PO Mike Sawdon and his step father Peter Lambert have just completed the Budapest to Bamako Rally 31st January to 26th February 2020, the world’s toughest non-professional amateur rally. Out of the 350 vehicles which took part he took 19th place in the competition category in my 1994 200tdi 90 Defender “Tonka”.
So…The rally started in Budapest. We then had a super marathon stage to Marrakesh. From there we traversed the Atlas mountains before crossing the Sahara Desert following it through Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania. We then crossed the Savanah Desert in Senegal before going through the Jungles of Guinea finishing in Freetown Sierra Leone. Each day we were given GPS weigh points that we had to navigate to, the more weigh points you hit the more points you score. All of this was done off-road and all the navigation was worked out by ourselves (a river, mountain or canyon could lay between you and the weigh point). The rally was 10,000km and took 16 days to complete.
The best way I can describe the rally is as I posted on the Facebook page which is the following: “Your alarm goes off at 5am, it’s dark outside and you may only have had 90 minutes sleep. You’re so tired that your dizzy and shaking. You wonder for a moment if you can keep on meeting the challenges of the competition category and whether or not the vehicle will survive the day. You put on yesterday’s dust ridden clothing which immediately sticks to your skin still covered in a mixture of sweat, Deet and dirt from yesterday’s off-roading. You pack up the camping gear in the dark and stumble over to the 6am morning briefing and start downloading the days GPS weigh points straight away searching to see how much is on marked tracks and how much is in the middle of nowhere. Everybody says “hopefully see you at tonight’s camp” nobody says “see you tonight”. The minute you start the engine and touch the start point for the day your mind totally shifts focus from concern to achieving the days tasks and getting the vehicle through the day, tiredness and hunger immediately disappear. When you rock into the camp that night it’s the best feeling ever and for a few moments all your worries melt away, we’ve survived another day. Focus then turns to carrying out any repairs required on the vehicle should you have made camp early enough, you put the tents up in the dark and eat in the dark. Sometimes you arrive so late you simply turn the ignition off and sleep where you sit. I wanted to push myself and the vehicle to the absolute limits of endurance and I think it’s safe to say we achieved this. It feels truly amazing to have made it and say we finished the Budapest to Bamako Rally. It wasn’t necessarily about the points, it was about beating the terrain and the elements in a place where there are no safety barriers to save you should something go wrong. Every tool and spare we took had the potential to save us. I’m not sure green laning in the safety of the UK will ever feel the same again. What an amazing experience and I’m so glad we made it”
One of the craziest moments was being stuck in the wide expanse of the Sahara, just stood in the deafening silence completely alone with not another vehicle or sign of life in sight. It makes you work that bit harder to become unstuck! We were frequently briefed to carry 3 days’ supply of water as it could take up to 3 days to be rescued from more remote areas and if so we would be rescued, but the vehicle would remain.
We were sponsored by Clutchfix who provided an organic clutch, Fourby who provided engine performance upgrades, Station Body Shop Fareham who re sprayed the vehicle, Dri Homes who covered entry fees, Mega squirt who provided 2 pegged ATB diffs with heavy duty pinions and the Land Rover Centre Huddersfield who fitted a full width Allisport intercooler with Revotec fan, drilled and vented brake discs with larger callipers, Bearmach 2″ heavy duty springs with Terrafirma 5″ shocks, a Safety Devices internal roll bar and rebuilt the axles with heavy duty half shafts as well as fitting the diffs and clutch.