Mark Webber is confident that the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge can go from strength to strength after a successful conclusion to the first event for three years in Hobart on Sunday.
The Red Bull Racing driver re-launched the eponymous adventure race on a three-year agreement and joined the field for the opening day in Freycinet National Park before having to leave to attend both the end of year F1 awards gala in India and RBR's celebration demo in Milton Keynes the following day. The Australian followed the action online and by calling his dad Alan, who is one of the many volunteers on the event.
Webber is clearly passionate about the adventure sport event, which first ran in 2003 when he and some mates travelled right across the Australian island state of Tasmania, and he is keen to build on its success in raising money for supported charities, with Save the Tassie Devil and Whitelion this year's beneficiaries. This year's race began in Freycinet National Park and moved each day to a different location, taking in the Tasman Peninsula, Bruny Island and the Hartz Mountains before concluding with a race to reach nine different peaks in and around Hobart.
The five-day competition attracted an international field of 28 teams, including racers from France and Italy, with five additional teams doing three days and a number of teams and individuals joining for the final day. Racers included a number of well-known Australian sports stars including V8 Supercars driver Rick Kelly and AFL legend Glenn Archer, as well as leading Australian businessman David Moffat and a number of participating international journalists. Tasmanian Mark Padgett and Briton Mark Hinder, of Team Iron House, won the Elite Van Diemen Cup category, with Webber's Team Tasmania, featuring Guy Andrews and Darren Clarke, taking second, ahead of Jarad Kohler and Emma Weitnauer of Team Pure Tasmania.
"I've kept up with what's been going on - the boys have been tweeting when they can get a signal - and it was good to see Guy and Darren giving it a good crack for my team once I had gone,” Webber noted, "It was a real shame I had to head off so soon, because I just love the event, and Tasmania certainly showed its special side this time.
"The F1 season is just so long now, there is so little time to get fully hooked up with something like this. I'm glad I managed to make it out for some of it, though, because it reminded me exactly why I was so keen to bring it back again.
"We had some really competitive guys - and girls - out there this year, with Padge's team, Guy and Darren, Emma and Jarad, and the French boys too. It was great to see them coming over to give it a really competitive international flavour and I hope their performance will encourage even more racers from around the world next year.
“The camaraderie on course is just fantastic, but it is the fact that everyone is pulling together to help people less fortunate than ourselves that makes it such a special event. The sponsors have all been fantastic supporters and it's great that we have it all locked in for another two years.
"This year's Challenge has been incredible and Mark and Mark really deserve the victory after the performance they have put in over the whole five days. I got a great vibe when I was out there and I felt it was shaping up to be one of the best yet. It looks like it turned out that way. Great weather, mind-blowing scenery, clever tactics and some really great racing.”
Webber is now looking forward to some well-earned R&R after a hectic F1 season that stretched from testing in February, via his final round victory at Interlagos, right through to the show car run last weekend – but the Challenge will certainly give him something to focus on when he's back in his native Australia for the off-season.
"I need some rest right now,” he confirmed, “It's been a mad couple of weeks for me and, yeah, that win in Brazil seems a bloody long time ago already! It's going to be great to head back to Aus again now and finally put my feet up for a while – but after getting a taste of that Tassie scenery again, I can't wait to start looking over next year's course with the boys over there!”