August 8, 2009


Valhalla of dirt (Gordon Torbet, August 08. 2009, The National)

Most drivers, like Robertsson who owns a junkyard and spare parts business, are mechanics or working with cars in their nine-to-five jobs, and it’s only that drive for more power, the adrenaline rush and the honour of winning (with the hope of renewed sponsorship for next season) that keeps them in the garage throughout the endless Icelandic winter nights and under the hood on competition days like today trying to eke out that extra one or two horsepower for the next round, or replacing a broken axle or blown tyre.

There are no major prizes. Even in the 1980s when the sport was in its heyday, there was enough money to go around that no one really cared about big cheques – the reward was the excitement and spectacle.

But with the Icelandic economy in freefall at the moment, even minor sponsors are becoming hard to find. Thrandur Arnthursson, editor of and one of Iceland’s authorities on rough terrain driving, says, “Some guys have about 4,000,000 Icelandic krona (Dhs120,000) in sponsorship each year. It’s not like they’re getting rich, but they can sustain the sport.”

Even today’s championship winner, Hafsteinn Thorvaldsson is sceptical about 2010: “I don’t have sponsorship for next year – I didn’t have any this year either. But I won’t do that again. If I get a sponsor, I’ll be back.”

The sport is addictive. A competition day consists of at least six rounds, each on a different course, with at least one time trial. The further each vehicle progresses along the course, the more points they score.

For variety, they frequently involve lakes, jumps, boulders, and apparently impossible inclines, which is where the specially designed shovel tyres excel.

With enough momentum, the unfettered 1000hp-plus high-octane and nitro-injected powerplants propel these multi-tonne mutations across volcanic lake surfaces for hundreds of metres, or pounding up sheer cliff faces of loose rock so they get air time off the crest.

As a spectator sport, it’s breathtaking; for the thunderous power, the driving skill and the unbelievable traction these beasts can gain, and of course for the frequent spectacular spills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2009 6:24 AM
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