Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Getting down and dirty

Taiwan's off-road racing enthusiasts have started a new season of mud-splattered mayhem with the first leg of the National Off-Road Championship taking place yesterday and continuing today in Nantou County

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Action from races held last year by the 4x4 Association of Taiwan ROC.


Taiwan's four-wheel drive off-roaders are getting off to the start of a new season this weekend in the remote village of Wujie (武界), Nantou County, as Taiwan's multitude of off-road racing fanatics do battle in the opening leg of this year's National Off-Road Championship (全國越野吉普車障礙挑戰賽).

Organized by The 4X4 Association of Taiwan ROC (中華民國越野吉普車運動協會), the event, which is now in its 12th year, pits 60 of the nation's off-roading clubs against each other in a series of four two-leg events climaxing in September, when the league leaders go head to head in the championships' final round.

"Taiwan might be small, but it has such a wide variety of terrain that it's perfect for off-road racing competitions such as this," said Team Chuen An's (全安) Wu Wang (吳汪), who, at 72 years-old is Taiwan's most senior active off-road racer. "And I think a lot of people are aware of this. Compared to other sports off-roading attracts large numbers of participants and large numbers of on-lookers. It's as exciting to watch as it is to take part."

The annual competition is divided into five categories based on engine size, driver ability and car size. The most challenging and competitive of these is category "A," where monstrous off-roaders with an engine capacity greater than 2,500cc battle it out. The other categories are "B," for cars with engines less than 1,999cc, Four-door, Unlimited and New Driver.

Defending its crown this season is Team Marine (陸戰). Led by team captain Hong Ming-hui (洪明輝), Team Marine placed first in four of the six categories last year and is expecting a challenging first leg-this weekend.

"With the recent bouts of awful weather and some stiff competition, this weekend's meet should be trying for both the cars and the drivers," Hong said. "If it rains again then conditions are going to be terrible. I'm not worried about the mud, as it's always more fun to race in bad weather, but when the weather plays a factor in any race it makes predicting what your opponents will do very difficult."

Now boasting over 5,000 members nationwide, the association has come a long way since it was established in the late 1980s when roughly 100 of the nation's four-wheel drive racing pioneers first took their vehicles off the roads and into the wilds. It was a move frowned upon by the authorities and put the racers in the perilous position of running a foul of the law.

"When we first started taking the cars off-road it was pretty perilous. We had no support vehicles, meaning that if you got stuck in mud you had to get yourself out and if the cops got wind of what we were doing they'd come after us. The races all had to be kept secret," said 4X4 association chairman, Chen Chin-chu (陳清柱). "After two of three years of this the police finally gave up chasing us."

Along with informing the police prior to races, the association works in liaison with local authorities, many of who are happy to grant the association use of public land. This is a move that has not only given the association a national boost, but has also enabled it to be acknowledged by clubs and associations on the international scene.

"Since we have started becoming known on the Asian circuit, local drivers have become permanent fixtures at meets in Thailand and Malaysia and we have built up close ties with off-road clubs throughout much of Asia," Chen said. "A couple of years ago we even had a team participate in the Lhasa to Katmandu Rally."

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