Arctic autobahn
Germany company plans adventure rally through region

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Mar 10/00) - If you think European interest in the Beaufort Delta is confined to a trickle of campers and canoeists every summer, you're in for a shock.

Representatives from the Fulda Tire company, based in Frankfurt, Germany, said they were guaranteed an audience of 250 million viewers on Eurosport television for the trip that took them through Inuvik on their way from Whitehorse to Tuktoyaktuk last week.

"There's something about the North that stirs the emotions of Europeans," said Jurgen Hanpel, a Fulda marketing representative, "and they'll be tuning in to see what we're up to."

Hanpel said it's that spirit of romance and adventure that Fulda is counting on to attract attention as it prepares to launch an annual televised rally from Edmonton to Tuk -- and promote the company's presence through its North American retailer, Big O Tires.

Fulda already sponsors the Yukon Quest dog-mushing rally but said the proposed rally will involve participants from both sides of the Atlantic.

"We try to avoid normal advertising and chose to be associated with the dogs because of the image-transfer value; that, like them, Fulda is fast, reliable and has endurance," said Hanpel. "We're trying to establish the name Fulda as something sporty and adventurous."

Indeed, Fulda's proposed $2-million rally certainly is adventurous. Rather than simply a speed race from Alberta to the Arctic Ocean, however, Hanpel said it will pit teams of two from 10 different countries -- Canada, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Turkey and the United Kingdom -- against each other in a series of sports competitions as they wind their way North.

The teams will receive points for performance in everything from skiing to ice driving, ice climbing and ice fishing, with the overall point-getter being declared the rally champion.

Hanpel said Fulda has committed to running the rally for at least three years, beginning next February. He said the 24-member team that just drove the Whitehorse-Tuk leg was here to check out February conditions, make contacts and, of course, promote the project back home.

The contingent that visited the North included several members of the European media as well as a number of German sports celebrities, who Fulda has hired to coach the rally contestants once they've been selected. The coaches included Markus Wasmeier, a double gold medallist skier from the Lillehammer Olympics, and driving champions Hans-Joachim Stuck and Jutta Kleinschmidt.

One of the top female drivers in the world, Kleinschmidt recently finished fifth in the legendary Paris-Dakar rally, and said she looks forward to the switch from sand dunes to snowbanks.

"It'll be an adventure, all right, but I'm used to driving off-road" she said. "We're going to have some fun on the frozen lakes, and I'll be teaching the contestants about understeering and oversteering and navigation."

Winners will not be restricted solely to the competitors and the company, though. Whitehorse-based Beringia Tours is handling logistics, and the rally support team of some 60 people will also be spending money in the communities it visits and generating more tourism interest in the North.