The underrated Force Gurkha recently achieved a major milestone with its win in the inaugural Rainforest Challenge in India – perhaps the most gruelling off-roading competition ever held in the country. We take a ride in the competition vehicle for our Force Gurkha and to get a sense of just how capable it really is.
Most of us are quite familiar with the regular line-up of vehicles that Force Motors produces. There is, of course, the ubiquitous Force Traveller – the people carrier of choice in the tourist circuit – as well as various iterations of the Trax utility vehicle, which is quite popular across the country as a commercial people carrier, and, in some cases, also an ambulance.
However, one of the lesser-known vehicles in the Force line-up is perhaps the most fascinating of them all – the Force Gurkha. Initially aimed at the armed forces – to fulfil their requirement for a sturdy, all-terrain vehicle – the Force Gurkha has, over the past few years, made an entry into the personal vehicle segment. It offers a huge breadth of capability, with its sturdy Mercedes-derived 81bhp engine, and, more importantly, its four-wheel drive hardware – which includes both front and rear differential locks, and a snorkel intake to bolster its water wading capabilities. Naturally, if one was to look for a vehicle that would excel off-road, the Force Gurkha is the vehicle of choice in our market. As a result, it has a small, but loyal, club of fans who swear by these vehicles.
So, when word spread that the internationally renowned Rainforest Challenge was making its way to India, it was a no-brainer for Force Motors to participate in the event to show off the Force Gurkha’s off-road capabilities to the perfect target audience. Given how tough the Rainforest Challenge is as a competition, and the extremes it pushes the participating vehicles to, the Force Gurkha – like all the other competing machines – needed to be properly prepped to give it a chance at the win.
The first, and perhaps most important change we realised during our Force Gurkha, was to replace the engine and gearbox – and so the Force Gurkha RFC was fitted with the 2.2-litre turbocharged engine from its Force One sibling, which produces 139bhp and, more importantly, 321Nm of torque – this engine too is produced under license from Daimler. The increase in power and torque ensured that the Force Gurkha wouldn’t be short of grunt to claw its way out of even the toughest obstacles. It was also kitted out with other essentials, such as the hydraulic power steering from one of the tractors that Force Motors manufactures – without which there would have been a limitation in the suspension articulation. Then came the raised suspension, with long travel shocks and larger, off-road tyres to improve traction. Of course, there was also the addition of the all-important front-mounted winch. Overall, the changes were about the extending the capabilities of the vehicle – which were already pretty impressive at the outset.
We arrived at the Force plant on an overcast day, with a dedicated test-track set up for us to get a small taste of the capabilities of this RFC prepped Force Gurkha. And the weather didn’t disappoint. Just before we would begin our demo run, the skies opened up and it started pouring – making the terrain even more interesting. So, while the track offered a combination of deep ditches, steep inclines, and almost vertical drops, along with a long row of deep ditches designed to show off the articulation capabilities of the Force Gurkha, the addition of slush only made things more interesting.
As one would expect from a vehicle that won the Rainforest Challenge outright, the small test track proved to be surprisingly easy to tackle – with the Force Gurkha working its way through the obstacles without looking like it was even being tested for our Force Gurkha. Which was perhaps the point of it all – building a vehicle that could tackle the toughest challenges without being stretched to its full capability. The outstanding bit was the raw grunt being delivered by the engine, powering it up steep inclines with barely any throttle input needed at all – while the massive articulation and the short front and rear overhangs ensured that the body had no issues traversing the deepest ditches and dips.
If you’re an off-road enthusiast, the obvious question is – when can I buy one in this spec? Well, they’re still contemplating whether to actually produce the Force Gurkha in this trim. While it’s not difficult for them to actually make, since most of the components come from their own parts bin – given the very niche nature of the machine, developing a business case becomes more than a little tricky.
But, if you are looking for one – and I can’t imagine what your average commute looks like if you need a machine like this – do get in touch with Force Motors and egg them on to actually produce an RFC Force Gurkha. Because, you never know, they mighty actually do so...
While at the Force Motors plant to experience the Force Gurkha, we also got the chance to chat with Mr. Prasan Firodia, MD of Force Motors, about their participation in the Rainforest Challenge.
For Force, as a manufacturer, how big a decision was it to participate in, and sponsor, the RFC in India?
It was a very big decision, in fact. If you look at the kind of events that we’ve seen in the past in India, none of those have had this level of off-roading. So, that was one challenge, do people even know what the Rainforest Challenge really is? But what we did know with the RFC was the calibre of the event, and so, if you enter the RFC and do well, it says a lot about your product and its capabilities. Then again, the other challenge was that motorsports is something that we’ve never done before. But we do want to build an off-roading culture in India, and we think there’s huge potential there. But, it wouldn’t help just to be associated with the RFC for one year – because the first year would see a lot of potential participants merely watching the event to understand how challenging it really is. So, a longer association with RFC will definitely be more beneficial for us. And then we said, just sponsoring it will get us some awareness – as the Force Gurkha will get connected with the RFC – but why not participate in it as well? And that’s where the bigger challenge lay, but we said let’s take on this challenge – because we knew that the Force Gurkha is an extremely capable machine, and it worked out well for us in the end. So, we’re very happy with not just being the sponsor, but preparing vehicles and creating a team that ended up winning the RFC. The whole process was very challenging, but also extremely rewarding in the end.
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