With the eighth Camel Trophy competition now successfully completed, and the twelve different teams having all returned to their respective countries, the question remains: just what is the Camel Trophy?
Not forming part of any championship and not conforming to any but its own regulations, it gives the impression of being a renegade event, which, in fact, it is.
What the competition sets out to do is to give volunteers a chance to go on “a once is a lifetime” event in some remote part of the world with a handful of other amateurs from different countries, although that was not the idea when it first started eight years ago.
In 1980, someone in the West German office of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the owner of the Camel brand, had the idea of creating a national event open only to German participants. From the thousands of application forms that were received, six lucky finalists were chosen to compete on this adventure, which consisted of being sent out for twelve days to the Amazonian jungle and negotiating 1000 miles of the Trans-amazonian highway in the Jeeps supplied. The following year ten teams were sent to tackle the Sumatran jungle in Range Rovers.
From 1982 the event was opened up to entrants from other countries, and by 1988 there were twelve teams, from Argentina, Belgium, Britain, the Canary Islands, France, Holland, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain and West Germany.
As always, the competitors were selected from application forms that were distributed in the different countries, the common link being that all were amateurs, no-one having a professional motor sport background. From the thousands of forms sent in, over 100 aspirants were invited to go to their respective national finals, from which the lucky two were chosen to represent their country.
The Camel Trophy this year has been held on the island of Sulawesi, which, although the third-largest island in Indonesia, is in a pretty remote part of the world with a hostile environment in keeping with the tradition of the Trophy. There as a slight alteration to the regulations this year, with the 12-day event being split into two days of special tasks at the beginning and at the end, and eight days to traverse the 1325 miles.
With the designated vehicle this year being the turbocharged diesel version of the Land Rover One Ten, trouble hit a number of the teams from the start, although all managed to keep going. The British pairing of Jim Benson and Marc Day had a series of problems with cracks in the differential housings, caused by a broken tooth off the spider gear, which at one stage reduced them to two-wheel drive. The Germans rolled their vehicle into a ditch, the Dutch rolled their cars after a swarm of mosquitoes attacked them in the cabin, and the Turks found themselves in a river when a bridge collapsed beneath them.
The Belgians had similar problems when their Land Rover put to wheels through the planks of the bridge they were traversing and got itself wedged. The crew were fortunate, however, for its very entrapment prevented them from toppling into the river below. Help finally came from the British, German, Italian and Canary Islanders who winched them to safety.
After six exhausting days, the 24 competitors reached Mensung, not only their first refuelling stop, but, more importantly, their chance to have a shower and change of clothes. As Jim Benson, a traffic policemen, was to state: “I have had some long periods of duty where I have required all my powers of concentration, but I can honestly say I have never been so fatigued in my life . . . but I have never enjoyed myself so much either.”
The following five days were spent opening up the road which had remained unused since the previous September. At times, it seemed the cars would never reach their destination, such were the hazards encountered.
On one occasion, for instance, it took three and a half hours to cover eight kilometres in the Mount Tomini-Bosago pass. There the treacherous road condition caught out the Belgian crew, whose car almost overturned when two of its wheels slipped into a gully. Quick thinking by the Italians, clinging onto its side, stopped it from going right over.
By the time the camp was set up in a beach camp-site at the end of that day almost 55km had been covered along the mountain pass; more than 30 trees had been chain-sawed away and a landslide cleared en route.
After a pleasant spell driving along the coast the following day, the route to Ogoamas was soon to be fraught with danger – the 10km stretch of track which clung to the side of the mountain became little wider than the land Rovers themselves.
The Belgians were very lucky not to be involved in a serious accident on this part of the route. Incapacitated with a broken transfer box, their Land Rover was towed up the mountain by the French car, but instead of keeping the two-rope short and tight it was played out too much. Negotiating a long left-hand bend with the mountain on the right-hand side and a 4000m drop on the left, the towed vehicle found itself being pulled to the edge as the rope straightened, cutting the corner which the lead car had rounded.
The Belgian car might have plunged to the jungle below dragging the towing car with it, but disaster was narrowly averted when it stopped with one wheel suspended in mid-air and the other three insecurely gripping onto the crumbling edge. Fortunately the French, Germans, Italians and Canary Islanders were all close enough at hand to come to the rescue.
