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Belgium National 2002

by Takeo De Meter

for pictures click here

400 Land-Rovers gathered near Antoing in Belgium to celebrate this year's Belgium National. Burno Neef de Sainval and his team have relocated the traditional reunion site to an open area alongside a railroad, where a major effort (more than 800 - Eight Hundred- truckloads of gravel) has been put in to create a rather large and new camping site and a platform that housed "The Village" where the organization, commercial stands and main refectory tent were located. It all looked very new and very clean, very well organized.

The whole event was about gathering Land-Rovers in a set of road-books that led to various playgrounds of varying difficulty, both in Belgium and one across the border in France. Near the main site, a trials ground has been made, where drivers can exhibit their skills and that is also part of the Philippe Simonin Off-Road Driving School. The roadbooks and associated playgrounds varied in intensity from the more "soft" Adventure Level up to XX-treme situations in which winches proved the essential tool to get anywhere at all.

On Friday evening, one of the roadbooks led to a military domain, littered with wrecks of tracked armour and old trucks, in which a track had been dug: a 2 meter deep hole started the run. One or two vehicles got through without winching and then got to the next hole for more winching. After that, it took them around a left hand bend right into, yes you guessed right, another hole, but with a small, treacherous swampy patch at the bottom. Winch motors were getting hot by then and there was at least as much action to be seen that was performed by some photographers trying to get close to anything that got more or less successfully stuck in the yuck. By then, some started to ask for spare torch batteries and this went on for some hours, deep into the night. At the exit of the course, a courageous team was busy swapping a broken front diff.

On Saturday morning, the trials started for some of the groups, on the terrain close to the "village".

Think of a 250 meter long earth ridge, varying in height between 3 and 5 meters and some 10-20 meters in width at the top. Soil is clayish and gets very slippery when wet. A zigzag course is laid out along the slope wich averages some 45 degrees and some pitfalls are dug in it using bobcats and cranes. Turns are very tight and those who laid it out did NOT drive it themselves first and the turns are tight even for a 90, which means that 110s and certainly 109s are out of seriously

competing. An average driver, however, can do it without any major problems and marks earned largely depend on luck and on how much attention is being paid by the marshalls. For instance, a Safir 6x6 109 Stage One performed brilliantly and was expertly driven by a man who knew his truck very well, but did not earn a lot of good marks because of the sole geometry of his truck and the inevitable shunting needed. I remember trials that were actually driven by the organizers to make sure that they were fit for ALL types of vehicles and that none would be at a disadvantage. OK, call me nostalgic if you wish.

Saturday afternoon took some of the action just across the border, into France, where a circuit was made in the woods near Condé sur l'Escaut. What first seemed to look like an ordinary water puddle, also hosted a mean 1.2 meter deep pit. After a lot of splashing and some heroic charges in and out of that pit, the participants drove on to another, dry, but quite impossible" hole in the ground and the winches were at their best again. Lots of Camel Trophy Advertising - style action with logs laid out to prevent winch wire ropes to dig into the soil and even more Ampères being consumed. Annette's trusted Nikon clicked frantically and I lit another Marlboro with my Camel Trophy Zippo. Yawn.

A couple of hours later, in the afternoon, back in La Belgique, we looked down a steeeeeeep slope, ending straight into a pond. Hmm, interesting. Marshalls told us that they were waiting for the next group to arrive. So I took a swig from my hip flask (Perrier, heavily laced with lime syrup), holstered my pencil and waited. Annette cleaned Nikon and Pentax lenses, checked film supply in pockets, peeled an apple. An hour went by. Vultures were slowly and lazily circling high in the sky under the unforgiving sun that was frying the desert soil. Oops, wrong story, Sowwy.

After a while, the unmistaken roar of a ferocious TD5 diesel was heard close by and, suddenly, the beast ground to a halt in our immediate vicinity. My highly trained eye
After a while 5 French trucks had gathered at that particular site. Well, one can say about the french what they want, but I can't say they lack guts. There's water in them thar hills!" YEE-HAA and buckaroo-style down that slope and straight into the liquid H2O. Splash. Hmm again, I thought.

Grindgrind, brabblebrabble, exhaust under water up to the first winching obstacle. Winching? Did I say winching"/ Yes, I unfortunately did. Winchwinchwinch, up and over, then the next one winchwinch...smokesmoke. Heheh, genuine Lucas Amperetrioxide (trademark) smoke emanating from a green Rangie rear-mounted winch. Kinetic energy recovery needed and brilliantly performed. Shortcut taken to the next water passage at the same site, where one would also notice that it helped to be a good swimmer and September is not the best of choices to go swimming in a pond in Belgium, even when wearing jeans and rubber boots. The pictures speak for themselves.

Back at the The Village, in the evening, kids were starting to play with foamy suds that mysteriously had formed in some of the fountains and their laughter was a welcome alternative for the sickening muzak that was seriously getting on everyone's nerves.

A little later, it was announced that all were expected to line up at the start gates for a tagalong into the area's main limestone quarry. So, about an hour later, some 400 landies lined up for a surprise. The Cimescaut quarry is still productive and their team had spent a whole week tidying up the place that is some 80 meters deep and some 450 meters
across. Ever seen an archway formed by two quarry trucks with wheels 4 meters in diameter? A cavernous, gigantic space where a very spectacular presentation took place for about one and a half hour and that was closed by a very nice fireworks display.

Sunday morning gave us the opportunity to see more of the trials at the "home" site and, after some prizes were given to the trials contestants, most of us drove home.

I can add that, apart from some 50-odd hard-core participants, the crowd seems to have evolved quite a bit over the last years and where one remembers a slighty rag-tag and at times unruly bunch of mud-covered enthusiasts and even muddier kids, camping in the wet grass, this Belgium attracted more of the "better dressed" crowd and one had the feeling that much more "branded" attire was worn, rather than the usual mud-drenched fabric. On Friday evening, for instance, all one would see in the "village" was not more than 10 people sitting at a table outside the closed (!) bar tent, and apart from some non-descript music being blared out by the public address system, the place was remarkably quiet. No loud laughter, no beer being spilled, no unruly kids, no-one called to order for loud and disorderly, no annoyingly barking dogs, no atmosphere. But a worthwile, albeit very expensive, gathering of very nice trucks.


6x6 conversion by Safir Engineering using a double rear output transfer box, retaining the pPTO

15 were built for export in 1986 on a standard 109 V8 base, 2 units remained in Britain. It has 54.000 Km on the clock now. It was bought from a building company 5 years ago by its present owner, wear 750/16 boots and also has a lenghtened hardtop available.