Ultra4 Europe: everything you need to know

Everyone knows everyting about King of the Hammers, its kings and how Ultra4 Racing was born. And what about Ultra4 Europe? Its kings and its champions? In this article I will try to tell you everything you need to know about Ultra4 Europe. 

Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi

ultra4 europe

In 2009 videos, pictures and stories from King of the Hammers started to arriving in Europe and immediately a large number of european offroad enthusiast was in love for this kind of race.


My first King of the Hammers was in 2011 and from that moment I could no longer live without it. At the same time the fame of the King of the Hammers was growing more and more in Europe to became now one of the most famous races among European offroaders.

European drivers at King of the Hammers

My research into the history of the King of the Hammers made me discover that the first European driver to participate and finish KOH was the Belgian Dieter Duytschaever in 2009. In 2010 the German Ralf Kueller also finish the King of the Hammers in 28th position. Kueller also raced in the Lakebed in 2015.

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Axel Burmann

In the Ultra4 Europe era, Axel Burmann (Belgium) participated in the King of the Hammers in 2012, followed in 2013 by Jim Marsden, Pier Acerni, Stephane Zosso and again Axel Burmann. In 2013, Jim Marsden started last in the Everyman Challenge and he finished in first position overtaking all other drivers. Although later disqualified, Marsden's remains an epic race!

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Jim Marsden and Wayne Smith on the podium of 2013 Everyman Challenge

In the following years many other drivers went or returned to compete at KOH as Pier Acerni with Will Overton as co-pilot. In recent years many European drivers raced at KOH: Nicolas Montador, Emanuel Costa, Iñaki Lanzagorta Egia, Neville Ciantar, Daniel Roderick, Michael Hen, the Vekeman brothers, Iñaki Lanzagorta Egia, Bernd Schäfer, Shabs Piercy, Philon Parpottas, David Viadéro (in 2022 UTV race with Nicolas Montador as copiloti) and Martin Duffy. 


In the Ultra4 Europe era (from 2012) the Englishman Jim Marsden - with Wayne Smith (AUS) as co-pilot - in 2014 was the first to finish KOH in a Spec Class car followed by Rob Butler (UK) in 2016 and Inaki Lanzagorta (ES) in 2020.

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Inaki Lanzagorta

Robert Butler raced twice at King of the Hammers: 2015 and 2016. In 2015 he drove Layla Levi Shirley's old vehicle but got fought in a huge bottleneck at Sledghammer and ran out of time as a result. In 2016 he shipped his own mid engine Eurofighter (solid axle) to the Lakebed and he completed the race in time placing 23rd... only like 35 cars finished the race. Rob is still the only European driver ever to compete and finish King of the Hammers in a European built Ultra4 vehicle (his Off-Road Armoury built solid axel Eurofighter). In 2020 Rob Butler raced the UTV King of the Hammers with Levi Shirley as co-pilot, finishing in 23rd position.

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Rob Butler and Levi Shirley

It is correct to remember that the Italian Fabio Manno, who moved to live in the States, has participated in the King of the Hammers every year since 2011.


In addition to this story, it is important to say that in 2023, Levi Shirley will race KOH with his new car Linda. It is the first time that an American driver will race at KOH aboard an Ultra4 built in Europe. Linda's builder is Robert Butler's Offroad Armiury.

How is born Ultra4 Europe

2012 is the year of the first Ultra4 race in Europe; the race took place in Wales and was called King of Valleys. For 2 years the King of Valleys represented Ultra4 Racing in Europe. In 2013 the King of Portugal was added and in 2014 Ultra4 Europe (www.ultra4europe.com) was born with its championship composed of 3 races: King of the Mountains (IT), King of Valleys (UK) and King of Portugal (P).

Today, Ultra4 Europe is an huge reality in the European offroad world

Every year there are several races and even if the race course is different from that in the Johnson Valley, Ultra4 Europe offers to its drivers a very difficult and demanding races. Due to the diversity of the competition fields (rocks, mud, water, forests and dusty-fast tracks) it can be said that the Ultra4 Europe championship is one of the most complete in Europe.


In addition to the European Championship, in 2021 the British Championship was born and in 2023 the Southern European Ultra4 Championship (in Portugal) was created. 

