When you go off-road, it’s not uncommon to occasionally have a moment that makes you hold your breath and your knuckles turn white. We’ve been there before. A few years ago, we took a Range Rover HSE Td6 to a local OHV park and discovered just how much lateral tilt it has in it while crawling over rocks that would’ve loved to crunch in the luxury SUV’s aluminum bodywork. It was nerve-racking, but nothing compared to the Dragon Road challenge in China.
Never heard of it before? That’s because it’s been completed only once. Le Mans class-winner and Panasonic Jaguar Racing reserve and test driver Ho-Pin Tung got behind the wheel of the Land Rover Range Rover Sport PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) to attempt the breath-taking challenge. He fired up the 296-horsepower four-cylinder gas engine and 85-kW electric motor (398 horsepower combined) at the start of the seven-mile Tianmen Mountain Road (aka Dragon Road), engaged the Terrain Response 2 system’s Dynamic mode, then put the right pedal down.
For every other driver, slow is the only way to travel through the Dragon Road’s 99 curves because one mistake means flying off of a cliff and into certain death. Tung had the luxury of a Range Rover around him, but not the luxury of time. He needed to get through every curve as quickly as possible and used every drop of the 13.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack’s juice to do it.
Tung relied on his iron nerves and quick reflexes to avoid getting killed by the Dragon Road. However, he wasn’t completely out of its deadly reach. Far from it. The second half of the challenge involved climbing to Heaven’s Gate (no, not that Heaven’s Gate). He didn’t have to clip apexes or slingshot through curves. All Tung had to do was charge to the top of 999 stairs – at a 45-degree angle the whole way up. If he lost his momentum or hesitated with the throttle at the wrong spot, he’d slide backward and topple over into a bumpy, violent, scream-filled demise. No big deal.
Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of automotive publicity stunts. Most of them are cool, but few of them have made us hold our breath and cringe with nervousness. Land Rover’s Dragon Road challenge definitely falls into that second category. We knew how it would ultimately turn out, but that didn’t keep us from watching the footage from the edge of our seats.
Land Rover Experience Expert Phil Jones said, “This was the hardest Range Rover Sport challenge I’ve ever been involved with because, until we reached the top, we couldn’t categorically say we would succeed. By making it to the summit, we’ve proven the phenomenal capability of the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid like never before – with a genuine world first.”
(Now that we can breathe again) we completely agree. Tung knew what he was doing and didn’t flinch, and the Range Rover Sport PHEV didn’t let him down – literally. Not only did the man-and-machine team succeed, but it conquered the Dragon Road challenge in 22 minutes, 41 seconds. Something tells us that record will stand for quite a while.