We’re basically a bunch of petrolheads here at Zen Software, so when it came to choosing an event to thank our partners for their support, it was always likely to involve engines of some kind. As we’ve been on a fair few track days between us, we all agreed it might be a nice idea to mix it up a bit and instead thought it would be nice to try playing in the sand…
We decided on 4×4 off-roading with ProTrax, the only company who could meet Ross’s complex requirements of “extreme driving” and “absolutely no fannying about”. ProTrax is run by veteran off-roader Vince Cobley, who’s well-known for his tours to Morrocco, France, Spain, Bosnia/ Croatia and Austria with the Land Rover Adventure Club so we had confidence we’d found the right people to organise our little outing.
Arriving bleary-eyed at the Land Rover Experience HQ on Saturday morning, we were met by much-needed coffee, bacon sarnies and Ed, our highly entertaining guide for the day who’s also Vince’s son. It’s probably worth noting at this stage that Ed is more at home racing flat-out in a Bowler Nemesis and rumour has it he’s also the “The Stig” on the episode of Top Gear featuring the Bowler.
In case Ed’s enthusiastic introduction wasn’t sufficient, just to put the more nervous among us at ease, ProTrax were kind enough to have a DVD on rotation of him in the Bowler travelling (mostly airborne) at well over 100mph around the site we would soon be about to drive ourselves.
To the quarry!
After breakfast we were shuttled in Land Rover convoy to Yarwell Quarry, effectively a big sandpit with a lake in the middle. It’s one of the official Land Rover proving grounds and the perfect place to put even the most capable of 4×4 vehicles through its paces. Our toys for the day included a Range Rover Sport, numerous Land Rover Defenders both new and old (including a limited edition D110 HPU which pays hommage to the one in Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider), a few Discovery 4’s and a Freelander for good measure.
Five of us went along from Zen Software and there were 12 members of the partner program there in total. We split the group so we’d spend half the day driving the more agricultural Defenders (also more fun!) and after a delicious pub lunch have a go in the state of the art technology-focussed stuff like the Discovery 4’s.
It’s mud Jim
A quick “know your terrain” briefing ensured we were all suitably acquainted with, well, mud. After which it was time to clamber in to the cabin of our chariots for the first time for a familiarisation lap with one of the expert instructors showing how it’s done.
The course is some 400 acres, plenty big enough to get lost in (particularly if you’re attempting to follow Ed) and an off-roader’s dream with woodland area, giant mud-mounds, a lake and plenty of technical challenges such as alternately spaced potholes designed to push the limits of suspension travel.
Travelling in convoy and with groups of three to a vehicle we then had a stab ourselves with varying degrees of success – all to the backdrop of plenty of highly amusing instructor banter from the walkie-talkies.
“As slow as possible, as fast as necessary”
The Defenders really were incredibly impressive and masses of fun to drive. Plenty of feedback through the wheel, heavy pedals, and loads of power to play with as they conquered seemingly impossible angles of incline and descent. Throughout we were regularly reminded by our guides of the off-roader’s mantra – “as slow as possible, as fast as necessary!”.
One of the many memorable moments was Ross “The Boss” beached in a foot of muddy water and in need of rescue by Zen Software partner Neville Styles (Computer Connections) – beautifully illustrated in the video highlights below. Also note Ed’s enthusiastic instruction as he explains “proper driving” to Ross.
Zen Software video highlights (approx. 5 mins)
Video highlights submitted by Raymond @ Novotec (approx. 2.5 mins)
Introducing the Land Rover amphicar
In the newer, technology-laden Discovery 4’s and Range Rover “WAG-Wagon” Sport it was more a case of watching in awe as Hill Descent Mode and the other clever electronics on offer made light work of whatever obstacle was put in their path. They appear to have amphicar-like capabilities too as you’ll notice from the pics!
Another stand-out moment was Steve Rock (Lowthers) breaking through the surface of a very frozen lake with the nose of his Discovery, and riding the bow-wave to send a ripple through the rest of it – leaving a path for the convoy. The same lake we’d be so deep in later that there would actually be water flowing across the bonnet of the Discovery 4’s – mind-boggling stuff.
Also thanks to Vince, Ed and all of the friendly (unbelievably knowledgeable) instructors at ProTrax who couldn’t have done a better job of giving us a window into the hobby they’re so passionate about for the day!
(View all 73 photos from the day on Flickr – thanks contributors!)