Three South African finalists have been chosen ahead of next year's Land Rover G4 Challenge in a demanding test of human endurance and technological innovation held in KwaZulu Natal.

Three South African finalists have been chosen ahead of next year's Land Rover G4 Challenge in a demanding test of human endurance and technological innovation held in KwaZulu Natal.

The local selection ran from Thursday 18 to Saturday 20 August, with most of the action reserved for the Tala Game Reserve near Pietermaritzburg. The final day's proceedings were held in the Durban city centre. The two markedly different locations allowed competitors to test their skills, and the vehicles' abilities, in both fast-paced urban and rugged rural environments.

The entire Land Rover line-up, including the as-yet unreleased Range Rover Sport, will be used in the G4 challenge. Along with the Discovery 3, it will be featured in most of the competitive stages, while the Freelander will only be used on selected sections of the course. The Range Rover and Defender will be used mainly for technical and support purposes, and for the media and back-up crews. A total of 134 Land Rovers will traverse four countries - Indonesia, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia - in four weeks.

According to Rob Timcke, the event director for the Land Rover G4 SA Selections, the event is not simply a test of physical ability. "Everything was done to test the competitors both mentally and physically, ensuring that they will be able to use their physical skills and mental aptitude to adapt to the challenges and the unpredictable circumstances they will face on the global event.

"Over three days the competitors were thrown in the deep end, pushing them to their absolute limits," Timcke explains. "But even from the beginning, we had to up our game as the quality of the entries we received this year was nothing short of exceptional. We're talking about professional sports people."

South Africa's 2003 Land Rover G4 Challenge representative, Chester Foster, was equally impressed with the competitors. "We've seen some of our country's top athletes competing over the three days, and the pedigree is unbelievable."

Over the three-day test held last week, the 30 participants were subjected to a punishing set of tasks that included being woken at 12 am to build rafts and then sail them across a dam, orienteering and map-reading exercises, "precision driving" exercises with the Discovery 3 through various obstacle courses, several climbing and abseiling tasks, and mountain bike and kayak events.

Prior to the start of the challenge, the participants had to undergo an intensive physical examination before probing interviews were conducted with the panel of judges. The entrants' basic first aid skills were also tested.

Based on the scores achieved in the first day and a half of the competition, the field was narrowed down to 10 competitors at the end of the second day. The top three finalists, Martin Dreyer from Cape Town, Richard Kolbe from Johannesburg and Marijke Nel from Richards Bay, were announced on the last day of the competition at a themed dinner highlighting the four countries that will host next year's event.
Event director Rob Timcke was highly impressed with the level of competition seen throughout the event. "The top three pulled out all the stops through the whole game," he explained. "They really did phenomenally well.

"Personally I think Sou