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Which vehicles can participate? All Ultra4 Europe classes

As for King of the Hammers, the classes of Ultra4 Europe are: 4400 Unlimited, 4800 Legend, 4600 Stock, 4500 Modified, 4900 UTV and, only in Europe the Winch Rally Raid but the races format is different from the American one; normally the race toke place in the weekend, preceded by qualifying and, when possible, by the Shootout, on a racetrack with some different variations according to the different classes. 


It is not necessary to have a big rig with a super-powerful V8 to take part in the Ultra4 Europe events. On the contrary, the different 4x4 categories are made so that everyone can come and race in the Ultra4 Europe competition format. It is obviously necessary to respect the basic rules of safety concerning your vehicle but be aware that a small Suzuki, an old Patrol will be just as welcome as the latest, most equipped prototype.


Here all the Ultra4 Europe classes:



These cars compete during the main King of The Hammers race on KOH Week. 4400 Drivers have to earn a spot to compete in King of The Hammers. These cars are not limited on tire size, engine or chassis design, other than to meet the safety requirements for the class. Unlimited cars must have a transfer case and be able to be driven in 4WD. These cars can be straight axle, or independent suspension (IFS - IRS). They are the ultimate and original design of the Ultra4 vehicle, capable of any terrain, any speed and no limits.


- 4600 STOCK

This class has been racing in Ultra4 since 2012. It is one of the 3 classes that races on KOH week during the 4WP Every Man Challenge. Currently, these cars do not have to qualify to race in the EMC race during KOH Week. At regional races, this class usually races with either the 4500 or 4800 cars.


The spirit of the stock vehicle is to allow OEM and aftermarket vendors the opportunity to showcase their products whilst providing a true driver's class experience that closely relates to street driven versions of the same vehicle. Fairly strick technical criteria makes sure that a Stock vehicle is competing in a level playing field of vehicles but still allows the driver to design his race car to the optimum for driving advantages whilst still being compliant within the rules.


Class Characteristics:

. Stock OEM frame

. Factory engine

. Factory transmission

. 35” DOT approved tires

. Single 2.5 inch diameter shocks per corner

. Mechanical steering



This class has been racing in Ultra4 since 2012. It is one of the 3 classes that races on KOH week during the \Every Man Challenge. At regional races, this class, if large enough, races on their own or can be on the track with the 4600, 4700 or 4800 cars. As a vehicle, the class allows for significant modification of a standard vehicle and in some cases can be as capable as a 4400 vehicle in the suspension, engine and performance.


 Class Characteristics:

. Modified OEM chassis or OEM style chassis

. 2 -2.5 inch diameter shocks per corner

. Mechanical steering

. 37” DOT approved tires


- 4800 LEGEND

This class has been racing in Ultra4 since 2014. It is one of the 3 classes that races on KOH week during the 4WP Every Man Challenge. These cars do not have to qualify to race in the EMC race during KOH Week. This class has been one of the fastest growing classes in Ultra4 as older Ultra4 cars can enter this class as long as they meet the requirements. The vehicles follow the tradition or original technical format for the Utra4 vehicles that were racing in the beginning!


Class Characteristics:

. Front mounted engines only

. Vehicle must contain 2 seats side by side

. Single shock per corner

. Max 37” DOT non-sticky tires

. Only solid axles allowed (not IFS or TTB)


- 4900 UTV

Utility Terrain Vehicles or UTV are by far the fastest growing class in Ultra4, light, fast, super nimble vehicles, this class has grown in popularity as the vehicles are easier to transport, own and maintain. Vehicle is defined as a standard production based "side by side" with powersports based belt driven drivetrain.


This class is growing as the variety of vehicle designs increases - it already has sub classes in Ultra4 which cater for the increase in engine sizes available, typically 800cc and 1000cc turbo and non turbo but with the newer 2000cc vehicles coming in, the sub classes will allow vehicles to compete at similar levels.



The newest and very much the European class within the Ultra4 Classes, this class is only now in its third year of running and still being evolved. It was originally introduced as a class to entice Teams to take part in Ultra4 events, had a winch challenge capable vehicle and wanted to come and play. Vehicles that enter in Winch Rally Raid class are very capable vehicles, in their own right, full challenge spec, not always the fastest of vehicles, often diesel powered but a competitive vehicle none the less. This class gives them a more level competitive playing field whilst still getting the full effect of Ultra4 events.


