WHAT do you get when you cross the infamous Baja 1000 desert race with Tuff Truck-style rock crawling, and then throw in a few dozen purpose-built race cars with miles of suspension travel and enough power to make a V8 supercar look like a sedate daily driver?
For anyone who wasn’t standing trackside at Milbrodale, NSW, for the now annual Tough Dog King of the Hunter event the answer is Ultra4, a new breed of 4x4 motorsport that can only be summed up as rock racing.
It’s a desert race through a mountain range full of boulders that can swallow 40-inch tyres, and it all takes place at full throttle with 600hp buggies lapping at your heels ready to jump on any weakness you show.
It’s a race where skill goes hand in hand with luck – a day of perfect lines and vision-blurring pace can all fall apart with the failure of a $20 part.
Originating in California’s Johnson Valley, plans, sketched out on a napkin, saw a group of 13 mates do a loop through the desert and up through the rocks. A case of beer was on offer for the winner.
Nine years later the original King of the Hammer event has grown from 13 mates to 400 teams, with tens of thousands of fans lining the course. Now it’s come to Australia, where it’s called the King of the Hunter.
Held at Milbrodale, the home of Tuff Truck, the Tough Dog King of the Hunter event is in its second year and already boasts 21 competitors across three classes.
The entry level UTV class is dominated by Polaris RZR side-by-sides with the occasional Can-Am Maverick thrown in for good measure.
The TT/Winch class is a catch-all from old 40 Series LandCruiser rock crawlers and cobbled-together GQ Patrols right through to purpose-built high-speed machines with coil-overs and bypass shocks; although, engine size is limited.
Then you have the big boys, the unlimited Ultra4 class. A no holds barred category where engines push 1000hp (745kW) and competitors clear the 40-metre tabletop jump with ease.
The three-day event kicks off with qualifying on Friday, with racing taking place throughout the Saturday and Sunday. Despite the big dollar rigs and professional teams the event is still in its infancy, so it feels like a grassroots event – you’re able to stroll through the paddocks and chew the ears off competitors as they run through final preparations for the toughest 4x4 race in the country.
Trackside camping provides a strange contrast. On one side of a dirt track you’ve got 1000hp race cars flying through the air at full noise; on the other is a young family sitting under an awning with a campfire crackling away as they make lunch and watch the action.
The event is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and if the American version is anything to go by it will continue growing from strength to strength.
If you’re after the glitz and glamour of high-end motorsport, then steer clear. However, if a weekend of up-close side-by-side racing with some of the most advanced race cars in the country gets your blood flowing, then the Tough Dog King of the Hunter is one weekend you don’t want to miss.
1. Team MRG Motorsports
2. Thorpe Motorsport
3. Team OPW
1. Anything Mechanical Motorsport
2. Remson Offroad
3. Team Hillbilly
1. Mr Diggit
2. JKS Motorsport
3. Mirror Motorsports