Mother nature is the undisputed queen who dispenses joys and sorrows as she pleases. In summary, this sentence represents the essence of the Rainnforest Challenge. The main feature of the legendary Malaysian competition is precisely this: confronting one's limits in an adverse environment where collaboration between teams becomes the winning weapon to overcome all the difficulties that the jungle will offer from time to time. This year the RFC Grand Final will take place from 26 November to 8 December 2022 in Malaysia.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
Land of the mighty river and the legend of the lake
The world of extreme racing is always hard, especially if you are going head-to-head with tough competitors. However, there are some races that are tougher than others, especially those where you are not only going against other racers, but also against the track itself!
The much awaited Rainforest Challenge (RFC) of Malaysia is in this “super league” of extreme races, being the World’s Number 3 of Top Five Toughest Off-road Races. “Missing in Action” for the past 2 years and much missed by the off-road fraternity worldwide, come this Nov and the waiting is over!
The RFC normally takes place annually every end Nov to early Dec. Its 25th edition was postponed twice (2020 & 2021) due to the pandemic and this year, with the country now at the endemic stage, at last, it’s a timely return to take its place as among the renowned adventure events of Malaysia endorsed by Tourism Malaysia, the promotional arm of the Ministry of Tourism.
The Malaysian event is the final race of RFC Global Series (RFCGS), the 4x4 world series of events using the format of the Rainforest Challenge. RFCGS events spans across Asia, Europe and Latin America from Jan to Oct annually. Thus, the finale race in Malaysia is appropriately called RFC Grand Final which will take place from 26 Nov to 8 Dec in 2022.
The RFC and its affiliated events in RFCGS are all “made and originated in Malaysia” with followers and networking of participants, supporters and fans across 60 nations from the 6 continents.
This year it’s a welcoming back of tourists with two celebratory landmarks; the Silver Jubilee of the Rainforest Challenge and the Golden Jubilee of Tourism Malaysia.
What better combination than these two iconic brands promoting the country again during this post pandemic time. The RFC has successfully put Malaysia on the map of adventure off-road sports for the past 25 years as the destination of the world’s top five toughest races; while Tourism Malaysia has successfully promoted the country as a leading tourist destination of Asia for the past 50 years.
In spite of the current economic uncertainty globally, this year’s edition of the Rainforest Challenge will still be attracting adventure sports participants and media from some 18 nations; from Europe namely Italy, UK, France, Czech Rep & Germany; from the Americas: US, Colombia & Ecuador; and from Asia, namely Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Japan & Korea.
What’s new for Rainforest Challenge 2022? An entirely new venue where the mighty river of peninsula Malaysia (Pahang River) flows through this south-western region is chosen for its challenging and undulating terrain. Being the biggest and largest in peninsula Malaysia, it is also affectionately referred to as the “Amazon.” Its river system and forest hinterland makes this region an ideal venue for adventure tourism.
Within the vicinity of Bera lies the biggest freshwater swamp lake system (35km long and 20km wide) known as Lake Bera, a unique and remote wetland wilderness surrounded by a patchwork of lowland forests rich in wildlife and vegetation which sustains the livelihood of the Semalai indigenous people (Orang Asli) living there.
Legends also have it that monsters dwell in the lake guarding a submerged mysterious ancient Khmer City with subterranean river system linking it to Lake Chini have remained unexplained to this day. However, whatever the myths and traditions, the region is surrounded by undulating forests with challenging tracks ideal for adventure and sports tourism with the return of the Rainforest Challenge.
Apart from pure 4x4 extreme racing, this recovery year will also see the RFC spreading its influence to subsectors of adventure tourism like attracting participants from 4x4 “pick ups,” ATV (all terrain vehicles), next generation of leisure class of outdoor campers, motoring lifestyle, Enduro rider and Radio Controlled (RC) racing using RFC format. An appropriate expansion of the Rainforest Challenge in its 25th edition.
Therefore, apart from the internationals, these local Malaysian participants will also be assembling for D-Day, first in Kuala Lumpur (26/27 Nov) and converging to Bera, in the state of Pahang for the official opening (30 Nov) and closing (8 Dec) with 4x4 off-road action and camping in between (1-7 Dec).
