Xtrem Andorra 2013 - Team Gigglepin Report

By Jim Marsden – Team Gigglepin

It’s our second time to this popular event. It’s as hard to get an entry as it is to complete, with pre-registration taking place much earlier in the year and many teams not making the cut to get to race.

Last year we came second, something that was unexpected as it was our first attempt and this year we want to go one better!

Andorra is simply beautiful. Set in the Pyrenees Mountains it is hard to see where it would be possible to hold a motor sport event, with savage sheer rock faces at every turn. But Albert and Ramone have been competing for many years, live in these mountains and organise one of the best events in the world.

We arrived early so we could walk the stages and learn from our mistakes last year where poor time management cost us the title.

The weather is stunning and we enjoy a relaxing two days walking over 40km through the mountains to plan our attack for the weekend. As always we are amazed at the difficulty level and on one way point it is clear we will have to winch up the mountain for nearly 300metres! This is nearly ten full winch pulls and each release of the cable could result in the car plummeting to the bottom, dangerous stuff…

Friday soon arrives. The car passes technical inspection in the centre of town and the first driver briefing takes place with crews from many different countries this is done in three languages. San Julia is not like any normal town as it nestles in between vast mountains which seem at odds to the hustle and bustle down below. Then it’s up the mountains far above San Julia for the first sections of the event.

Its 6 quick stages between 4.30pm and 8pm and we are on fire taking an early lead over the 40 car field as we enjoy the mix of short sharp sections that get the heart racing.

This event works to a strict time table and we now wait for dinner where all the crews eat together between 9/10pm, then it’s a 10.45 drivers briefing before the start of the nights stages  at 11pm, then finishing at 3am! This is not for the meek or the weak and while we wait we check over the vehicle making sure our high powered Lazer lamps and Odyssey batteries are ready for the task ahead. His year there are 6 timed night stages and 20 way points that have to be collected. Its getting seriously cold and many layers are the key as the vehicles have no heaters other than your own adrenalin.

At 2.45am we arrive back at HQ and we are very pleased with our night’s works. 4 stages completed and 17 waypoints collected and we still have another night to complete these tasks… does this mean and early night on Saturday? We hope so.

After only 3.5 hrs sleep we are back on the mountain in cold morning air ready for the main day tasks to start. We have day stages from 10am to 7pm and then a further night stage then followed by another monster day stage. This event is not those that get easily tired.

The Andorran mountain roads are better than any Swiss road, with twists and turns all the way up the mountain. On the start signal we head down the mountain to tackle the Ultra tough section 1, but someone beats us to it and we head to other stages first. The car is fantastic and we quickly finish stages 2 and 22 before heading back to section1. Its living up to its reputation and the first car is still in the stage over hour after starting. We wait and finally get the go ahead. My co driver Mark powers up the hills and we nail the stage in under 40 minutes. The rest of the day is packed with frantic action as the V8 howls and winches dig deep as we conquer section after section. Come 7pm and we are both tired but very happy with our days work. Now its time to get some rest before dinner, and then on to the night stage which starts at 11pm.

We want to be night section 2 as quickly as possible and make sure we are first away from control. You are not allowed to speed on the road stages so vehicle placement is critical to save time getting to the sections. We arrive and I know this stage has deteriorated since the previous night making it tougher than ever with steep climbs, nasty side slops and big drop offs through trees; it’s the kind of section I love. We start well with the engine purring as we head through the first gulley up the climbs on left on to the meadow. Then it’s a dangerous high speed decent into a tight gulley before powering up hill to a viscous climb. As the car reaches the climb the V8 screams once again and then its the sound very motor racer hates…. gears breaking.

The transfer box has lost teeth and we have only intermittent drive to the back axle. Mark and I get clear of the section as quickly as possible not believing our luck. These transfer boxes are usually indestructible. However there is no time to waste its 11.45pm and we head back to the pits to get another box fitted.

