Mitsubishi Motors remains the title sponsor and DaimlerChrysler Services, Goodyear and Sasol have also extended their involvement in this popular annual event, where the finalists will participate in an adventure of a lifetime to take place in Zambia during August this year.
Event organiser Gerhard Groenewald said they have changed the structure of the initial evaluation phase to ensure that the teams who get invited to participate in the semi final phase are of a high standard.
"Unfortunately in the past teams who entered were disappointed when they competed in the Kalahari as their expectations and driving skills were not up to scratch. This year it will look different and the teams who push through to the semi finals are the cream of the crop."
Sascha Gaede, divisional manager for Mitsubishi Motors at DaimlerChrysler South Africa, said, "The 4x4 Eco Challenge has become and important part of our goal of promoting eco-friendly tourism as well as the responsible use of offroad vehicles.
"I believe firmly that we have a responsibility to ensure that drivers of our vehicles understand the irreparable damage their vehicles can do to sensitive eco-systems. At the same time Mitsubishi Motors' involvement in research projects gives credibly to our claim of being a responsible corporate citizen."
The final of this year's 4x4 Eco-Challenge will seem like a must-do experience.
In August, the convoy of 10 teams with back-up will set out from the DaimlerChrysler head office in Pretoria to visit one of Africa's most beautiful and unspoiled parts in western Zambia. Although there will be less driving than in the past two years, the driving conditions in this years event will be far tougher than in the past.
Groenewald warned that finalists are going to need all their skills this time around. ''The driving conditions for the 2004 final will be tougher than before, because this is the most difficult route we have seen so far.''
This year the points scoring system has been changed to be more transparent and to allow competitors to see where they stand in the rankings.
For the semi-finals driving will account for 50% of the scoring, 20% will be determined by a written exam on nature and eco-friendly driving, special tests makes up another 20%, while 10% will be determined by special tasks.
Sarel van der Merwe, principal evaluator of the 4x4 Eco Challenge, said the new points scoring system worked well last year, but that the teams felt the event be came too "competitive" if they know what the standings are.
"This year we will keep the points secret and the winners will only know on August 22 when we return to South Africa. For the 4x4 Eco Challenge 2004 the emphasis will also move to a stronger focus on the ecology and this will be driven by the University of Pretoria," Van der Merwe said.
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