Monday, 18 November 2013

Veteran, pilot and a Ranger

This article was published by Chief Reporter Fred Leong in the New Sabah Times on Oct 27, the day Borneo Safari 2013 was flagged off.

The Borneo Safari is a 4X4 event so tough that all vehicles, as well as their occupants, that make it to the finish line are deemed worthy of respect. 
Anyone who has been on one will tell you that no stock vehicle can make it. In fact, the Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA) will not permit any vehicle to join the event unless it meets three minimum requirements (apart from being a fully functioning four-wheel-drive) - it must have a winch, a snorkel and be shod with XT (or Extreme Terrain) tyres. 
But just how much, or how little, modification do you really need in order to be Safari-ready?
Determined to find out, retired motoring journalist Paul Si is putting a brand new Ford Ranger XLT 3.2l Manual to the ultimate test during the Borneo Safari 2013, which flags off from Kota Kinabalu on October 27.
Asked what he had done to prepare the vehicle, Si said: "Just what the Borneo Safari organisers stipulated as compulsory - winch, snorkel and XT tyres, which are 33 inches in diameter, although most of the others are using a minimum of 35". Oh, and lots of stickers."
There are also some protective upgrades, in the form of heavy duty front and rear bumpers as well as side steps.
"But none of these add-ons are intended to improve on the car's performance in any way, just to minimise the damage that is almost a certainty on the trail," said Si, whose first participation in a Borneo Safari was back in 1992. 
"In fact, they probably reduce the performance slightly because of the added weight," said Si, who will be sharing the driving duties with co-driver Captain Andrew Lui, who normally drives a Boeing 777.
"I left the engine, transmission, chassis and suspension alone," the veteran off-roader from Sarawak added, "because I believe they are good enough."
"In a way, it's odd to talk about this Ford Ranger project because stories on vehicle preparation for an expedition are normally about the modifications done, such as adding differential locks, suspension lifts, body lifts, and so on, but this is more about NOT doing modifications," he added.
Si is no stranger to taking on challenges in vehicles almost straight from the showroom floor since he drove his newly-registered Land Rover Defender 110 HCPU from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu last year for Borneo Safari 2012.
"That, too, was minimally upgraded to comply with the organisers' requirements," he recalled, "and it performed flawlessly throughout the event."
"But some friends said it was to be expected, since a Land Rover Defender is designed for off-road use. So I wondered if one of the newer pick-ups might also be up to the task, and Ford was brave enough to take up the challenge."
Fresh from the Ford Kuching showroom floor, the Ranger was kitted out with locally-fabricated metal bumpers and side steps, a made-in-China winch and an Ironman 4X4 snorkel, plus Silverstone MT-117 Extremes, the same set of tyres that had served in the previous year's event.
While the Ranger's toughness remains to be proven on the trails of Gunung Trusmadi, it has already exceeded expectations in one surprising area - fuel economy.
Not many people would expect a 3,200cc, five-cylinder engine to be economical, especially when it produces a claimed 200PS of power and 470 Newton-metres of torque. 
"I did not expect it would be able to return a figure of 7.1 litres per 100km, but that's what we achieved in the drive from Kuching to Miri," said Si. 
"Of course, we were travelling slowly, around 70km/h or so, because we were escorting a group of much older vehicles from Indonesia and that was the speed they were capable of maintaining safely."
In the 1,200km already travelled just to get to the starting line, the new Ford Ranger XLT 3.2l had already impressed with its comfort and quietness, spaciousness, smooth power and amazing fuel efficiency, Si said. 
"Now, we are about to find out how well it holds up to the rough stuff," he said. 

* Footnote: The Lone Ranger held up to the rough stuff rather well, thank you very much.