Arriving in Asheville, NC, last October for the Land Rover Trophy competition, JLR spoiled me rotten by providing a livery service from the airport to the grounds of the Biltmore estate. “You’ll be sharing the car with one other passenger,”  the driver said. “His name is Ted Ligerty. Do you mind?”

Do I mind ride-sharing with Olympic ski champion Ted Ligety?

The question should have been, would Ted mind sharing a ride with an OMG admirer?

During the 20-minute drive to the Biltmore, I tried to behave as if I rode routinely with Olympians. I attempted (and failed) not to gush as he recounted how much he enjoyed Land Rover’s sponsorship of the US Ski Team, his time with a Land Rover, and his visits to Vermont. Olympian Gabby Reece joined the group that evening, as did JLR North America CEO Joe Eberhardt.

Land Rover USA created the competition for the 200 owners of the limited-edition 2021 Defender Trophy 110 to challenge their technical, physical, and team communication skills, similar in format to the dealer-oriented TReK competition. The overall winner of the day-long competitions would be entered into the international Defender Trophy competition scheduled in the UK this year. Over half the new owners accepted Land Rover’s invitation. Happily, I scored the opportunity to team up with Peter Nelson of CarBibles.com at one of the six qualifying rounds of 28 enthusiasts each at the Land Rover Experience Biltmore.

Lennard Hoornik, Land Rover’s Chief Commercial Officer, said “The famous Camel Trophy demonstrated the capability of the Land Rover brand in ways that we cannot do anymore. We built the Defender Works V8 by Land Rover Classic in the UK, but we can’t sell them in this country, so we built a new Defender Trophy edition for the US market.”

The US-edition Defender Trophy 110 features a distinctive wrap reminiscent of the famous Sandglow Camel Trophy colors, the Ingenium 6-cylinder 395 hp, 406 ft. lbs. of torque, through an electric supercharger engine, air suspension and factory winch installation. Land Rover provided each team with their own Defender Trophy 110.

The Land Rover Experience team at the Biltmore, led by Sean Gorman, created a diabolically clever series of special tasks that would occupy every minute of the 6-hour competition. The timed events demanded physical strength and endurance, off-road driving skills, and team communication. You received a trail map to guide you to the 14 different task stations, each with a varying point total and time limit. Only one team could compete at a time at each station; if it was occupied, you had to go find another one. Speed limits and low-range requirements were strictly enforced.

Each team had to name itself and create a team flag. As both Peter and I own Discovery Is, Peter named us “Team GEMS.” While many teams created masterful flags well in advance of the event, our hastily drawn flag demonstrated clearly that neither of us possesses artistic skills. A kindergarten teacher would have urged us to “try, try again.”

Early in the morning, all the teams were taken to a clearing that served as a Start/Finish area, deep within the Biltmore’s 8,000 acres. First, however, you had to find your assigned Defender using GPS coordinates. Peter and I joined the crowd on a downhill run, followed by a mile-long, uphill climb over muddy hillsides and obscure paths to find our Defender. On a hot, humid day, it was a great way to work off breakfast. We found our Defender in a clearing and took off.

Peter strategized that we should find the least-likely-to-be-taken station first, and we wound up at “Wide Load,” a devilishly challenging trailering task created by Chris Tefke. You had to secure a 20-ft long, double axle trailer safely to your Defender, back it through a set of narrowly spaced cones, then maneuver it through a couple of semi-circles. Despite my marshaling, Peter did a great job.

Subsequent challenges saw us arrive at Jim Goodrum’s “Puzzled,” which tasked us with assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle that would form the planks of a bridge across a creek. On one side of each board was a small section of the Land Rover Green Oval – or not. The heavy red oak planks ranged from 3 ft to 8 ft in length; flipping them over to find the dimly-painted logo and arranging them properly took time and energy. Oh, and when you were done, you drove your Defender over the bridge – and then you had to walk back and disassemble the giant puzzle for the next team.

We spent too much time trying to navigate in the “Rat Trap,” Rob Austin’s octagon of horrors. You drove your Defender through a gate into a ring of poles whose distance barely exceeded the 197.6-inch length of the 110. You had to turn the Defender 180 degrees to exit. We earned only “participation points” when we should have just moved on.

