too hot and the thermal overload would cut in meaning he also had intermittent Airlockers. Kenny, Peter, Lemy and Dave who all have identical kit to us had no problems at all, so we haven't figured out what was going on. We had a super day with the usual stunning scenery and friendly mickey taking by other entrants who despite not speaking English managed to take the P*** about my axle bracket incident.

We finished the roadbook yet again!! And made our way back to Les Vans for the prize giving and the tyre repair man so I could retrieve my spare. Jonathan Maddox and Mandy Nokes took first overall with Mandy doing all the driving. Jonathan made a funny observation, their 90 is right hand drive. When Mandy is driving on the continent they assume that the vehicle is left hand drive and that Jonathan is actually behind the wheel and don't get too upset when they flash by at warp speed. Its only when they get to the checkpoint and realise that they have just been totally thrashed by Mandy that they either laugh or get very upset. There were the usual rounds of farewells and handshaking and we made our way back to the hotel for a wash and scrub up before heading out for the last group supper. The original plan had been for Dave and Sarah and Ros and myself to travel back up together in one hit on the Sunday, however Dave's 90 was still proving to be troublesome and as he is based in Geneva anyway, he decided to head for there. We escorted him to Lyon intending to go to Geneva if the 90 was proving troublesome, but it ran ok so we said goodbye and headed for home. Peter and Jacky headed off to Majorca for a holiday in the TJ, Kenny and Kath headed for Nice for a rest before going to the Jeep Jamboree on the way home the following weekend. Lemy had already flown home leaving a friend of his to drive his Jeep back.

It is a good advert for the Jeeps that they can drive 1000 miles to the Trophee Cevenol, take part in 4 days of fairly punishing off-roading and then wander off to do a bit of touring before doing some more off-roading in Majorca or the Jamboree before driving home again, without any problems.

Once again the G.R.M are to be congratulated on organising another superb event. The total cost to do this event came to approx. £1600 all in. The next event I hope to be on will be the excellent Mille Riviere. This is a good event if your vehicle is moderately prepared and suitable to take the family on. On this event, you stay at a different village each night, so you have to carry your gear with you. The days can be quite long but some of the scenery is stunning. Despite the name, you only do a few river crossings; none of them particularly difficult, the driving is moderate mostly with occasional hard parts. Last year the weather was extraordinary and we had about 3' of snow one day,that was nice. I wouldn't recommend this for novices, if you fancy having a go, get plenty of training in first.