WRR courses include terrain that requires a different mindset to traverse and this adds to the overall flavour of Ultra4 racing. Typically, WRR would be more at home doing the Rally Breslau Extreme class but competing with Ultra4, gives a totally different view of the speed aspects of offroad unlimited racing. Teams have made the transition from WRR to 4400 or 4800 class, altering their vehicles to fit the technical requirement for these classes, proving the diverse nature of offroad competition vehicles.

Ultra4 Europe, did you know that?

- The Ultra4 Europe team is made up of very professional and very passionate people. Everyone works behind the scenes to make every race perfect. Chris Bowler and David Robson are best known to all. The portuguese Jose Rui Santos, the organizer of the King of Portugal and the Southern Championship, is the oldest member of the U4E core team.

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Chris Bowler
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David Robson
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Jose Rui Santos

- The Italian Pier Aceni was the first winner of the King of the Valleys. Pier won also the 2013 edition of the race.


- Shannon Campbell was in Wales in 2013 and, with Dave Cole as co-pilot, he drove Jim Marsden’s car.


- In 2014 Levi Shirley was the first Ultra4 Europe champion with three out of 4 races won.


- King of Glens, that took place in 2014 in Scotland, was the toughest race ever. Only one car made it to the end; everyone else got stuck in the mud.


- In 2017 Casey Currie won the King of Portugal.


- Bailey Cole, son of Dave Cole, raced in Europe in 2014 and 2017. He won King of France and King of Britain in 2017.


- In 2019 JT Taylor drove Axel Burmann’s cars at King of France.


Jim Marsden, is the 2019, 2021 and 2023 (for me looking at the season point) Ultra4 Europe champion with an important record: he is the only driver with the most victories from 2012 to 2023. He won 10 races! 

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Jim Marsden

- In Europe there are great Ultra4 rigs builders such as Rob Butler (Offroad Armoury) and Nicolas Montador (WSR Offroad)


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Nicolas Montador
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Axel Burmann and Tom Olieslagers

- In 2019 Kerry Hufton as an Ultra4 Europe staff member has switched to the competitors as co-pilot of Nicolas Montador.



- King of Portugal is the race that most resembles the King of the Hammers due to the type of track and is the one with the longest route: 38 km for each lap.


 - King of Spain 2019 was one of the most epic Ultra4 Europe race due to bad weather conditions.


- In 2021 took place the first British Championship


- in 2023 the Southern Europe Championship was born and the first Ultra4 class at the Rallye Breslau.

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Ultra4 Europe Kings and Champions


- Rallye Breslau (PL): Lukas Gembala (PL)

- King of Britain (UK): Mark Dean (UK)

- King of Portugal (PT): Filipe Guimaraes (PT)

- U4E Champion: Jim Marsden (UK) - not official



- King of France (FR): Nicolas Pareau (FR)

- King of Britain (UK): Antoine Reul (B)

- King of Poland (PL): Bernd Schafer (D)

- King of Portugal (PT): Emanuel Costa (PT)

- U4E Champion: Antoine Reul (B)



- Essential (UK): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of Britain (UK) : Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of Poland (PL): Bernd Schafer (D)

- Battle of Bovington: Jim Marsden (UK)

- U4E Champion: Jim Marsden (UK)



- King of Britain (UK): Jim Marsden (UK)

- Essential (UK): Kieran Dunlop (UK)



- King of Spain Les Comes (E): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of France (FR): Rob Butler (UK)

- King of Britain (UK): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of Poland (PL): Jim Marsden (UK)

- U4E Champion: Jim Marsden (UK)



- King of France (FR): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of Britain (UK): Jesus Pato (E)

- King of Portugal (P): Jorge Araujo (P)

- King of Poland (PL): Axel Burmann (B)

- U4E Champion: Jorge Araujo (P)



- King of France (FR): Bailey Cole (USA)

- King of Wales (UK): Rob Butler (UK)

- King of Portugal (P): Casey Currie (USA)

- King of Britain (UK): Bailey Cole (USA)

- U4E Champion: Jelle Janssens (B)