For the first time, an opening ceremony combining both land motorised convoy and river boats to welcome everyone to Bera. An impressive array from 2 wheels to 4 wheels to “no wheels” with full razzmatazz of traditional culture by the locals and the indigenous inhabitants will do the welcome honours at the town square. Motorboats will cruise up the Pahang River, all simultaneously moving by land and river towards the Prologue SS venue. This is the time to showcase Bera to the world of adventure.
Apart from the full blast of pomp, culture and tradition at the opening, the coming days will not be easy for the participants as they will have to tackle more than 50 Special Stages (SS) appropriately called Predator, Twilight Zone and the Terminator.
This event is not called the Rainforest Challenge for nothing. Throughout the 25 years of the event with over 60 nationalities participating, everyone knows that to be at the starting line, they are already winners; to finish the event, they are extraordinary. So, man and machine will be at their best or face being terminated well before the last whistle is blown.
As if the challenges are not enough, the participants will also have to face the wrath of the wind and rain from the monsoon season. This year, the deluge is anticipated to be a “big” one. While it won’t be like the infamous 10th anniversary year where the event was evacuated by air and boats, the excitement and the adrenaline rush is at an all time high once again to face “anything goes.”
So, see you at the end of Nov where Malaysia welcomes the world of adventure once again with the Rainforest Challenge Silver Jubilee and Golden Jubilee of Tourism Malaysia.
Event Schedule: (due to monsoon season, 1-7 Dec venues subject to changes)
25 Nov: Arrival of foreign participants & media to Kuala Lumpur.
26/27 Nov: RFC registration/exhibition at MsExpo exhibition in Petaling Jaya.
28-29 Nov: Vehicle scrutineering at Bera in the state of Pahang.
30 Nov: Opening ceremony in Bera
30 Nov-1 Dec: Prologue SS in Bera
2-4 Dec: Predator SS, Ulu Bera
5 Dec: Twilight Zone SS, Ulu Bera
6-7 Dec: Terminator SS, Ulu Bera.
8 Dec: Closing awards in Bera.
Back to Rainforest Challenge history
The Rainforest Challenge, founded in 1997 by Luis J. A. Wee, is now the only international competition capable of offering to its participants an adventure in the jungle with a capital A. It is not just a challenge with the other teams but it is the challenge of the challenges, the daily confrontation with the difficulties and pitfalls of the forest in the worst period to face such an experience, that of the monsoon season.
Rainforest Challenge is first of all a challenge with yourself
You must overcome your limits and your fears to complete this experience that will forever change the life of those who can say "I was there". All these elements are the DNA of the Rainforest Challenge which, since its debut in November 1997, have distinguished it and made it unique all over the world.
1997, the Rainforest Challenge is born
The first edition, won by the Malaysian crew composed of Hiew Vui Leong and Liew Siak Kiong, with participants from seven different countries, crossed the north east of Malaysia on muddy and slippery slopes that put a strain on all the teams present . The success was so great that in 1998 there were 14 nations present, including the first Italian crews who immediately fell in love with this race. This edition has remained in history for the opening ceremony which took place under the imposing twin towers of Petronas just inaugurated and for the heavy rain that characterized the last days of the race.
1999, Rainforest Challenge has become a legend
The challenge of 1999 was marked by an incessant monsoon rain that transformed the forest into a hell of impractical mud where escape routes were not spared. Luis cites this edition as the maximum expression of adventure that contributed to the birth of the Rainforest Challenge legend.
One of the most important awards for Luis J. A. Wee, occurred in 2006 when the Malaysian prime minister flew by helicopter to the bivouac set up at Lake Pedu to meet the competitors of the Rainforest Challenge.
2007, escape from the jungle
2007 was the tenth edition that was to celebrate this competition worthily and that instead turned into a struggle for survival. The nature was tremendous with torrential rains that caused serious floods that put everyone at risk: participants, organizers, competitors and the media. 2007 rightfully entered in the annals of extreme off-roading as the edition of the "battle against the monsoon"; a worthy celebration of ten years of offroad adventure in Malaysia.
