The BMW GS Trophy competition has been growing in popularity since its inception in 2008 thanks largely to the unparalleled opportunity it affords amateur adventure riders. The 2012 edition ended on December 2, 2012 and boasted 45 GS pilots on 15 international teams encountering all manner of obstacles over the course of seven days in South America. This was only the third time the competition has been staged, since it’s a biannual affair, and the Patagonian terrain provided for special tests to challenge the fitness, endurance and skill of riders both on and off the bike.
The GS Trophy gives amateur adventure riders the chance to participate in an event that has all the makings of a world-class enduro competition, with added twists. On top of tackling a 1200-plus mile loop on a specially prepared F800GS through the various wilds of Chile and Argentina, the three-person teams also faced special tests throughout the week including a white-water rafting adventure, hill climbs, photo competitions, laps around a motocross course as well as sprint runs and geocache navigation challenges.
BMW organizer Michael Trammer explained the philosophy behind GS competition, “We have in the past called the GS Trophy the ‘Olympic Games for GS riders.’ This year, more than ever, that is true. And it holds true to the original concept of the Olympics, the riders are all amateurs, just everyday enthusiastic riders who will come together to share an experience that will be so rich and so exciting. We will be bringing together people from so many different cultures and backgrounds, but all sharing the same love for GS motorcycles. And this locality that we have to ride is one of the most exciting yet and very different to what we’ve experienced before – forests, mountains, even volcanoes and a glacier, are very different to the African deserts and plains we’ve previously ridden.”
In 2008 the GS Trophy was held in Tunisia and then in 2010 riders faced the varied landscapes of South Africa. In 2012 teams started in Temuco, Chile and embarked on a clock-wise loop up into the Andes and into Argentina, then rounded back to return to Temuco for the finish.
GS Trophy co-organizer Tomm Wolfe summed up the 2012 competition this way: “No two GS Trophy events are the same. In 2008 we rode in Tunisia where much of the terrain was typified by Saharan type deep sand. In 2010 we rode across the green veldt of South Africa onto the red earth of Swaziland and from there into the white sands of Mozambique as we reached for the Indian Ocean. This year we are travelling into latitudes much further south and to altitudes we’ve never been to before – on a new continent, South America.
“We always advise the competitors to expect everything. We will start at 300 meters above sea level and ascend to 2700 meters as we cross the Andes, along the way there will be plenty of water crossings, gravel roads, we could even expect snow. There will also be forests and we may even find sand.”
Early on Saturday November, 24, 2012 riders set out for the first of seven days and it didn’t take long to find the sand, and plenty of other difficulties. On Day 1 teams set out on a gravel road course, riding 155 miles up into the China Muerta range and over the border into Argentina. The day was warm and skies were clear, and it wasn’t long before the dust clouds kicked up by the Beemers made visibility an issue. This first test was followed by an 18-mile technical off-road section in the forests of China Muerta, complete with sand tracks, steep hill climbs and stream crossings. At the end of Day 1 GS Trophy Team Latin America earned the lead ahead of Team France and Argentina, who finished second and third respectively.
Day 1 also saw a spirit of camaraderie that isn’t always present in professional enduro races when Team France stopped not once, but twice, to help other teams who were dealing with punctures.
“I was really impressed when I heard Team France had only just come from helping Team Canada when they arrived to help us,” said Felipe Masionnave of Team Argentina. “They probably put an extra hour on their day helping our two teams – that’s a real selfless act. So a big thank you to them from us.”
Day 2 marked the first non-riding test, when teams were paired together and sent down a white water river on inflatable rafts. Team USA and Team UK were paired and had one of the most harrowing experiences on the water hitting a rock which overturned the raft, sending all six riders into the river.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said Nick George of Team UK. “We fell onto each other and then into the water, each getting dragged by the water literally to all corners, it was quite incredible, bouncing off rocks – we got a few cuts and bruises. But the guides were excellent, using the rafts of other teams to rescue us while others were saved by the canoeist outriders. There’s nothing like sharing an experience like that to get to know people.”
Following the river adventure, riders faced a hill-climb against the clock and in the end Team France was able to take over the lead from Team Latin America. Team UK advanced to third-place and was mathematically tied with Italy while the team representing the Alps held to fifth. Team USA struggled, making it up to 10th by the end of Day 2.
Some riders were forced to sit out tests on Day 3 because they were so strenuous.
Team Brazil won the first photo competition with this night shot of their Beemers and a blazing GS made by waving torches.
Day 3 was dedicated almost entirely to riding and was the first “marathon” stage of the competition. Riders had a 279-mile, mostly off-road course to traverse and three-special test sections which challenged the contestants’ physical fitness. The first test required teams to run all three F800GS machines around a trail and over two water crossings. The second included another stream crossing and a bike-push up hill while the third forced riders to muscle their bikes over a fallen tree. A number of riders were taken out of competition for the day due to the strenuous nature of activity, while others persevered, finishing over 12-hours after the start.
