You are an avid 4×4 enthusiast, own a customised bakkie, run your own off-road driving school and, in your own eyes, resemble the best off-road driver in South Africa – so why not prove it? Or even better, if your soul yearns to escape the city rush and enjoy the outdoors, the Spirit of Africa might just be the perfect solution. There is even the possibility of upsetting Mr 4×4 on the scoring board…
The competition is run by legendary racing driver Sarel van der Merwe on the Gondowe Game Reserve in Limpopo near Tzaneen. It entails 25 groups of 20 teams (two people per team) competing in similar vehicles on stages set out by SuperVan himself. The top-scoring teams during the preliminary rounds will be invited to compete in the finals which will be held in Botswana later this year. The winners will receive a substantial cash prizes (1st prize R50 000; 2nd prize R30 000; 3rd prize R10 000) as well as the ultimate bragging rights among their peers.
Journalists are normally treated like kings with red carpets and caviar not ruled out. Obviously this is to influence their judgement on the product being promoted – well, not this time. We got to experience the true African Spirit by camping in the heart of the Bushveld. Do remember to bring warm clothing, though, as temperatures dip to zero degrees C during the night…The facilities are very neat and modern, but do not detract from nature. Imagine showering under the stars, tents, sleeping bags, no electricity (except when the generator runs), big camp fires and tall stories! Cellphone reception is only limited to specific areas in the camp which mean you can really “switch off” when in the field. The food is first class and I will choose a braai over caviar every time.
As mentioned before, the 20 stages are set out by Sarel to test both the technical skill of the driver as well as his ability to drive off-road at speed. The technical stages include various obstacles that need to be traversed (in 4×4, low range) within a certain time bracket. Penalties are accumulated by hitting plastic marker poles or failing to complete the stage in the predetermined time. The speed stages challenge the driver to complete a course in an ideal time. This time was determined by rally master Sarel himself and let the record state that the target time is seriously quick! Poles are again there to spoil the fun… Do not tell Sarel that it is impossible to complete a certain stage in the recommended time as he will duly jump into a vehicle and complete the stage faultlessly, way under the target time! Yes, the master still has it.
Each stage is worth 100 points. 10 points are deducted when a plastic marker pole is hit as well as a penalty per second if the team finishes outside the time bracketed for the stage. Then there are also pole makers with red flags which will not only lose you points but expel you from the competition if you hit two during the event. This is to protect teams from hitting immovable objects like trees and rocks during a stage. Other interesting stages involves painted rocks on the ground that has to be driven over to avoid penalties as well as one stage where only an average speed is given and not a time bracket. The worst sound in the world has to be that of a side mirror clipping a pole, followed by a crackle on the two-way radio: Car number nine – pole!
VW has sponsored the event for the last couple of years with the vehicle of choice this year being the Amarok 2,0 BiTDI (120 kW/400 N.m) 4Motion single cab. Although the course itself was more challenging to the driver than the machine, the robustness of the Amarok needs to be complimented. Even a full-on smack at a tree by a certain competitor (you know who you are!) that resulted in a bent bumper and bonnet could not stop the Amarok. Personally I found that the notchy gearshift can be improved and the turbodiesel power delivery to be very peaky. This places more emphasis on the driver to be in the right gear for every situation. The biggest compliment is probably conveyed in the slogan: Sarel chooses Amarok!
Goodyear is sponsoring the event by supplying all vehicles with its new Wrangler AT/SA tyre. During our time, not even a single puncture stopped the fun while some serious terrain was conquered. The tyres obviously also carry Sarel’s stamp of approval.
Although the competition is serious, it is always run in a good spirit. Smiles are the order of the day and competitors become friends around the camp fire. Add some staaltjies from Sarel (not published in his book!) and you have an event to remember.
Visit: http://www.spiritofafrica.info/ for more information