Rules of Engagement

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17 September 2022
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Sludgy river crossings tested the Range Rovers : credit: © Jacques Marais
Fifteen years have passed since Martin Dreyer walked away with the spoils at the second (and final) Land Rover G4 Challenge in Bolivia. Now in an exclusive interview for LRM, Martin reflects on the event and some of the life lessons it taught him

Some days are diamonds, and so far, this one has been an absolute bloody gem. Dawn delivered us from the -10 degrees Celsius grip of an intensely cold and testing night, and since the beginning of twilight we’ve not stopped chasing down Martin Dreyer as he tears across the Bolivian desert at speed.

The South African hardman and his staunch Argentinean partner, Pablo Burattini, have set a cracking pace, clocking a solid four competitions so far for the day. This is way better than any of the other G4 competitors and the dice seems to be rolling just right for the twosome. 

 A mountain bike race and a technical jumaring (climbing)exercise morphed into a thumping orienteering run across a cactus-studded plain, bang in the centre of the Altiplano. These desert flatlands level out at a lung-busting 4200 m above sea level, with agoraphobia-inducing horizons and only an occasional cactus spiking up from amidst a monotony of brittle rock and contorted scrub. 

To the west, the afternoon glare reflects from the snow-capped cordillera where it sidles up to the Chilean border, key-lighting the dust feathering off Martin’s Discovery 3 a few hundred metres ahead of us. Just about then, the proverbial crap hits the fan…

Down and dirty in Bolivia as the crew battles to unstick their Discovery

Our approach to the final compulsory competition of the day is via a shallow, shale-and-mud riverbed which has been pulverised by dozens of event Land Rovers preceding us. As we gun into the crossing, the Disco just ahead lurches wildly and loses momentum, then it starts digging in. 

We manage to squeeze past on the up-river side, but things are not looking good. “Gas it, bud!” shouts Angus from the rear seat, and I see driver Chris’s knuckles whitening on the wheel. “I’m not feeling confident here,” the American grits through clenched teeth, but we surge forward and seem to shrug off the suck. 

Sometimes in life, though, the planets do not align... Our Range Rover bangs into a depression at speed and launches skywards, only to smack back into terra firma an instant later. The vehicle stalls and sinks right down onto the chassis; now the chips are well and truly down.

I glance at my watch – it is 15.48 pm and we have less than 12 minutes to make it to that critical ‘Compulsory’. This is a crux moment – missing this competition segment means Martin’s team could lose all the points they’ve accumulated so far today.

“Martin! Martin! You better come get us!” Chris is close to losing his rag – getting stuck was definitely not part of his game plan for today. Support and team vehicles must stick together at all times, and the only way out of this mess is for the team to somehow drag us from this quagmire.

It takes Mart and Pablo a minute to reach us, their faces death-head grim as they pile from their vehicle. They manoeuvre the Discovery onto the riverbank, with Chris attaching a tow rope to the wallowing Range Rover. Pablo guns his motor while Chris revs up the Range Rover, but its wheels could just as well have been cast in concrete. 

“Use the winch!” Martin shouts, gesticulating at Pablo to reverse so they can unhook the tow rope. For a few interminable seconds nothing gives, then the Range Rover begins to brute its way inch by inch from the glutinous muck. Six minutes have ticked by like an eternity, and we all scramble back into the vehicles.

Four minutes are left on the clock, and two kilometres and one more bitch of a crossing lurk ahead. This time, failure is not an option and Chris deploys every last rev from the powerful V8, unleashing the Range Rover like a rabid pit-bull at a dog fight. 

I feel the off-road tyres scrabbling for traction, gnawing at the arid terrain, biting and skittering, then lunging forward. We hit the river like a berserk wildebeest, veiling up muddy spray as we plough through the shallows to blast up the embankment and on to the start line just ahead. We’ve made it literally with less than two minutes to spare, and the team is frothing to take on their next challenge.

The author, Jacques, with a group of local kids near the Bolivian village of La Higuera

That was my recollection from when I was fortunate enough to be a part of the media crew following Martin Dreyer as he took on a field of top international athletes at the 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge. Dreyer went on to win the event in spectacular fashion.

