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Range Rover Sport PHEV becomes the first SUV to climb Heaven’s Gate

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The team at Land Rover have been pitting their new Range Rover Sport PHEV against a series of incredible challenges to prove it’s a vehicle that’s capable of much, much more than the typical urban school run.

Tackling the legendary hill-climb at Pikes Peak, crossing inhospitable deserts, and even taking on the world’s most notorious downhill ski race – the Range Rover has performed outstandingly – but its final challenge is truly the stuff of legends. 

The Dragon Road

Welcome to ‘The Dragon Road’ – 6.8 miles (11km) of hairpin bends that twists up Tianmen Mountain in central China. The term ‘breath-taking’ is often over-used, but The Dragon Road is exactly that – even a steady bus ride to the top will send your heart rate soaring, and local drivers say tourists regularly scream as they take a brave look out of the windows. For most of the drive, you’re less than a few feet from a deadly vertical drop into the mist that surrounds the mountain.

The road involves 99 hairpin bends – representing the widely held Chinese belief that there are 9 palaces making up heaven. When you’re at the top, there are another 999 stone steps that take you to ‘Heaven’s Gate’; an enormous natural rock archway that’s shrouded in local mythology. 

The Challenge

The team at Land Rover decided that the 99 hairpins didn’t represent enough of a challenge for the Range Rover Sport PHEV – so they decided they’d tackle all 999 steps too – taking their SUV up the 45-degree slope to Heaven’s Gate itself.

To offer some context, the steepest road in the world can be found in North-West Wales. At its most severe point, it has a gradient of 37.5 degrees – for just a few meters. 

Simulated test runs in the UK saw the Range Rover Sport’s front wheels lifting – with the very real possibility that the vehicle would tip, rolling back down the mountain. If that were to happen, a driver’s chances of getting out at the bottom would be virtually zero.

The Driver

With such high-stakes and a truly monumental challenge at hand, genuine nerves of steel were required. Chinese-Dutch racing driver Ho-Pin Tung had the skill – and his nerves had been finely-tuned in the world of Formula E, Formula 1, and on the course at 24-hours of Le Mans.

Climbing to Heaven’s Gate

When asked, local drivers suggested Ho-Pin Tung took the course steadily – but this wasn’t going to be a challenge that involved driver caution. Ho-Pin Tung pushed the Range Rover Sport to its limits on the hairpins, before emerging at the foot of the 999 steps.

The surrounding audience looked on in amazement as the Range Rover effortlessly tackled the first part of the climb, and, where the steps themselves doubled-back and offered limited turning space, Ho-Pin Tung shifted the P400e Sport into reverse and took them on backwards.

As the Range Rover disappears into the mist, what follows needs to be seen to be believed. A world-first for Range Rover and a feat of bravery and performance that many said was almost certainly impossible…