- King of France (FR): Emmanuel Costa (P)

- King of Italy (IT): Emmanuel Costa (P)

- King of Britain (UK): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of Portugal (P): Emmanuel Costa (P)

- U4E Champion: Emmanuel Costa (P)



- King of Italy (IT): Rob Butler (UK)

- King of Valleys (UK): Nicolas Montador (FR)

- King of Portugal (P): Emmanuel Costa (P)

- U4E Champion: Filipe Guimareas (P)



- King of the Mountains (IT): Levi Shirley (USA)

- King of Glens (UK): Jim Marsden (UK)

- King of the Valleys (UK): Levi Shirley (USA)

- King of Portugal (P): Levi Shirley (USA)

- U4E Champion: Levi Shirley (USA)



- King of the Valleys (UK): Pier Acerni (IT)

- King of Portugal (P): Emmanuel Costa (P)



- King of the Valleys (UK): Pier Acerni (IT)      

About King of the Hammers and Hammerking

King of the Hammers, founded in 2007, takes place every year in the early days of February in the Johnson Valley.


King of the Hammers is an off-road race that combines desert racing and rock crawling. This race is held on Means Dry Lake at Johnson Valley, California United States. King of The Hammers race week has expanded from one race, Nitto King of The Hammers, held each year on Friday, to a series of races held throughout the week. The races include King of the Motos, Can AM UTV Race, the Every Man Challenge Race, the Toyo Desert Invitational (Unlimited Trophy Trucks), and many more.


The race vehicles used at the King of the Hammers are known as Ultra 4 vehicles which are capable of speeds over 100 miles per hour for the desert sections, but still contain gear ratios of 100 to 1 or lower for technical rock crawling. This Ultra4 class is unlimited 4400, and every vehicle is custom fabricated by each team. Traditional design for the front drive-train is a straight axle design, but (IFS) or (Independent front suspension) is becoming a popular design for the high speeds achieved in the wide open plains of the desert. Most racers use highly modified engines that can have up to 800 hp. 40" tires are common and racers use beadlock wheels. Competitors start side-by-side, two vehicles every thirty seconds, and must complete the course in fewer than 14 hours. Each team must pass through seven checkpoints and at all times while staying within one hundred feet of the centerline of the course. KOH is a no-chase-team race; repairs can only be done on the track by the racers or in the pit area. 


The founders of Hammerking are the force that founded the National race series, Ultra4 Racing, and the toughest week of one-day, off-road races in the world, King of The Hammers. This amazing event takes place at the beginning of the year, on public lands in Johnson Valley, California.


The race has evolved from 12 teams racing for bragging rights and a case of beer, to more than 1000 team entries competing in front of more than 80,000 fans in person and 2 million viewers online. Due to the incredible success of King of the Hammers, Hammerking Productions created the Ultra4Racing Series, which has grown internationally. Each National Ultra4 series race is a qualifier for the King of the Hammers race for the upcoming year.


Hammerking was the establishing series of the Unlimited class, as we know them, the Ultra4 or 4400 race car. The defining characteristics of this class are the sturdy 4-wheel drive and unlimited builds. These cars come in all shapes and sizes, are capable of speeds over 100+ mph and contain gear ratios as low as 100 to 1 for technical rock crawling. Additional classes in Ultra 4 include the: Every Man’s Challenge which encompasses 4600 Stock, 4500 Modified and 4800 Legend’s cars. The fastest growing class is the 4900 UTV class and newest is the Electric Vehicle (EV) class. Motos and a Rock Bouncer’s Shootout are also held at KOH.


Ultra4 series drivers can showcase their unique capabilities, whether the driver has dreams of building a racecar in their garage during free time, or with factory-backed support. The series challenges drivers to compete in a wide variety of terrain from endurance desert racing, competition-style rock crawls, short course racing and more.


Currently Ultra4 has races in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. These races take place on both public lands and on private property around the world. Hammerking Productions has produced eight, full-length feature films chronicling King of the Hammers races, as well as the KOH live show yearly with all production in-house. These award-winning movies have helped shine a spotlight on the racing discipline around the world.


Official websites: www.kingofthehammers.com

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Backdoor, one of the most iconic trails of the King in the Hammers