Fifteen years later, I’m fortunate enough to be in the same company again. Once Martin gets talking it soon becomes eminently clear that he has continued living life by the same rules he applied to winning the G4 Challenge. 

 

Abseiling cliffs: just one of the obstacles Martin had to face during the second Land Rover G4 Challenge

 

Fifteen years on from the G4 Challenge, Martin, what has changed in your life?

Since 2006, a lot! Soon after that phenomenal event I met the woman of my dreams and married my Jeannie. I also started a non-profit organisation, Change A Life’. Once an individual has been identified, I help nurture that talent across sporting genres, adding structure, logistics and support to bring out their best. The CAL group has grown to include a running, paddling and mountain biking academy.  I’ve invested so much of my time identifying talented young athletes in rural KwaZulu-Natal, one of SA’s wildest provinces over the years.

Since the arrival of my kids, Callum (11) and Ruby (9), life is certainly not just about me or Jeans anymore. Everything revolves around the family and all of us taking part in cool adventures together. 

 

Martin celebrates with the South African flag after his win

 

How often do you think of that moment in Bolivia where you hoisted the SA flag while standing on top of the orange Disco?

I cannot lie, I think of standing on that bonnet in Bolivia often. Whenever I’m asked to do motivational talks, this is always the final highlight, as it was just the most awesome adventure of my life racing around Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia.

 

Do you think there is a place for an event like the Land Rover G4 Challenge on a post-pandemic planet?

For sure. Everyone has been so confined to their homes or work, and travel has been limited globally. I believe people would love to live gregariously through adventures such as the Land Rover G4 Challenge. I mean, with 40 competitors facing off across a range of exhilarating events and in unique environments all over the planet… Damn, sign me up!

 

Where on planet Earth would you like to see an event like that take place?

Somewhere far away and forgotten; they scouted Mongolia before the final G4 Challenge was postponed, and I think this would be a great destination. It’s just so isolated and boasts an incredible landscape, or maybe South America again. Patagonia would be special as well. 

 

Let’s get back to that day. What went through your mind when you realised you had won a vehicle worth a cool million SA rand? Tell us more about the prize. You didn’t go for a Range Rover?

I ran into the river towards the Range Rover and there was no one else there. It was the first time I allowed myself to think about winning, and it was the most incredible feeling slapping my hands on the Range Rover’s bonnet to claim victory.

 I was a professional athlete at the time, but not in any big-name sports, so was just breaking even from month to month, and there was no way I could afford the costs of running a Range Rover. Land Rover (SA) was phenomenal and said I could swap it for a Discovery and a Defender. I sold the Disco for some cash and the Defender became my absolute all-time favourite vehicle.

 

Do you have any idea who now owns the two vehicles? 

I kept the Defender and it was a great decision because it just oozes everything that I’m about in terms of ruggedness or being able to jump in the car with wet baggies and sandy feet. Or going through the bush and getting it scratched. I actually think that the more scratches a Defender gets, the more character it has. I had it for years until my wife very unfortunately had an accident in it after which it had to be written off. Rooftop tent, my Duzi-winning boat... That was the end of that amazing vehicle.

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Cape Town Land Rover kept the Discovery on their floor and sold it – I’m not sure to whom.  

 

Teams on a rope jumar after a ballsy, early morning bridge jump

 

How did Land Rover South Africa prepare you for the G4 Challenge once you were selected? Any specialised driver training? And did SA’s previous representative give you any tips?

Originally, three of us – Marieka, Richard and myself – were chosen for international selections in the UK, where we were skilled up on all aspects required for the actual G4 Challenge. This made for a good week of training in boggy conditions, and I was eventually selected to represent SA. 

Back in SA, I went to the Land Rover Experience in Hillcrest and did a top 4x4 course, with high-speed training at Kyalami in Joburg, which was pretty cool. We wore out a full set of tyres and I got new respect for the Discovery. There was a skid track with water, too, and you could do all kinds of ballet with the vehicle, while learning to stop and corner, and everything else. 

