We recently had the incredibly exciting opportunity to join Land Rover on their latest Driven Challenge; a time-crunching race across the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia—one of the harshest environments on the planet. Land Rover's aim was to prove that the production model of their Sport SUV could handle the most extreme conditions and make record time across this vast desert. To do so, the brand enlisted professional rally driver Moi Torrallardona to push the Sport to the limit and attempt accomplishing the intimidating and daring goal. After a few tense situations and some hardcore performance driving, Torrallardona took time to speak to us about the experience.
What's your background with off-road racing? How did you get started?
I started quite young; before I was 10 years old I had a motorbike and I did some local children's races. Then my first big competition was the Camel Trophy in Russia—we came in third place.
What did you think when Rover asked you to take on this challenge?
I’ve been involved a lot with the brand, so I was very happy and also challenged to try to achieve a record with a standard production vehicle.
Initially, did you think it was possible for the production model Sport to make the crossing?
When first they suggested it, I thought, "Not possible." But then, looking into a way to manage the challenge, I started being more confident—and that confidence grew when I did some test driving on sand and desert terrain.
How did the Sport perform during the crossing?
The car was excellent, the engine is incredible—as good as a competition engine in terms of power, torque, etc. The rest of the car really is a production vehicle that most people buy for a different purposes: city, on-road, off-road in different terrains, cold, warm, etc. It behaved excellently in terms of the suspension and transmission. And it was also very comfortable; I didn’t feel tired at the finish after the 10 hours of driving.
How was this race different from other rallies you drive in?
It's not very different. It was like joining two days of Dakar, doing two special stages in one. Of course, I was driving a route with no marks and also with no road-book or notes to predict the dangers.
What was it like racing in Saudi Arabia?
When you are in the middle of the desert [you] could be anywhere; the Sahara in Africa, Atacama in South America, Gobi in China. But the preparation with locals, the villages at the start—there was something very different here. Nice and enthusiastic people, curiosity and hospitality the whole way.
Can you describe some of the tense moments?
The tense moment was when I knew the back-up car was out. This means we were alone—facing 700km of desert—so if something happened, we were out of the challenge.
How did it feel to cross the finish line?
I felt a relief after so much preparation and very, very happy. In the last kilometer we treated the car quite badly [and there was] not a single moan from the car—and then harder and harder until the end. We ended up with just a big dent on the front spoiler and no other damage.
Are you happy with the time?
I am never happy with the time. At the finish I was happy but after thinking one hour later, I remembered where it could be better.
What does it take to achieve this type of challenge?
It takes a lot of things; it’s a long activity and there are a lot of things that could change the result instantly. Keeping awake and focused every minute starting from zero and you need to concentrate the at the same level the entire time. Same pace, same speed, same passion. During the drive I thought, "Great view, nice drive, fun and awesome car." I was smiling most of the drive.
Would you do it again?
Yes for sure, tomorrow?
Photos by Greg Stefano