29 January 2024
Land Rover enthusiasts roll back the clock and retrace the steps of the legendary 2003 G4 Challenge
In the heart of the American West, a story began two decades ago. It was a tale of physical and mental endurance, passion, and the relentless spirit of adventure encapsulated in Land Rover’s inaugural G4 Challenge. Twenty years later, the Wild West once again echoes with the rumbling of 4.4-litre V8 L322 Range Rovers – the very ones used during the original event. This is a journey down memory lane and a grand celebration of Land Rover’s 75th anniversary.
Loaded roof racks and Warn winches – no mistaking a G4
About the G4 Challenge
Land Rover organised the G4 Challenge as a successor to the world-famous Camel Trophy competition: ‘the Olympics of 4x4’, held annually during 1980-2000. The first G4 Challenge was held in March-April 2003 in four stages in the United States (stages one and four), South Africa (stage two), and Australia (stage three). Selected through national and international trials over an 18-month period beforehand, its participants competed in tests of their off-road driving and outdoor athletic abilities. Rudi Thoelen, a Belgian F-16 fighter pilot, won the 2003 G4 Challenge at the competition’s conclusion in Moab and Tim Pickering of the United Kingdom won the Team Spirit Award. The second G4 Challenge was held in 2006 in Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia. The third competition, scheduled for 2009, was cancelled because of the Great Recession.
Re-tracing the G4’s steps was a real dream come true
Steve Cooper, a long-time Land Rover enthusiast, G4 L322 owner and the visionary behind this expedition, found himself reminiscing about the 2003 G4 Challenge. This nostalgia wasn’t mere longing; it gave birth to an inspiring idea. Why not relive the adventure, retracing the very tracks that had resonated with the sounds of competition two decades ago? Steve’s passion proved infectious. Soon, three other event-used Range Rover owners, guardians of the original event’s press vehicles, rallied behind his vision. Also, Land Rover’s own photographer (then and still today), Nick Dimbleby, chimed in to give accurate descriptions of the original tracks and anecdotes, helping retrace the overall adventure. Wheels had been set in motion, both literally and metaphorically, for an ambitious re-run of the 2003 G4 Stage 4 route from Las Vegas, Nevada to Moab, Utah.
The team ready and raring to spark up those 4.4-litre V8s
The pack consisted of Steve Cooper of Torrance, California, formerly of Leeds, UK; Luke Chen of Chino Hills, California; Alex Georgacas of Scottsdale, Arizona; and Chris Georgacas of Mahtomedi, Minnesota. They drove their specially equipped 2003 G4 Range Rovers following the same route used by an international group of 16 competitors in the first G4 Challenge in April 2003. First port of call was the Lake Las Vegas Hilton in Henderson, where the original 2003 event was staged (then the Ritz Carlton).
Cruise control got a good workout on the tarmac stretches
The route traversed vast stretches of Nevada, crossing into north-western Arizona, and eventually winding its way to southern Utah, the participants mapping a trail that promised to be as challenging as it was breathtaking. Historic waypoints dotted their journey: the dramatic landscapes of Snow Canyon, the shifting terrains of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, the picturesque Bryce Canyon National Park, and many more.
Companions on the Road
Liza Beres joined the group in her fantastic 2021 Trek Defender
Steve Cooper and fellow ex-event L322 owners weren’t alone. Liza Beres, from the renowned Underpowered Hour podcast and a formidable Rebelle Rally competitor, had accompanied the G4 Range Rovers in her aptly colour-coordinated, event-used 2021 Trek Defender. Liza, along with photographer Abigail Hall, played media team for the event. The convoy made for a harmonious blend of old and new, representing Land Rover’s rich legacy and its gusto for Tangiers Orange livery.
Epic landscapes along the way demand to be admired and taken in
Land Rover Las Vegas, always supporting the spirit of community, hosted a launch event at its dealership, marking the group’s departure. On 22 April, the owners and guests converged, celebrating the kick-off of this nostalgic journey. The participants then had lunch at the Cliffside Restaurant on the bluff overlooking St George, then up to Snow Canyon State Park (site of a G4 ‘maximiser’ event in 2003) before recreating one of Nick’s iconic photos of the convoy in Snow Canyon.
