The final showdown
The 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge final was recently held on Die Oewer farm, thirty kilometres from Bloemfontein. And, as usual, it was an exciting affair – with the fight for top honours going down to the wire.
The 30 top competitors travelled to Die Oewer for the final. Who would leave the Free State with the coveted Bridgestone Fundi trophy on the rear seat after five rounds of competition? Twelve obstacles stood between the competitors and the podium. Leading the points department were Adriaan Aucamp and Gerrit van Wyk in a classic Range Rover V8. But Geländewagen crew John and Desire Fuller were just 0.2 points behind the Rangie. And, to stir the pot even further, two former champion crews followed in third and fourth positions: Johann and Corne Marx, and Marco and Joe Marinkowitz, both in G-Wagons.
There were also a lot of worried murmurs amongst the finalists about the Suzuki Jimnys. After a reasonably slow start to the year, two Jimny crews had claimed victories in the second half of the challenge, which meant that several little Suzukis found themselves near the top of the overall leader board, perfectly placed to show up the expensive 4x4s. Would 2012 be the year of the Jimny?
Since this was the final, points were doubled on the day. Where the maximum possible score on any given obstacle is normally 100 points, each obstacle in the final was worth 200 points (except for the two bonus obstacles, which were both worth 100 points). But there was a catch: penalties were also doubled. This meant that those who performed well on the day could see themselves shooting up the overall leader board, but the converse was equally true.
This was to be the toughest trail of the 2012 Fundi series, though the organisers were confident that the top 30 competitors could tackle it without fear of damage or injury. However, they were warned that, should they find themselves in a tough situation, they should rather flatten the poles than roll their vehicles. Competitors were also not allowed to carry passengers, nor were spectators allowed on the trail. The message was clear: the final Fundi Challenge of the year would also be the most demanding.
The first obstacle – a tricky but not too intimidating slope that required some careful manoeuvring – eased the competitors into the final event. Stephan Schoombie and Riku Wessels in their standard Triton 3.2 Di-D 4x4 were first in the queue. And, with about 257 cameras pointing in their direction, – under just a little bit of pressure. Not that it showed. Besides a rear wheel that lifted rather alarmingly off the ground, the LWB Triton got the day off to a flying start on this obstacle.
Fast forward then to obstacle two, where the trail bared its teeth for the first time. Competitors had to drive up a steep embankment covered with mud. It was a demanding obstacle (some would say impossible) which saw one 4x4 after the other being recovered. In the end, a handful of entrants opted to bypass the obstacle, deciding it wasn’t a battle which could be won.
For front runners Adriaan Aucamp and Gerrit van Wyk, this wasn’t an option – they had to give it their all if they wanted to walk away with the title. With its V8 motor roaring, the red Rangey charged at the obstacle but didn’t get very far before bogging down.
A similar scenario awaited Marius and Magdeld du Plessis, driving a Fortuner. Hannes Jansen van Rensburg and JJ Hallatt, in a Defender V8, got about 2 cm further than the Fortuner before they also ground to a halt. Not even the most powerful 4x4s were equal to the challenge posed by the muddy embankment.
Obstacle three was another steep upward climb, though this time, thankfully, mud-free. With their tyres still covered in mud and their egos a little bruised, the competitors charged the hill. Though the climb itself wasn’t too difficult, the obstacle’s overall difficulty was increased by an angled run-up that made it difficult to gather momentum, as well as a sharp turn at the top that caught out a couple of competitors.
After the mud got the better of his Toyota, Marius du Plessis had decided that he would claim victory over this second slope, whatever the consequences. The Fortuner made it to the top of the hill and then kept going and going!
Riaan Goede and Marius van Niekerk, winners of the earlier Riverside event in their modified super Jimny, were next. And, true to form, they cleared the obstacle with maximum points, making it look deceptively easy.
Obstacle number four was a winding, cambered downward slope that once again left no margin for error. The slightest miscalculation would result in one of the poles being struck and points being lost. As you’d expect, this obstacle favoured shorter vehicles such as the Jimny, but bulkier 4x4s like the Fortuner and the Wrangler Unlimited struggled.
Enter Dionne Harber and Kurt Gerber, in their highly capable Jeep Wrangler. Although the Jeep has oodles of wheel travel, its wide turning circle worked against it here, and the team lost some points in this tight obstacle. In contrast, the SWB Geländewagen of front-runners John and Desire Fuller had little trouble here and scored full marks.
