According to me, one of the most important factors that make the best luxury cars in the world, the best, is the attention to detail. And not just in the places that are visible to the eye, but even in places no person will ever look. But if one day, someone did get curious and decided to look in these places, they'd probably find that absolutely nothing is out of place. And that's what has left me most impressed about the Land Rover Experience too - attention to detail. You see, the Land Rover Experience has been around for 37 years. Over the course of these years, the people in charge of it have not just picked up a hundred and one things on how to go off-roading, but also another hundred and one things on how to create one of the best off-road experiences.
One would think that the most important things to run such an experience are the vehicles. But one would be wrong - it's the Land Rover instructors. And becoming an instructor doesn't just mean knowing how to drive off-road well. Oh no, you wish it were that easy! First, you apply to become a Level 1 instructor and you're issued an instructor passport which holds all your credentials as a Land Rover instructor. For you to have the Level 1 stamp on your passport, you will be trained and then assessed on basic off-road driving techniques, guest behaviour and skills. You then work as a Level 1 instructor for a fair amount of time and shadow a senior instructor to observe and pick up a few more skills. Then you ask to be assessed for Level 2 which includes things like winching and recovery of vehicles. Moving to a senior instructor takes some more time, because you'd have to learn about event planning. Once you've figured out major factors like how to make an event safe and professional, and once you pass the assessment, congratulations - you're a senior instructor! But that's not it. There's a final step - becoming a lead instructor.
An instructor's passport holds all of the Land Rover Experience credentials
Customers are briefed on what the event is, and on some of the basic guidelines
A lead is basically the man in charge of everything at a centre and an event.Ashish Gupta, the founder and director of Cougar Motorsport, managed to become the first and only lead instructor from India, just last year in Eastnor, England. That's a long process - 10-odd days. On each day there's a schedule you're working on, and you're being assessed on different parameters - winching instructor, recovery instructor, driving and even presentation skills," he says.
From what he told me, becoming a Land Rover instructor seems almost as much work as getting a college degree! But Ashish finds it all really interesting because there are course materials, online learning and compulsory courses. You have to go through the course and then there's a test on each online. And at each level the courses increase and keep coming. It's actually like getting an MBA." But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because once you become an instructor, there are so many tiny little details and rules, which most people wouldn't even think of, need to be followed. He himself finds the amount of material that Land Rover has compiled for training, working and getting their instructors up to a certain level to be unbelievable! It amazes me and I wonder if any other manufacturer has that," he says.
The best part is, the customers are encouraged to drive through every obstacle rather hand over control to an instructor
On the face of a Land Rover Experience event, it looks like the instructors have it easy, with hardly any work to do apart from sitting in the co-driver seat and explaining basic off-road practices. But there's always more than meets the eye. If you look at the whole Land Rover Experience, taking the guest on the drive is the easiest part. But what happens behind, when we're preparing ourselves, is what is really difficult," says Abel Raj, one of the instructors working under Ashish.
Every instructor has a handbook with guidelines that they need to follow at all times. And this is almost a 100-page handbook which literally covers every single aspect of an event, right from something as simple as how an instructor should hold the steering wheel to how they should drive in different terrains. And this is a constantly evolving handbook with new processes and procedures being added with inputs from the different Land Rover Experience centres around the world. But after a couple of years in the job, Abel understands that everything in that book was put there for a reason. It's years' worth of learning from experience and mistakes, all packed into one book.
The tracks are carefully designed to be challenging enough to be exciting, but not enough to be scary
Ashish is the only lead instructor in India, with the rest of his team at various levels
So how do the instructors in India manage to remember all of this? Muscle memory and Ashish Gupta. The credit goes to Ashish. He's a very difficult taskmaster," said Abel quietly when Ashish was occupied with something else. He always follows every instruction to the T. You could call him a warden because if you're not doing something properly, he'll make sure you do it right." And as you do it over and over again, it just becomes a habit - just like leaving your car in gear every time you switch off your vehicle.
But what makes this different from some of the other driving experiences I've been to is the fact that the customer is at the centre of attention, not the car. Of course, the vehicle is super capable and can do all sorts of impressive things off-road, but that's not what everyone is talking about at the end of drive - they're talking about what they've managed to do. And that's what the Land Rover Experience trains its instructors to do - make the customers feel like they're the heroes here.
Photography: Akshay Jadhav