Above: (From left) Mr Irwan Abu Bakar, Mr Shahreel Saini (in car) and Mr Ashhar Kamari.
By Hedy Khoo
Call it a case of win some, lose some.
Last year's champions of The New Paper SUVival Challenge didn't get to complete the full weekend of activities of the self-drive getaway to Malaysia.
The team of three - Mr Ashhar Kamari, 31, an ambulance driver, Mr Shahreel Saini, 28, a quality assurance inspector, and fire fighter Irwan Abu Bakar, 30 - had finished all the off-road challenges on the first day.
But their car later broke down on the North-South Highway in Malaysia, not only keeping them from the hotel stay and a sumptuous dinner with the other competitors, but also from properly celebrating their victory.
Yet that bit of bad luck has not put them off and the trio are back and eager to take part in this year's SUVival Challenge.
They signed up last Thursday for this year's event, which takes place on April 21-22. "We want to defend our championship title," says Mr Ashhar with a smile.
"We didn't expect to win as there were experienced off-road drivers competing."
When asked if his skills as an ambulance driver helped in the triumph, he laughs: "Of course not, it's a game, not an emergency. We were out to have fun."
He credits last year's win to good teamwork and communication. Mr Ashhar focused on driving, Mr Irwan navigated and Mr Shahreel planned the best route between the checkpoints.
Mr Shahreel jokes that his previous experience did help the team, saying: "I used to be a pizza delivery man and had to plan the quickest route to deliver the orders."
But despite the fun of the off-road challenges, the real challenge was yet to come.
While the other participants made their way to the hotel to relax, the trio spent a thoroughly un-triumphant four hours waiting for a tow truck along the North-South Highway.
Mr Ashhar's four-wheel-drive Daihatsu Terios SUV - which has a manual gear shift - stalled near Seremban (about 350km from Singapore), with a damaged clutch.
He had suspected something was wrong when he got a burning metallic smell soon after completing the first off-road challenge.
He recalls: "I suspected I had overworked the clutch, but I was hoping it was nothing serious."
It was serious enough for them to spend hours waiting for a towing service willing to take them as far as Johor Baru.
As they finally made their way south, Mr Ashhar received a call informing him of his team's win. He was seated in the tow truck driver's cabin, while his two friends were in his SUV.
He recalls: "I was half-asleep when I got the call. I thought it was a joke at first."
The trio won $3,000 cash, a handphone, a Volvo weekend drive, a Holux GPS and a set of Revo 4X4 Offset 16-inch rims - although some of the prize money went towards paying for towing charges and repairs.
Mr Shahreel says: "This time we'll remind Ashhar to go easy on the clutch. We're also going there with contact numbers of several Malaysian tow services.
"If the car should break down, we will still proceed with the hotel stay and find our way back by coach."
The closing date for registration is April 8. The event is limited to 120 SUVs.