Next was obstacle five, boasting a couple of nasty cambered slopes and axle-twisters which once again worked against the longer and larger 4x4s. Jack and Vanessa Romijn, in a SWB Wrangler, and Johan and Maryke Reichel in their Fortuner scored the full 200 points here There was more mud on the menu in obstacle six, with a tricky descent to the bottom of a muddy ravine, and up the other side again. Most of the teams made it to the top – but most of them also dropped some golf balls (and points) in the process.
Johan Terblanche and Marlene Muller (Isuzu KB) sailed through, but with the tricky side slope, and one of those white poles placed exactly where their vehicle slid, they lost 50 points. Terry Jupp and Bruce Hains (Geländewagen) had a clear run here. Their G-Class made a small splash in the mud, but on subsequent obstacles it would be much bigger! Like the Fortuner of Marius du Plessis, it was destined for lift-off… Obstacle seven was another steep and tricky climb. Here the Isuzu KB of Johan and Marlene made good, as did the Wrangler of Jack and Vanessa Romijn. Obstacles eight, nine and 10, in the context of all this action, were relatively humdrum. So we move right along to obstacle 11 – the first of two optional challenges where teams who were in desperate need of points could put it all on the line in an effort to make it to the top of the leader board.
There were no pesky poles to worry about – the only aim was to exit the obstacle successfully on the first try. Competitors would either get 100 points for making it through, or get zero – it was an all-or-nothing scenario. Since this was the final of the Bridgestone Fundi Challenge, not many competitors opted out. Earning 100 points wouldn’t be easy, though, since the obstacle was littered with dongas and axle-twisters.
Enter Mr Jupp in his powerful V8 Geländewagen, who decided to provide bystanders with a unique view of the undercarriage of his vehicle, causing some grey hairs in the process! With the right front wheel in semi-orbit, the Mercedes climbed up the slope to score those 100 points! Obstacle 12 consisted of an incredibly steep ascent. Only a handful of vehicles made it up to claim 100 points, with an inordinately large number of those being Geländewagens. Maybe not surprisingly, Mr Jupp was one of the G-Wagon crews who made it – again, in spectacular style. It is said that his co-driver, Bruce Hains, still gets nightmares about that lean angle!
And so, the 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge drew to a close. Most of the finalists agreed that this was the best event on the 2012 calendar, providing just the right combination of fun, challenge and excitement. The series had undoubtedly been a success, but who had walked away as the victors? It was time for the scores to be tallied, the prizes to be handed out, and the braai fires to be lit.
So, did the red Range Rover manage to maintain its slender lead? What about the hordes of Geländewagens? And, did those tiny Suzukis manage to ruin the big boys’ party? Adriaan Aucamp and Gerrit van Wyk in the Range Rover dropped down, finding themselves in sixth position overall.
Fifth position belonged to Graham Jupp and his incredible flying G-Wagon. John and Desire Fuller, in another shorty Geländewagen, followed in fourth position after a consistent year behind the Benz’s steering wheel. And in third position, the 2011 champs, Marco and Joe Marinkowitz, in yet another Geländewagen. The Mercs were dominating, but second place was nevertheless a surprise: Flip Kotze and Herman Steyn’s Suzuki Jimny! So, what about the winners then? Demonstrating that experience counts a lot in this game, former champion Johann Marx won the 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge overall, with his wife Corne in the yelping seat. Johann, Corne and the 30-year-old Benz obviously form a formidable team!
Johann and Corne are now the proud owners of a state-of-the-art Conqueror off-road caravan, valued at R80 000. The runners up received awesome prizes from Opposite Lock – an adjustable suspension system worth R20 000; and the third place overall received GPS equipment to the value of R15 000 from Boltons GPS Warehouse. New in 2012 was the TUFFSTUFF Environmental Award, with a R20 000 cash prize up for grabs. Here that old 4x4 saying of ‘as slow as possible, as fast as necessary’ applies. And it was Stephan Schoombie and Riku Wessels, in that very standard Mitsubishi Triton, who walked away with this prize.
The Bridgestone Club Award went to the Mercedes Benz G-Xtreme Club, which won R60 000 worth of Bridgestone tyres. The 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge was an unqualified success – packed to the brim with 4x4 thrills and spills. 2013 will undoubtedly be just as exciting. The Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge is co-sponsored by TUFFSTUFF, the original 4x4 lifestyle insurance product specialist, together with Conqueror off-road trailers, Bushtec and Opposite Lock.