Next, we stumbled onto Jim Swett’s “One Car Length.” The night before, we had watched a demonstration of using a Hi-Lift jack as a come-along or manual winch. On flat ground, it looked easy, but Jim had set up his task on a 20-degree hill. Hand-winching a 5,035 lb. Defender even one car length up a slope made me thankful for all the decades of manual labor and workouts. Even Ted Ligerty admitted that “my hamstrings are going to feel very tired tonight!” (Tylenol sales at the Biltmore skyrocketed during the event.)

As the afternoon wore on, we tried to enter Matt Allbritton’s “Spooled Up” winch task, Dave Rees and Terry Troutman’s “Punch Your Ticket” (how close can you get to this tree?), Holly Tabano’s “Back in Time” Land Rover trivia contest, Don Floyd’s “Locked In,” David Nunn’s Time-Distance Rally and Ramsey Benson’s Trials Course, among others. The competition assessed penalty points for late arrivals back, so we scurried through the woods and returned to the Start/Finish line with only seconds to spare.

Tired and hungry, we met up with the other competitors. Stephanie Hart of Motorweek Television called the Defender “an amazing vehicle, more than capable on the trails.” Andrew Ganz of CarTraders.com said, “I’ve never done a competition like this. I became more comfortable over the 6-hour day the more I drove it. I let the car do what it was made to do. I got worried only when I saw how far we had to walk to get the car!”

On our day of the event, competitors came from a ring extending from Charlotte, Miami, and Chicago. For many, their Defender Trophy 110 was their first Land Rover. Hender and Kathrine Gonzalez, Miami, FL bought “the first one sold in Florida. Our sales guide, Marcos Sanchez, at Land Rover North Miami, called us upon its arrival. We literally bought it off the delivery truck!”

 Hender, a construction company owner, grew up on a farm in Venezuela. “I was always wearing boots and walking around in the muck,” he recalled. “We always saw Land Rovers around. I came to love off-roading and the outdoor life.” Kathrine, an immigration lawyer, said, “We want our kids, Eva [13] and Lucas [10] to go on adventures and enjoy off-roading.” Good sports both, they won the “I Can’t Find My Car” award at the closing ceremony.

Dr. Gina Carlotti, who splits her practice between Greenwich, CT, and Florida, teamed up with Paul Kirch, Sarasota, FL. They received their Defender Trophy 110 from Land Rover Darien. Paul noted, “We left our 2020 Defender 110 at the dealership parking lot when we learned they had one. 17 other enthusiasts wanted it!” Gina told me,”I had no idea that the Defender could do all that.” Paul said, “I never get to use all the Defender’s capabilities in daily use. As an engineer myself, I’m very impressed with the engineering of the Defender.”

Brian Eubanks, Plano, TX, a professional structural forensics engineer, and Garrett Ryan, Murphy, TX, formed “Team Paragon,” which won the competition in our round. Brian’s first Land Rover was a Range Rover purchased for his wife, Sarah, and his second was the Defender 110 purchased for his son, Josh. “While I waited for a Defender V8, I heard of the Defender Trophy model when vacationing in Europe; I emailed my contact at Land Rover Grapevine [TX] who had not even heard of this model yet.” Brian complimented the competition. “It was extremely well-organized and well run. The challenges call upon a wide variety of skills and capabilities. I needed a bottle of Advil afterward!”

After all six qualifying rounds in October, the overall winner was  “Team Cody,” comprised of Max Thomason and Jonathan Steppe, Charlotte, NC. They named their team in honor of Jonathan’s 17-year old son, Cody, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma. A long-time Land Rover enthusiast and Discovery 5 owner, Max works as a Diesel engine salesman. His neighbor and family friend, Jonathan Steppe, recently retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; he’s on his 7th Land Rover.

Although they were the second-to-last to find their Defenders, they strategized effectively and competed in 12 task stations. Max, “an avid runner,” noted, “Jonathan is amazingly fit and strong.” They moved rapidly through the exhausting Hi-Lift task, and Eagle Scout Max had little trouble with the orienteering, winching and Land Rover trivia challenges. He noted that “The following day, I was mentally and physically exhausted. It took the weekend to recover.” Jonathan claimed, “I take zero credit for the win,” but Max would disagree.