They then travelled east through Hurricane, Hildale, Colorado City AZ, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, then north to their first overnight stay in yurts – interestingly not in tiny Khyam G4 tents – at the East Zion Resort in Orderville, enjoying a lovely campfire dinner and drinks.
The L322s look best doing exactly what they were built for...
...although a helping hand was sometimes needed!
On day two, they backtracked to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, the G4 overnight camping site used in 2003, for some fun in the dunes. The location was sunny yet cool, unlike the five inches of snow which greeted the G4 competitors 20 years before. After airing down their Goodyear MTRs, they gathered for a photoshoot, before two participants got stuck, but solved their issues with the deployment of de rigueur orange Maxtrax sand ladders. They reinflated the Goodyears and hit the road northbound, then east on Scenic Byway 12 to Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park and on to Escalante (both 2003 ‘hunter’ sites), for an overnight stay.
The steep hairpins of Capitol Reef National Park
Day three was the longest of the trip and required an early start, heading north again on Scenic Byway 12, including the dramatically sheer and narrow Hogsback, to Boulder, then heading to Burr Trail towards Bullfrog and Lake Powell. It is now partly paved, except for a section through Capitol Reef National Park with incredible switchbacks. The posse of Range Rovers then continued south through Moki Dugway to Mexican Hat then back up north to Bluff Dwellings for the night.
Carving through valleys of Moab’s rock formations
For the final day of the trip, the pack headed north through White Mesa, Blanding, and Monticello – with a bit of rain – to Looking Glass Rock (another original 2003 G4 ‘hunter’ location) for a photo stop. The final leg! They all arrived in the sunshine in Moab for lunch – 20 years to the day since the 2003 G4 Challenge did. They then took the direction off the Gemini Bridges Trail just to the north of Moab for some off-road entertainment, before reconvening at Red Cliffs Lodge (the location of the 2003 G4 Challenge awards ceremony) for dinner and celebratory beverages.
A photo opportunity not to be missed – the spirit of G4 lives on
The climax of their expedition was meticulously timed. On arriving in Moab on 25 April, the group had achieved more than just the route’s completion. They marked two significant milestones: 20 years to the day since the 2003 G4 Challenge ended, and just days before the 75th anniversary of Land Rover’s global debut.
It’s not hard to see where inspiration for the Trek Defender came from...
The G4 Challenge, conceived as the spiritual successor to the iconic Camel Trophy competition, was more than just an event. It was a global celebration of off-roading and outdoor athleticism in fantastic regions around the world. Participants, meticulously chosen from around the globe, had showcased their skills, driving through gruelling terrains in Range Rovers, Defenders, Discoverys and Freelanders.
The perfect way to round off a fantastic trip – bottoms up!
The 2023 celebration tour was not merely a recreation of a route. It was a journey through time, a testament to Land Rover’s enduring legacy, and a demonstration of the passion the brand evokes amongst its enthusiasts. As Steve and his team embarked on this expedition, they didn’t just retrace tracks in the sand, they rekindled memories, reignited passions, and reminded the world of Land Rover’s unwavering commitment to adventure. While today’s JLR-owned Land Rover has no plans for any similar corporate-sponsored exploits, the appeal of the G4 Challenge 20 years down the track, shows that it found a superb alternative to the Camel Trophy. Long live the G4!
The L322 Range Rovers
Land Rover used the G4 Challenge to showcase the off-road capabilities of its entire then-current vehicle line-up. In the 2003 edition, competitors used a different vehicle type on each stage: Range Rovers, Defenders, Discovery 2s and Freelanders.
The G4 Challenge showcased Land Rover’s then-current range of models
The then-new third generation (L322) Range Rover was used as the competitors’ vehicle during the Australian stage. It was also employed in the other stages as logistics and communications vehicle. Land Rover specially prepared a total of 30 Range Rovers for the 2003 G4 Challenge, of which eight were US-spec, left-hand drive models. Of these eight, four took part in the 2023 celebration tour (one is known to no longer exist).
Seven of the eight US G4 Range Rovers survive – four of them were on this trip
These Range Rovers bear the unique Tangiers Orange paint reserved for G4 Challenge vehicles. They were kitted out by Land Rover with extra equipment, including roof rack and ladder, front A-bar guard, underbody protection, roof lights, and more.
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