Inside Revolution: Club Corner with TwinAxle 4×4 Club
In this month’s edition of Revolution, see how a grassroots Club has gone from strength to strength. Read the full story below.
The Kent hills were aloud with the sound of engines in early May, when almost 30 all-wheel-drive vehicles, including eight that travelled across the Channel from Belgium, arrived to take part in WeeKent, the TwinAxle off-road Club’s first event with an entry open to foreign participation since the coronavirus pandemic.
Set up in 1989 by a group of friends who just wanted to enjoy driving off-road together, the Club has always had a social focus. It has taken time, but it now has a healthy membership, based around its popular monthly social gatherings, its inclusive list of events and a hard-working committee.
“We are just a group of like-minded people that all like the same thing, which is going away for dirty weekends,” jokes current club Chairman Bunny Warren. “We meet once a month at a local pub and there is a good mix of people who have been around a long time and also new members, so we have a good diversity of age and experience.
“The monthly meetings are the core of the club, and we are just building back up after the last few years. It is getting back to the feel we used to have, the banter, sharing ideas and just trying to cater for everyone. We do all sorts of events, from green-laning to the TwinAxle Trophy competition, with standard and modified classes.
“We have access to six different sites, and we run cane trials, where ten vehicle-sized bamboo gates are placed through the woodland to drive through, and punch events, where orienteering punches are placed around the woodland and drivers have to drive or winch up to them and punch cards attached to their wing mirrors.”
The punch events are usually done in pairs, with a driver who spends all their time behind the wheel in the vehicle negotiating the terrain and a co-driver, or spotter, who must jump in and out trying to guide the vehicle through the route and also takes responsibility for operating the winch in a safe manner.
“The driving requires a lot of skill – you are driving, or winching, in places you could not even walk – but the co-driver’s job is just as important,” explains Bunny. “If you are driving down a gully, across a stream bed and up the other side, the co-driver needs to be out, talking to the driver, as they often cannot see over the bonnet when they drop in.
“Then they need to be running the winch, putting strops around trees and safety blankets over winch cables and watching the winch being controlled from outside, so it very much is a team event. If it is muddy or just wet, by the end of the day the driver will be nice and dry while the co-driver will have been all over the place and got soaked!”
The Club works hard to please all members, catering for different levels of skill in all competitions. In a punch event, for example, the organisers set up 60-70 punch points of different difficulties through the course, giving people the option to take on the tougher options or to skip them and still have plenty of fun.
Bunny adds: “When we are setting it up, we do some punches for the people who just want to drive around the woods, and then some that are really challenging for those who want to be more competitive. It is nice, because it caters for the people who want to really hone their skills, and also for others who like to spend a bit of time chatting.”
The Club welcomes all types of off-road vehicles, although your everyday SUV would struggle with the conditions on most events. As with most Cross Country (4×4) clubs, members tend to gravitate towards Land Rovers and Suzuki Jimnys, with the odd Lada Riva, Nissan, Jeep, and a few other vehicle types appearing now and again.
“The evolution of off-roading has been massive, and the cars and kit have changed hugely over time,” says Bunny. “If you go back to twenty years, anyone with an electric winch on the front of their vehicle was a God and mud terrain tyres were standard sizes. Now, you have got people in the club with modified vehicles and all sorts of kit.
“They have fiddle brakes, lockers all the way around, full roll cages, three winches, all sorts of stuff, but you also have people driving standard vehicles. At the end of the day, the car just needs to be capable – because if it is not, you will be spending most of your day asking to be winched out!”
The Club has a few alumni who have gone on to compete on the international stage – most notably Jim Marsden, who has appeared on BBC’s Top Gear and takes part in events all across Europe and the United States. Currently, five or six existing members compete at the very highest level in the UK and Europe as well as participating in Club events.
Bunny says that running under Motorsport UK’s guidance has been invaluable for the Club’s continued success and explains: “It has given us a structure that is very useful, because we used to have insurance underwriting through different connections and it has just got increasingly expensive, to the point where the club was not going to exist.
“Also, the structure means there is no arguing! The Motorsport UK Rulebook is like the bible – there is a lot in there because it covers all motorsport – and while what we do is not your bread-and-butter kind of event, the team at Motorsport UK is always extraordinary helpful in finding the way forward.
“Over the years, the majority of new people coming in are new faces who hear about us through word and mouth, while there are also some people who have had generations of family come through the Club. Off-roading can be dangerous – it’s adrenaline at five miles an hour! – so we really work hard to ensure everyone is sensible and safe.
“If you do not know what you’re doing, or you are not thinking about it and people are just tearing around, there will be a rollover and then that causes all kinds of issues. It is just a case of keeping the club healthy and ensuring the experience, the knowledge and the wisdom is being passed on.”
The recent WeeKent event was the perfect demonstration – quite literally – of how far TwinAxle’s net spreads. The Club has had a relationship with the Flanders Land Rover Club in Belgium for nearly two decades and a Motorsport UK Demonstration permit was perfect to enable them to showcase some of the more extreme off-road machines.
“We wanted our Flemish friends to see all sorts of vehicles, so for WeeKent we had two permits,” explains Bunny. “We had the promotional event permit and running alongside that we had the demonstration permit. There was a separate area for members to bring in their modified vehicles and just do demonstrations.
“It helped us to give people a taste of the modified machines and to let young members or those who might be thinking about modifying their vehicles the chance to see what can be done. If you have the time and the money, that might be the way some people want to go because you can go further before getting stuck!
“At our club, it is not about the winning, it is just about the enjoyment. In fact, anyone who is pumped up with adrenaline and wants to get out and go, go, go would find that, maybe, the TwinAxle Club is not right for them! People are there to have fun, and that is the basis of the club.
“We are a good bunch, some people bring their families, everyone knows each other from the monthly meetings. In fact, we do not want the club to become massive because at its core we are a social club and as long as we have the rotation of people with new people coming in, that is what we need, and we very much have that.
“We always try to bring new blood in and get everyone involved in running the club, encouraging members to get involved at committee level. Club meetings are now back to a healthy level – usually 25-30 members – and with 28 vehicles at WeeKent over the weekend, it feels like we are doing the resurrection job and things are going right.”