Results of the first photo competition were announced on Day 3 as well. Teams were asked on Day 1 to take a picture of any part of their day and submit it to the BMW Motorrad Facebook page. Fans were then able to vote for the winner. Once voting closed Team Brazil had come out on top, earning points that would be added to their overall totals.
Team Germany shot up from eighth on Day 2 to take the lead after Day 3 with France six points behind in second. Argentina moved back into third while Italy took the outright spot in fourth from Team Alps in fifth.
The next day riders started with a two-hour, 20-lap test of technique and endurance around a motocross track. Most made it out of the test unscathed, except for Team Canada’s Marc-Andre Octeau who crashed with four laps remaining. He was rushed to the hospital and was later confirmed as ok, though he was unable to return to competition. Here it’s interesting to note that each of the teams is accompanied by a journalist who is dedicated to recording the experiences of the team’s journey. Should a rider become injured or have to drop out of competition, as was the case with Marc-Andre Octeau, the GS Trophy rules state that the team journalist can step in and complete the contest. Lawrence Hacking, Team Canada’s journalist, immediately took hold of Octeau’s bike to finish the remaining laps of the first test.
For the second test on Day 4, contestants were asked to ride a gravel switch-back to the Ventisquero Negro on Mount Cerro Tronador. Once there, riders were faced with a simulated electrical failure and had to complete a swap of two bikes’ batteries. Team Argentina shined on Day 4, earning the win and moving into second overall behind Team Germany. Team France slipped to third with Italy holding to fourth and Canada rounding out the top-five. Team USA had made up a bit of ground on Day 4, getting to seventh in points behind Team Alps.
The second “marathon” stage was set for Day 5, a 248-mile that included a border crossing back into Chile. Rain began to fall early in the day and came as a welcome relief to riders who had been caught in thick dust clouds through the first four days. Overall it was reported that the moisture improved riding conditions on the various clay, gravel, loam and sand tracks and there were no incidents of crashes to speak of.
Team Japan and Brazil had been paired to ride together on Day 5 and afterward Team Japan journalist Haruki Hisashi summed up the day, “When the rain came it increased the fun, there was mud and parts were slippery, it was like enduro riding through the forest. And the scenery as we entered Chile reminded us of the forests and farmland back home, we were surprised how much it was alike. We also found the people so happy to see us, cheering and waving. It was our best day of the competition.”
Team Germany retained the overall lead through Day 5, followed by Argentina and France in second and third respectively.
Teams were challenged to an out and back sprint on a black sand beach on Day 6, a task that proved especially difficult for some.
A team journalist for Team Brazil slipped off his bike into a ravine. Luckily both he and the bike were unharmed.
The night before Day 6 rain continued to fall and soaked riders in the bivouac. They were forced to spend much of the morning drying out equipment before moving to the geocache navigation challenge which started the day. Argentina came out on top through the first test, but were bested by Germany soon after once riders arrived at Lake Calafquen for the second test – an out and back sprint on a black sand beach.
The action on Day 6 was heightened by an incident with Team Brazil’s journalist Luciano Lancellotti. While riding the 43 miles to Lake Calafquen, Lancellotti ran into one of the team riders while crossing a wooden bridge, falling over 10 feet into a ravine. Luckily he was unhurt and his F800GS sustained only minimal damage, breaking the two rearview mirrors. Other GS competitors were able to fish the bike out of the ravine and once it had been cleared of dirt and the engine oil settled, it started right back up and Lancellotti continued riding.
Lawrence Hacking, journalist to Team Canada, also earned the attention of other GS competitors when he posted one of the fastest times of the day in the beach sprint.
Team Germany held the lead into the final day, which featured a host of tests of all types. First teams climbed almost 5000 feet above sea level to the snow line of the volcano Villarica and then headed north to the next test, which was dubbed the “Indiana Jones.” Riders were challenged to step off their bikes to cross a rope bridge with a full cup of water, minimizing spillage as best they could along the way.
Soon after teams were navigating 93 miles of gravel road to get to the Trailanqui Resort, marking the end of the 1200-mile loop. Two tests remained though, once riders got to the Resort, the first of which required riders to tow an ancient horse cart with an R1200GS, followed by a trials test. This was the high point for Team USA since it was their first test win of the competition but it wasn’t enough to dethrone Team Germany, who ended the seven day event in first.
Tobi Weiser of Team Germany said afterward that, “I could start crying, that is for sure, words can’t describe the feeling, it is just wonderful.
“Before we came we didn’t have a clue that we could win. Even in the first days we could not see how we could win – to see the French guys riding so well we were not sure we were of that level or how we could match them.
“What I can say is that I love the GS Trophy, because we’ve met so many beautiful people, beautiful friends in this one week, it’s amazing, I love it. This morning I said before we started, ‘it’s not important to win, we got here, we had fun and it is what it is.’”
France finished in second overall, followed by Italy in third and Argentina in fourth. Team Alps rounded out the top-five while Team USA trailed by just one point in sixth.
Below is an interview with BMW GS Trophy founder and Motorrad Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Heiner Faust, which covers a bit of the history of the event and explains why he chose South America for 2012.