What started as a small event has now grown to encompass the entire world.
Who would have thought that a Malaysian citizen would be at the heart of the world’s most popular 4×4 racing event? This race, known as the Rainforest Challenge, witnesses rugged 4×4 drivers from all corners of the globe battle through rivers, brave dense forests, and conquer treacherous hills that truly test their mental and physical strength.
The Rainforest Challenge, or RFC, is the world’s most extreme off-road race, founded by Luis Wee in 1997. According to Škoda Motorsport, RFC now ranks third among the Five Toughest Off-road Races in the World, trailing only the Baja 1,000 and the Dakar Rally. Truly remarkable!
It all began in 1996 when Luis drew inspiration from the Camel Trophy championship, bringing together 4×4 enthusiasts from around the world. From there, a substantial idea was born.
“I thought, why not try to organize my own race?” Luis recalls. “And that’s how the Rainforest Challenge came to life in 1997,” he added.
The inaugural RFC took off within the ASEAN region initially, with only a handful of participants from 6 countries. However, today, the event boasts its own dedicated fanbase in over 60 countries, spanning six continents worldwide, and the numbers continue to grow.
Luis considers that first edition to be among the most special, close to his heart, and unforgettable.
“I still remember the launch date, November 23, 1997. The Rainforest Challenge was inaugurated for the first time on the iconic grounds of Dataran Merdeka by the honourable leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the Deputy Prime Minister at the time.
“Anwar took the initiative to join us at Taman Komanwel for the Prologue session, the first stage of the race. He accepted the challenge of driving a Ford Explorer 4×4 and successfully cleared the initial obstacle without any issues,” Luis recounts.
Many participants and spectators doubted Anwar’s ability to overcome the obstacle. They were ready to offer assistance, but Anwar calmly manoeuvred the 4×4 vehicle. Little did anyone know that the Deputy Prime Minister had driving skills on par with the other participants.
The year 2007 marked one of the toughest times in the race’s history. The 10th-anniversary edition of the Rainforest Challenge saw nearly 200 participants stranded in thick forests due to a fierce monsoon wind and flash floods. Most of the race locations were submerged in water and mud, leaving many participants stuck and unable to move.
They were eventually rescued and brought out by boats after hours of being stranded in the dark forest. This incident, dubbed a “legend” by Luis, became a turning point in establishing Rainforest Challenge as one of the top 5 most extreme off-road races in the world.
But the story doesn’t end there. In 2013, RFC expanded globally by launching the RFC Global Series, marking a new pinnacle of success for Luis and his team.
“Not only did international teams come and compete in Malaysia, they also hosted the race in their own countries, such as Italy, China, India, Australia, Russia, and many more. We exported the Rainforest Challenge brand of Malaysia to all corners of the world, even to South America,” Luis proudly stated.
The journey of the Rainforest Challenge over 25 years has been extraordinary for Luis. He never imagined that his small idea in 1996 would have such a massive impact on the global 4×4 community.
“I am incredibly grateful and thrilled that the Rainforest Challenge is now entering its 26th year. During the launch in 1997, I never once thought that we would be where we are now,” Luis said.
Today, RFC aims for one goal – to be the number one most extreme off-road race in the world.
The resilience and determination shown by Luis throughout this journey somewhat mirror the ups and downs of Anwar’s political career.
Anwar’s involvement as a student leader, social activist, and politician has spanned over 54 years. After being dismissed just as his career momentum was reaching its peak and being thrown into prison, Anwar Ibrahim’s name was finally etched into the Prime Minister’s oath when he was officially appointed as the 10th Prime Minister on November 24, 2022.
So, for the 26th year, will we witness the Prime Minister inaugurating RFC? With the spirit of Madani to elevate Malaysia to greater heights, Anwar is the perfect figure to make this opening ceremony as special and iconic as he did in 1997.
History may repeat itself, and it’s not impossible for us to realize it once again. Let’s do it!