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Look back at the birth of the original Land Rover | How Land Rover has driven adventure and scientific exploration | GQ Editor Dylan Jones talks inspiration with Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern | Exploring the potential impact of electrification and connected vehicles | Tackling the 999 steep steps up to Heaven’s Gate in China

Ho-Pin Tung was born in

Ho-Pin Tung was born in the Netherlands to Chinese parents. In 2017, he became the first Chinese driver to claim victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is also a Jaguar Racing driver in the Formula E championship THE CHALLENGE: DRIVE THE 99 TURNS OF ‘THE DRAGON ROAD’ UP TIANMEN MOUNTAIN BEFORE TACKLING THE 999 STEPS LEADING TO HEAVEN’S GATE 78

DRAGON CHALLENGE STEPPING IT UP The steps themselves are a relatively new construction, rather than an ancient monument, which meant that Phil Jones and his team thought it could be done. “We first sent a local colleague to the site to measure the angles and send us the data. Based on this and a selection of satellite images, we built a section of the steps at our Gaydon testing site in the UK to see how the vehicle performed on a 45-degree hill.” After the initial testing at Gaydon, and a period of several months to obtain the needed permissions from the local authorities to carry out the challenge, Jones flew to China to see the site first hand. “And that’s when I started to have doubts,“ he says. “When I first stood at the bottom and looked up at Heaven’s Gate, my first thought was, ‘What have I let myself in for here?’” However, Jones stuck with it and after further calculations, he returned to England, “not 100 percent confident of success, but sure enough to proceed.” TALL ORDER Before committing to the challenge, Ho-Pin asked for assurance that no damage would be caused to the site. “It’s an iconic location with strong cultural links – being Chinese, that was a very important aspect for me. Once it was cleared, we got down to practicing.” With more than a decade’s racing experience, Ho-Pin was confident he could handle the 99 turns of The Dragon. The 999 steps, on the other hand, were a different matter entirely. “The first time I attempted the 45-degree gradient at Gaydon, my heart was racing faster than a qualifying lap at Le Mans. It feels like you are going up a vertical slope – all you can see ahead is sky.” Based on initial test experience, Phil Jones felt it prudent that, with more than 400 steps at a 45-degree angle, a method of securing the vehicle in case of a problem was imperative. The answer: two safety cables would be attached at the top and the bottom of the steps with a one-way clutch, which would only kick in if the car were to start rolling backwards. With UK testing done, the team headed to China to complete its final practices on site. Despite extensive examination in Gaydon, the safety cables still had to prove themselves on the 999 steps up to Heaven’s Gate, where any issues could prove disastrous. The responsibility fell on Phil Jones to take the Range Rover Sport up a section of the steep incline for the first time. “On the first attempt, I didn’t have enough speed, but the safety lines held me perfectly.” A reassuring thought for Ho-Pin Tung as he sets off up The Dragon road on the morning of the challenge. Locals are wary of The Dragon – normally, the veteran tour bus drivers are the only ones allowed to navigate its blind turns, bordered by sheer limestone on one side and sheer drops on the other. But now, before the park opens, the road is empty and Ho-Pin is in his element. “For me, this part is like a street circuit. The car has a sporty feel to it and handles the corners excellently.” KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR After 6.8 miles, he arrives at the bottom of the 999 steps up to Heaven’s Gate. Now, the real test begins. Maneuvering the car up the first few steps is no easy task and requires precise handling. Then, it’s a straight shot up to the top. “But there’s a lot of steering control required. The car is constantly bumping around on the steps.” At one point, all four wheels leave the ground as Ho-Pin races upward. After 22 minutes and 41 seconds, Ho-Pin reaches the top. The Range Rover Sport comes to a halt and he steps out: “I‘m overcome by a mixture of excitement and relief. The tension had been building on this challenge for several months – nobody could be 100 percent sure how it would turn out. I’ve never experienced 20 minutes of adrenalin like it.” THE RESULT: CHALLENGE COMPLETED IN 22 MINUTES 41 SECS FIND OUT MORE To see the video, please search Land Rover Dragon Challenge 79

 

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