Then it was a matter of going through the vehicle itself to understand features such as Dynamic Stability Control and other technical stuff. The great thing about the Discovery or Range Rover is that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know how to apply specialised driving modes. 

The touch of a dial makes you an expert at negotiating any terrain, whether rock, sand or ice. It was important to be instructed on winching, recovery and all the other safety aspects, too. Chester Foster represented SA in the previous G4 and he’s a good mate, so we met often before I left.

The most important input from him was to ‘think outside the box’ and he stressed the importance Land Rover places on teamwork. The G4 Challenge format meant you never knew down the line if you would need to rely on one of the other athletes. Make no enemies, always be friendly and helpful, and try to add value to other people. I got some excellent advice from Chester on this.

 

The G4 Challenge format meant you had to race with a range of partners – who stands out most in your mind?

They honestly were all unique in their own right. It was, however, very fortunate to be selected by Nora, the hometown girl on the leg in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We had to do a horse race and she just asked the gaucho handler, “which horse is fastest”? She put herself on that one, because she was an incredible rider, and then asked the guy, “which horse will follow this horse?” That horse was for me and all I had to do was keep up!

 

Camping out at over 4100 m on the extraterrestrial Salar de Uyuni salt flat

 

Which of the countries that the G4 Challenge passed through holds the best memories? 

Tough, tough question! Laos stood out because of a dramatic paddle section along an underground river through a mountain range, with waterfalls, rapids and incredible vegetation. We paddled for nearly two hours with our head torches on and that was truly breathtaking. But for me, Bolivia brings back the best memories, especially the vast and alien Salar de Uyuni, with salt pans stretching for 40 km in all directions and at an altitude higher than the highest mountain in southern Africa. A harsh environment and totally unforgiving, but such a soulful experience. 

 

Land Rovers negotiate one of the gritty Bolivian gravel passes

 

And your most memorable road/setting and toughest driving section on the event?

Bolivia blew my mind with its roads! We had to negotiate so many high mountain passes, and the vistas were amazing. The Discos were utterly capable, even on my toughest driving section of the event in Laos. It had rained non-stop en route to a climbing event and we had to cross a river flood. I walked through to make sure the surface was stable and check the depth, but it was touch and go whether we’d potentially be washed away that day.

 

The Discoverys featured ground-breaking technology for those days: do you think you used the vehicle to its full potential?

I’m no expert, but I do know I pushed those vehicles – we drove Freelanders, Range Rovers and Discovery models on the various legs – way beyond what I thought was possible. They always responded and I never had an incident with a single car. I’m not proud of the fact that I pushed the limits of the vehicles in terms of terrain, but it was a competition and you had to do what you had to do. 

 

Do you apply any lessons you learnt during the G4 Challenge in life many years later?

I’ve learnt it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. And don’t count your chickens before they hatch. It made me realise that a positive attitude is the only part of life you can control. And teamwork, especially during the G4, where you’re only ever as strong as your weakest link. This means you have to work together and build each other up, and at times admit that you’re the weakest link and make the best of it.

What you put in is what you get out. Ultimately, family and friends are what will be there right to the end. The G4 Challenge was all about exploring, pushing yourself out of you comfort zone and, in the end, redefining your limits. 

 

Champagne, flags and mutual jubilation as the victorious Dreyer is joined by the rest of the Land Rover G4 Challenge competitors

 

Give our readers one take-away on how to successfully win at life?

You absolutely must make sure you’re passionate about what you do and then go and develop a skill set to make you the best you can be. Surround yourself with like-minded people and be positive. Those are all things you can work on.

Steady wins the game and it should never be just about the money – it does not buy happiness. Happiness is a feeling you get inside, and only comes with having more free time to spend with loved ones.

Success is unique and personal to each individual and for me it’s about family adventure, free time, having like-minded people around and being passionate about work, like I do with Change A Life.

 

Want to read more about the G4 vehicles? See our features on the G4 owners club here: Trees a Crowd and In Flanders Fields.  

 

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