Following on the heels of the dealer-network TReK competition, the Land Rover Trophy event reinforced JLR’s focus on Land Rover’s adventuresome past and helped bring it into the present. Here’s hoping it continues in the future. Garrett Ryan of our round’s winning “Team Paragon,” put it simply: “I’ve been a Jeep guy most of my life, but after this event, I have a new respect for Land Rover.”

Team Wahine – Gabby Reece and Jenny McCoy

Gabby Reece, author, model, and former professional volleyball champion, teamed up with fitness and health journalist Jenny McCoy, forming Team Wahine [Hawai’ian for “female surfer”].

“The Land Rover trophy event had a wonderful blend,” said Gabby. “You needed physical, mental and communication skills. You weren’t going to win just by muscling it or being over-technical. The participants all possessed such diverse skills that led to an exciting challenge, but one thing they shared in common was a sense of adventure.”

Colorado native Jenny McCoy, whose work appears regularly in SELF magazine, disarmingly said, “I have no experience in automotive journalism, and I’m not a car enthusiast,” but she was delighted to be invited to team up with Gabby. “I thought the event was very intense. I did not know any technical skills. The nights before at the tutorials, I felt so overwhelmed, as if I had nothing to bring to the table. It felt great to have Gabby as my partner; she carried the whole team.”

Gabby Reece owns a new Defender. “This is the car that I personally drive; for day-to-day driving, it’s a great vehicle. I can use it for work, family, and outdoor adventures. And, of course, I’m impressed what it’s able to do off-road.” Jenny McCoy also professed to be “really amazed at what the Defender could do. I was sure we would flip over on the moguls at the ‘Punch the Ticket’ challenge. The Defender’s capability over boulders and water crossings impressed me.”

While Jenny said that “Gabby did great on the trailering challenge,” Gabby responded, “I don’t want to discuss my trailering skills!”

[Follow Gabby Reece at www.GabrielleReece.com or@gabbyreece; Jenny McCoy at www.JenniferJMcCoy.com or @jennyjmccoy]

Teaming Up with Ted Ligety

By Stinson Carter

I first met Ted Ligety the night before we were set to compete as partners in the Land Rover Trophy Competition. When we were thrown together into a crash course in off-roading skills with Land Rover instructors, we decided to stick together and listen to the same lessons rather than trying to divide and conquer. I think we were both channeling the wisdom of our wives, and it certainly upped our collective retention.

When the air horn blew at the Start/Finish gate the next morning, we took off at a flat-out sprint; clearly, we were both ready to push ourselves. When we made it to our Defender, we were informed that a camera crew would be following us all day, which added an odd X-factor for sure. They wanted shots of their Olympian/Land Rover Ambassador behind the wheel, naturally, but Ligety made a point to give me equal driving time.

While driving, we slipped into an easy rapport. Our first task of the day had us following a tulip chart through Asheville, and we got sidetracked in conversation and missed our first big turn. But the competitive edge was never far away, and when we hit the hardest task of the day – manually pulling the Defender up a hill with a Hi-Lift jack, I got to see Ligety pull his other hand out from behind his back. As soon as he grabbed the jack handle, he transformed from a laid-back dad from Utah into an Olympian with the Eye of the Tiger. When we finally got the Defender up the hill, taskmaster Jim Swett clicked his stopwatch and said, “You guys were one second off the top time.”

 Ligety shook his head, only half-joking – “If I’d known that, I would’ve done it thirty seconds faster.”

We started out like an Olympian and a journalist, both with a wife and kids waiting at home. But for a few hours, we got to be two boys with no responsibilities for getting muddy in the woods. When we earned a trophy for our efforts later that night, Ligety handed it to me with a smile and the hint of a wink:

“TSA probably wouldn’t let me take it anyway.”

[Stinson Carter, Charleston, SC, wrote up the event for Maxim. Follow him at www.StinsonCarter.com. ]