The Manila Off-Roaders Incorporated (MORI) and NasFOR recently presented the First Philippine Tough Truck Challenge at the Fort Bonifacio Global City. Held over the course of three days from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, it was the perfect weekend long of outdoor fun as Nov. 30 was declared a holiday. Off-road racing is certainly not new, existing in the country for several years already but most races were being held in provinces such as Cagayan De Oro, Davao, Pampanga, etc. And there certainly isn't a lack of 4x4 enthusiasts as towering Land Cruisers and other 4x4s can be seen hulking over the streets of Manila everyday. The rising popularity of the sport was proven once again as 65 competitors and an estimated 15 thousand spectators made their way to the dirt covered, water splashed, and mud drenched area of The Fort.

Being a 4x4 fan myself, I had to go witness this event myself as it isn't often that we get to see competition like this. Walking through the competitors parking area, I saw older Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Jeeps, Suzukis, etc. There was really a very wide variety of off road vehicles. Most of them were pretty compact unlike the midsize and fullsize SUVs nowadays. This was due to the tight and narrow layout of the course. Bigger SUVs would have wider wheelbases and would therefore be more difficult to turn on those tight twists. These 4x4s epitomized the small but terrible clich� (in a good sense of course). Looking underneath their bodies you could see that these vehicles were really made for competition. Multiple shock absorbers surround each corner of the vehicle while lift kits and other suspension mods made sure that they could withstand the difficult obstacles presented in the course.

The first thing you must know about 4x4 competition here in the Philippines is that it is not necessarily a speed event. So don't go expecting a Land Cruiser to fly off in the dirt at 100km/h. Although in essence you are still racing against time, the competition requires more of teamwork, precision, and of course recovery skills.

Why recovery skills you ask? Well in an off-road course, it is inevitable that some trucks may get stuck in mud, turn to their sides, or even completely flip over! Two tracks were set up for the competition, each participant makes a run on both tracks and the one with the best overall time wins. It's as simple as that, but maneuvering through the course is anything but. The track was designed with difficulty in mind. Logs, huge boulders, flooded areas, mud pits, steep inclines and declines were just some of the obstacles faced by each competitor.

I watched as each 4x4 made its run through the course. Some were able to make it without getting stuck but others weren't so lucky. Many had to use their winches to get themselves out of the mud (luckily there was a backhoe available to hook the winch to). Those who got stuck or flipped over virtually lost all their chances of winning. Careful planning and precision driving was the key to making it. Watching Dale "Wildman" Abejonar as he made his runs in his Land Rover, amazed me to say the least. Certainly a well deserved nickname as he sped his way through both of the courses and eventually took the overall victory. According to him, he just stepped on the gas and never let go. In certain sections where other competitors would slow down, he would just keep on going, letting his truck take all the abuse it can. And it was no ordinary Land Rover by all means, actually having the undersides not of a conventional 4x4 but of a 6x6 truck! That would explain how it kept up with Abenojar's "Wildman" driving.

Cheers and congratulations were in store for Abenojar each time he finished a run and stepped out of his vehicle. Even fellow competitors were very happy for him. This just goes to show that those who participated in the event really loved what they were doing. After all, off roading is all about having fun. Overall the event was deemed quite a huge success. It was a refreshing form of motorsports that provided diversity from the usual races we are used to seeing. Kudos to MORI and NasFOR for mounting a mud slinging successful event. A second strike perhaps in 2002?