Invictus Games Driving Challenge an Escape for Injured Vets

Sam McEachern
by Sam McEachern

Since retiring from the British Armed Forces in 2015, Prince Harry has dedicated his time and effort to raising awareness for injured veterans and their families.

Part of this initiative is The Invictus Games – an international event that is open only to injured, wounded or sick army veterans. The former Apache helicopter co-pilot created the games after seeing the US Warrior Games and becoming inspired to bring a similar competition to the international stage. The games include several sporting events, such as powerlifting, swimming, cycling, and, interestingly, driving.

The driving portion of the Invictus Games, sponsored by Jaguar Land Rover, has been part of the event since the first games were held in London back in 2014. For this year’s games, held in Toronto recently, the event was split between autocross and off-road categories. Competitors were to wheel a Jaguar F-Type between checkpoints in the autocross and carefully maneuver a Discovery over obstacles for the off-road portion. Both events are timed, with competitors looking to complete the courses in as little time as possible. For the off-road competition, the course must be completed in under eight minutes in order for the time to be valid.

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Making the driving portion of the Invictus Games that much more intriguing is the unique courses. The autocross is made up of checkpoints that light up green to indicate which the competitor should drive through, while at the same time, a second checkpoint will light up blue indicating the checkpoint to be driven after the current one. The idea is for the driver to concentrate on driving, while the passenger pays attention to the checkpoints. It’s not only a test of driving skill, but also teamwork. Similarly, the off-road course mimics real-world off-road driving scenarios and hands competitors penalties for putting a wheel wrong. Precision and teamwork are key here.

We stopped by the Jaguar Land Rover-sponsored driving courses while this year’s edition of the Invictus Games was in Toronto. We were able to ride shotgun in the XE as a professional driver showed us how it’s done, and also rode as a passenger in a Discovery through the off-road course.

First up was the off-road course. You may think these courses are made easy for the Invictus athletes, but you’d be wrong. The obstacles are steep, and the ramps used on the “waggler” ramp portion are extremely narrow. One part of the course, which Land Rover calls the “waffler,” simulates deep mud with potholes. You wouldn’t believe the way this obstacle throws you from side to side in the car. If I was in anything less comfy than the Land Rover, I may have had to send JLR a cleaning bill after becoming sick in their car. Harry probably wouldn’t have been too pleased with me, either.

Next was the autocross course. I find autocross to be a difficult almost tedious form of motorsport and this event manages to make it even more detail oriented. Typically, pylons are used to lay out a static autocross course, but the checkpoints in the Invictus Games are always changing. For the driver, there’s no learning the course – they have to rely on instructions from their co-driver. Think of it as autocross with a rally co-driver. Except the co-driver has no pace notes. It’s quite the challenge, and even the NASCAR Pinty’s Series driver I rode with said it was demanding.

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Note that the driver that took me around the course was an active, able-bodied racer. The participants in the Invictus games are not, making this event that much more challenging. One of the XEs being used for media demos had a sizable dent in its rear-end, and I was told that it was due to the hand controls being rather hard to use. Autocrossing is difficult enough, but imagine autocrossing a near-600 horsepower F-Type with hand controls and doing it smoothly and successfully.

As car enthusiasts, we find driving to be a therapeutic, blissful way to unplug from the world around us. The Invictus Games serve as a similar way for injured veterans to unplug and forget about what’s troubling them, whether they are competing in the Driving Challenge or any of the other sports included in its docket. As Danish rowing athlete Martin Arbon said, “It’s spiritual and mental cleansing.”

“You can put your mind on standby,” he added.

And that’s precisely what the Invictus Games is all about. It serves as a distraction from the ailment or illness that may be affecting an individual, highlights their athletic abilities, and allows them to represent their country in another way they can be proud of. It lets other sick and wounded service members know they are not alone in what they are going through, and is a way for the public to appreciate and thank soldiers for their service. Every athlete in the Invictus Games leaves a winner.

“These games aren’t about the finish line,” said Invictus Games CEO Michael Burns. “These games are all about making it to the starting line.”

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Sam McEachern
Sam McEachern

Sam McEachern holds a diploma in journalism from St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, and has been covering the automotive industry for over 5 years. He conducts reviews and writes AutoGuide's news content. He's a die-hard motorsports fan with a passion for performance cars of all sorts.

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