At 2.10am with a new transfer box fitted we head out once more. We still need 3 waypoints and 1 special stage. We head for the special stage but hearts our sink when after 10 minutes driving we find a queue of cars and know that we will not get into the section before it closes at 2.30am. With precious seconds ticking by Marks navigates us to the nearest waypoint, a tricky one up a tight gulley full of very big slippery rocks. The Maxxis Trepadors love this terrain and they allow us to pick our way thorough the hell and collect the punch on our card. We rush to the next way point but the clock is dangerously close to 3am and we have to head for control to save time penalties. We are gutted as we know we have lost the lead.

At 9.45am we are back o the mountain and waiting for the final briefing and the 10am start. Today is the day where our hard work on the days leading up to event should pay off. We know the sections were we can score heavy and we are itching to regain the lead. Unbelievably we have only slipped two places to third. The hunt is on!

Again we start well and the sections flow by with us taking fastest times on many of the stages. At this event you get bonus points if you can drive the stages without winching and I’m working the wheel as hard as possible to make that happen. Driving two stages back to back without winching.

We see many other cars but it’s hard to know how they are getting on so we keep pushing as hard as we can. We arrive at sections 11 and 31. Nasty rocks push out of the forest floor threatening to destroy every part of the car. We have a flyer in 11 and clear it with a fast time. Then it’s into 31. The Maxxis Trepadors are simply amazing pulling us up and over they vast rocks with simple ease. Then as we drop down a huge rock the drivers side front wheel locks in-between two rocks and with nowhere to go and 2.4 ton pushing down, the drivers side front stub shaft breaks with a crack. These things are not supposed to break and its amazing bad luck. We work like fury to clear the stage and as we sign the marshals score sheet we know our chance of winning has passed. Its madness to continue in these mountains and forests with only 3 wheel drive. It really is risking life and limb. If the hub locks on a decent the car could go end over end, or worse on a climb the wheel could lock throwing the vehicle to side and causing a roll. In these mountains any roll is going to be a big one!

We take 5 minutes to catch our breath and our thoughts. We discuss retiring, but we have not travelled 1000 miles to give up and with crash helmets firmly in place and harnesses given an extra pull we head off to take on waypoint 9. It’s a hard climb up a steep gulley and the car is bucking like a mule as it tries to fall away from me as I urge it upwards. Half way through the stage our radio comes to life. A retired French team want to give us the parts from their axle. We can’t believe the generosity of these people and we battle hard to break clear of the stage before heading back to the pits to get the damaged part changed. They already have their axle stripped as we arrive and we have everything back together in under 40 minutes. It’s this friendship and camaraderie that makes this sport wonderful, and in a flurry of “Thank you” and promises of drinks we head out to find some stages that might be clear.

We have lost a lot of time and with only an hour or so remaining we have to wait at stages 6/26 for a vehicle to finish. They take forever as they fail to get their ground anchor to work i and can not pull their vehicle from the final hole. Eventually we get in to the stages and make short work of them finishing with a perfect recovery using a ground anchor.

With crowds applauding all around Mark and I look at each other and can only think what might have been. But the moment soon passes and we head back to hand in our score card, and get packed ready for the prize giving and party.

The after party is one of the best, and this year it’s being held in a huge wooden hotel/chalet at the top of smugglers pass. The food, wine and warmth feels great, and everyone is telling stories about their favourite sections and adventures from the weekend. Prize giving is very friendly and everyone wins a plague for finishing this tough event. We are pleasantly surprised to find we are 5th, an amazing result considering our breakages. At the of the prize giving there is a final surprise and I find myself being called up to the front again to be presented with something. I have no idea what is going on and am not sure whether to be worried or happy as there are some serious jokers in this sport.

What happened next totally blew me away as I was presented with a perfect scale model of my vehicle. It’s about 5” long and perfect in everyway right down the GPS and Terratrip computers inside the cab.

Like the event it is simply amazing.