Interview with Luis J. A. Wee founder of the Rainforest Challenge
Through the words of Luis J. A. Wee, I try to enter the depth of the Rainforest Challenge and discover its soul.
What prompted you to create the Rainforest Challenge?
I started off-roading in 1991 and since then I have always been fascinated by the Camel Trophy and the exploits of its participants; my dream was to create an international competition where jungle adventure was the fundamental element of the race; unfortunately this was not possible because my job occupied me full time and I could not dedicate myself, as I would have liked, to my passion. In 1997, when the Camel Trophy had turned into a multi-sport event, I fortunately had the opportunity to quit my job and devote myself full time to my project; Thus was born, on November 23, 1997, the first edition of the Rainforest Challenge.
What do you remember from the early years of the Rainforest Challenge?
Obviously when an event is born from scratch, it is not easy to manage and organize everything in the best way, my staff and I have worked hard and we have overcome many problems, including financial ones due to the crisis of the Asian economies, and I have to say that the satisfactions were much more than the pains. Already in the early years, many foreign crews began to arrive including Europeans and the reputation of the Rainforest Challenge has always grown and improved. Italy is one of the countries with the largest number of participants, I have a good memory of the Italians, their passion and their skills and I am always very happy when a blue crew joins the Rainforest Challenge. I want to dedicate a particular thought to Mauro Caporali who gave much to the off-road world and also to the Rainforest Challenge.
After twenty five editions, can you make a summary of the Rainforest Challenge?
In these years, from edition to edition, we have always improved and this is mainly due to my staff who support me at all times. Many things have changed since the early years of the race, 4x4s are more and more prepared, but what makes me happy is seeing the passion and love for off-road and for the adventure of the teams that come to Malaysia every year; this is the spirit of the Rainforest Challenge! This sport is also growing in Asia, there are many enthusiasts from new countries who appear for the first time towards this discipline and I think this is very important for off-roading and for its growth. For me, from 1997 to today, the Rainforest Challenge has been an exciting journey, it has been my passion that has met the passion of many friends that I have had the good fortune to know in recent years.
Which is the right spirit to face the Rainforset Challenge?
The Rainforest Challenge is the Rainforest Challenge; if you have decided to participate, congratulations you are extraordinary people who will live in an extraordinary event that takes place in the worst of seasons; that of monsoons! The RFC is more than a 4x4 competition, it is a challenge with nature and with one's fears, where only team spirit and heart are the fundamental elements that will help you get to the end of the race; it is important to have a jungle mentality, be able to adapt to any situation, collaborate with other teams and with the organization to continue the race and reach the desired goal. The off-road vehicle that is practiced in Malaysia is very different from the European one, therefore it is essential to know how to adapt and have an open mind that allows you to absorb this diversity and thus make your experience at the Rainforest Challenge unique and unforgettable.
Finally, what do you feel to recommend to those who want to participate, perhaps for the first time, in the Rainforest Challenge?
No one in their lifetime can claim to have learned everything and the same can be said for the Rainforest Challenge; each edition is different from the previous one, every year the obstacles and pitfalls of the jungle are always different and for this reason it is not easy to advise those who want to try this experience for the first time. For the preparation of the 4x4, the work performed by the most veteran teams can help you but their choices cannot always be applied to your off-road vehicle and to your way of driving; however, the fundamental element to keep in mind in the preparation is reliability! Here's what I feel like saying: look at the other competitors, treasure their secrets and then adapt them to your needs and your vehicle; not always a useful thing for a crew is indispensable for you. However, the fundamental element, I will never tire of saying it, is the team spirit and knowing how to adapt to new experiences, already with this information in your luggage you are on the right track. And then follow my motto: life is an adventure, live it all the way and don't wait for tomorrow if you can do it today!
International Rainforest Challenge Secretariat
Tel : 603-2163 5908/6908 Fax : 603-2163 0908
Website : www.rainforest-challenge.com