By the time the Camel Trophy convoy reached Torajaland in the heart of Sulawesi for the final four special tests, the Turks held a healthy lead over the other teams. This lead they increased by coming second in the fifth test and wining the sixth, and being placed second again on the seventh.
With victory assured the Turks took it very easy in the eighth and last special task, and let the Belgians and Dutch fight it out amongst themselves for second place. Although Holland came sixth on this test, two places ahead of the Belgians, it was not enough; so the Belgian crew were overall runners-up. the British team meanwhile, finished eighth overall.
Although some complained that this year’s Trophy was too easy, it was generally regarded a success, and a succeeded in presenting for most participants that once in a lifetime opportunity. WK
A hunch about motor racing
On February 3, 1987, Camel publicly, announced its sponsorship of Team Lotus, a brave move considering that this prestigious Grand Prix team had for so long been associated with John Player, a rival cigarette manufacturer.
Until this burst into the world of Formula One, the Camel brand was little known amongst the cigarette igcognoscente. For many aged over 35, the brand-name probably conjured up images of a 1950s black and white British war film in which a discarded pack has been left lying in the desert. Although not publicly acknowledged, it was likely that outdated images of this kind needed changing, and what better alternative for the parent company, RJ Reynolds Tobacco International Inc of North Carolina, than that of motor racing?
In fact the sport is not a new field for the company. Within the USA the brand has been promoted since 1973, sponsoring both the IMSA sportscar series and motorcycle racing, while internationally Camel became the series-sponsor for World Championship Motocross in 1972 (and still is to this day).
Beyond that there has been sporadic support of events and teams in the home market.
At almost the same time as the decision to go into Formula One had been taken, the opportunity to sponsor Team Lotus presented itself. So the cars which for over a decade has regularly appeared in the black-and-gold colours of John Player appeared in 1987 in an unfamiliar yellow-and-blue colour scheme. Additional Camel presence came during the season with its small involvement with Team Tyrrell, while the start of the year had seen sponsorship of the winning Paris-Dakar raid Peugeots.
Pleased with the increased sales and feedback resulting from this high profile, Camel has greatly increased its programme in 1988 so as to include drivers and teams from all spheres of the sport –although the money has tended to go to the sons of famous fathers!
Three-times World Champion Jackie Stewart’s son, Paul, is now sponsored in Formula Ford 2000; Justin Bell (son of double-World Champion Derek) and David Brabham (youngest son of triple-World Champion Sir Jack) are competing in the Vauxhall-Lotus Challenge in the Camel Derek Bell Racing team; in Formula Three Damon Hill (son of Graham), Gary Brabham (another son of Sir Jack) and Phillipe Favre all carry personal sponsorship, while Paul Warwick (younger brother of Arrows drivers Derek) and Jason Elliott are racing in the Silverstone-based Camel Eddie Jordan Racing. Greg Hobbs (son of David) has also secured backing for some Class B Formula Three races.
Additionally, Formula 3000 has been brought into the fold with the backing of Swiss driver Andrea Chiesa in the Colin Bennett-run Cobra team, and Italians Pier-Luigi Martini and Marco Apicella for FIRST Racing; and finally the Range Rover team in this year’s Paris-Dakar had Camel backing.
In Formula One the sponsorship was extended so that not only are Team Lotus, and drivers Nelson Piquet and Satoru Nakajima, supported by the group, but so are Thierry Boutsen and Alessandro Nannini in the Benetton team, Phillipe Alliot and Yannick Dalmas in the Larrousse-Calmels Lola team, Jonathan Palmer and Julian Bailey in the Tyrrells, Philippe Streiff in the AGS, Gabriele Tarquini in the Coloni, and Derek Warwick in the Arrows.
Additionally, Derek Bell has personal support in his World Sportscar Championship programme as part of the deal with his son.
What this sponsorship is doing, according to Duncan Lee, Director of Sponsorship and Special Events, is providing some of the local Camel branches with the opportunity to identify their immediate public with Formula One more closely. This follows Reynolds’ research, which has indicated that motor racing fans are motivated not only by close racing but also by passively supporting individual drivers.
By this extending its involvement widely across so many teams and in no many formulae the company is hoping that it will be the focus of most fans’ attention in race meetings all over the world. WK