The road to the Challenge spirals up the spectacular 3694ft Col des Tourettes, the views from the top awesome before the weather-ravaged blacktop plunges down to the Hautes Alpes village of Montmorin. There, teams from the South of England to Slovenia step up to the plate for a pedigree event that pulls harder than an Eddie Stobart wagon.
Jim Marsden from Team Gigglepin in Kent brought his thunderous Defender 90 inspired GP Evo2 to the dance. Close up, subtle differences show that this 4x4 is no country cousin: its longer, leaner, and very much meaner. Experienced Portuguese competitor Helder da Rocha is in the co drivers seat, as fit as a butchers dog for what lies ahead. He will have to be.
It's lights, camera and action on Thursday night in the high Mountain range at La Maraysse, as Land Rovers tackle fearsome sections sprawling down ravines, the glint of animal eyes reflecting in the Lazer lights spearing through the darkness. Finishing at 2am, there is just enough time to service for Fridays 10am start, a blessed affair with the local priest praying for a safe event. Black, red and yellow signs mark the severity of the sections, and what a brilliant, brutal, thoughtful and technically superb design they were.
Saturday sees 4x4s lining up above a tank deep trench, and on a signal plunging into it and up the other side. Colour, cries, confusion, winching and camaraderie explode simultaneously in a stunning start under a clear blue Alpine sky, but French manners ensure no team is left behind. Sunday is more of the same - cliffs, valleys, mud, water, trees and rock, lots of it. By late afternoon, team Gigglepin and Toyota team Treuil 74 are almost too close to call, but the French are nosing ahead.
There is one final choice – La Piscine, the swimming pool, worth a deal breaking 500 points; time for the British Lion to roar as Marsden decides to go for it, the V8 howling its 525bhp victory song through water foaming like a pint of Boltmaker bitter. Perhaps for the last time ever in this theatre of Challenge dreams, the trophy heads for England.
Read all about the Gigglepin monster in the Spring 2015 issue of LRO.