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Story by Manrico Delcore & Mary Beth Debicki Photos by the authors and courtesy of Land Rover

As the 4:00 AM wake-up bugle echoed across Colorado’s San Luis Valley, 18 sleepy but resolute individuals emerged from their tents and raced towards their vehicles to begin another 18 hour day which would push their physical stamina, mental dexterity, driving skills and teamwork to the limits. Army Special Forces? Red Cross workers? Reality Show participants? No – these men and women were Land Rover dealer personnel participating in the TReK competition. While many companies encourage product knowledge, customer service and team spirit with cash rewards and all expense paid trips to luxury resorts, Land Rover serves-up boot camp, complete with blood, sweat and the occasional broken bone.

TReK is the brain child of Bob Burns, Training and Development Manager Off Road Programs for Land Rover North America, who in 1996 was tasked with creating a team building event for the still fledgling Land Rover North America. What emerged is 2-day competition in which 3-person teams from individual dealerships compete in a wide array of events. The specific challenges change from year to year but generally fall into three categories. Firstly, as one would expect from an automotive company there are precision driving “auto cross” and “slalom-type” obstacle courses. This being a Land Rover event the obstacles include boulders, ditches, ravines, waist-deep

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streams, deep sand and/or mud, steep hills and gravity defying side-slopes. Secondly, as you would expect from a company whose products are found at work in the remotest parts of the globe, competitors must also deal with challenges common in these environments. Land Rover calls them “Pioneering Skills”, such as building log bridges to cross streams, using the vehicle’s winch to recover a disabled vehicle or rigging aerial cable ‘trams’ to ferry supplies across deep ravines, all the while demonstrating the ability to navigate with map, compass and the Global Positioning System. And finally, because Land Rover owners tend to be an outdoorsy crowd, TReK also features mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and other outdoor sports.

According to Burns “TReK is designed to test employees' mettle, ability to work as part of a team and Land Rover vehicle knowledge.” TReK may be an unorthodox employee incentive program, nonetheless, it struck a chord within Land Rover. In the words of Marin Burela, Land Rover’s Director of Manufacturing, it’s “the core essence of what Land Rover represents”. Watching the competitors struggle to manhandle log bridges, wade across icy streams, and winch their vehicles across un-drivable obstacles, it seems inconceivable that anyone would willingly trade their comfortable sales or service office for this, yet according to Land Rover executives “there is practically a stampede among Land Rover Retailers to enter TReK.”

The first TReK event was held in Georgia in 1996 and was won by Land Rover North Pointe of Georgia. TReK moved to Vermont for 1997 and was again won by LR North Pointe. The west coast hosted TReK 1999. The trophy stayed in Georgia but this time it went to Land Rover Buckhead. The Greenbrier Resort, home to Land Rover’s own permanent, full-time off pavement driving school, hosted TReK ’00. Land Rover Greenville took the trophy home.

With the blessing of FORD, Land Rover’s parent company, TReK went global in 2001. Countries around the world held national TReK competitions and the winning teams traveled to the Global TReK finals in Land Rover’s archetypal home: Africa. The location was chosen in part because Land Rovers have always been perceived as “the Out of Africa Original”, and because “Africa would provide all the necessary elements of adventure in a spectacular and testing style”. Eleven teams representing all major Land Rover markets faced one another in fifteen different and quintessentially TReK events during 2 days of grueling competition. In addition to the diabolical obstacles dreamt-up by the organizers, competitors also had to contend with Africa’s own obstacles: giraffes, zebras, kudus and even the occasional leopard. High Adventure indeed!

The Forbes Trinchera Ranch played host to TReK ’03. Spreading across 250 square miles in southern Colorado, the Ranch reaches from the valley floor to over 14,000 feet. As a matter of fact three 14,000 foot peaks crown the Ranch’s amazing and varied topography.

A brisk orienteering run in the cold pre-dawn darkness began the first task of TReK ’03: the Service Drive. The goal was to reach the finish line at the opposite end of the field as quickly as possible while successfully completing 5 separate tasks. These included retrieving a hidden spare tire and jack by following compass bearings, using the vehicle’s winch to pull the Land Rovers 100 feet, using sand ladders to create a 50 foot long bridge – 3 feet at a time - and finally manhandling the 5000 pound vehicle across the finish line.

After the head to head competition of the Service Drive, the teams separated and for the next 6½ hours rotated through 4 different exercises:

• The “Land Rover Cross” was composed of two different autocross style precision driving courses delineated by orange cones. It was a race against the clock with penalties added for hitting a cone. All 3 team members drove the course and their combined time was used to determine the team’s score.

• “On Time Delivery” was an off-road time, speed and distance rally. The teams encountered mountain trails, creek crossings, mud holes, and steep climbs. Hidden checkpoints along the route ensured teams adhered to the prescribed speeds.

• “TReK Trials” was a very difficult slalom course that included navigating up and down steep and boulder-strewn ravines. Teams were only allowed to walk the course before driving it. As in the Land Rover Cross, all team members drove, and their combined time, plus penalty points for missing or hitting a gate, was used to determine the winners.

• “Find Your Way to the Centre” was a classic orienteering course with a twist. Some of the 18 control-points were shown on the map, others were specified only by GPS coordinates, and others were found by following compass headings. This event tested the participant’s ability to navigate by map, compass and GPS.

All the teams gathered for lunch, and although tired and sporting a few ‘battle scars’ were eager to start the afternoon’s competition.

First up was the “Solihull Regatta”, a grueling mountain bike, kayak, running and driving “adventure race”. The competitors had to rely on GPS coordinates and compass heading to stay on course.

In late afternoon the competitors prepared for TReK’s final event: The TReK Test Drive. On identical, side by side courses two teams at a time would compete against the clock. A formidable array of obstacles, demanding excellent off road driving, vehicle control, team work and precise winching stood between them and the finish line.

The Rocky Mountain’s frequent afternoon thunderstorms added one more level of difficulty to the already technically demanding driving tasks. When the metaphorical dust (mud in reality) settled, Land Rover Eden Prairie of Minnesota was this year’s TReK winner. “To win” said Burns, “you can’t just be a rocket scientist, or you can’t just be a super-athlete, but when you combine the two, you have Land Rover Eden Prairie” whose members, by the way, were the oldest in the competition.

The vehicles the competitors have driven, pushed and winched during all the TReK competitions have been standard production Land Rovers, just like the ones you or I can pick up at our local Land Rover retailer.

“America sees Land Rover as the real thing” and TReK “gives them (Retailers) real credibility … they can speak with Authority” stated a senior Land Rover executive. But are today’s SUV buyers interested? Apparently Land Rover buyers are. “We have the highest percentage of off road usage … we encourage them to do this” added the executive with a smile.

Land Rover’s global marketing director, John Edwards, summed it up best when he said: “TReK is about getting hearts and minds focused on the brand. We’re all winners.” As are the Land Rover owners who benefit from the renewed passion and considerable real world expertise TReK participants bring to local Land Rover dealerships around the world.