The annual Isuzu 4x4 Challenge held at the Kirkwood Wildsfees once again attracted thousands of spectators. Our bush editor, Patrick Cruywagen, and his wife, Alison Cole, donned their helmets and took part in the standard production class.
I hate 4x4 competitions, as they often degenerate into helmetswinging competitions. Years ago
I attended a major international event in Australia, and some contestants were still protesting the points allocated for certain events even as the winners were being announced. The chief organiser was in tears and it all turned into a bit of a dog show. I left the circus around 22h00, with the final results still outstanding. Not exactly ideal.
What’s more, as I don’t rate myself as a great technical driver, I tend to steer clear of contests of this nature. If the events included categories like the quickest way through a border crossing, or how to get three bags onto a Kulula flight without paying extra, then I’d have a shot at podium honours.You see, to me the vehicle is a means to an end; it takes me to great places.
But after losing a couple of rounds of rock, paper and scissors with Neil and Grant, I was awarded the golden ticket to attend the annual Isuzu 4x4 Challenge (Ed: As Grant and I had attended the previous year, it was only fair that Pat should have a go, too). As I am an adventurous soul I saw it as a weekend away, an opportunity to see the Eastern Cape relatives, and a chance to sharpen my 4x4 skills.
After initially making a couple of rookie errors like opening my window too far and loosening my seatbelt to get a better look at what was going on behind, (both points-deductible offences), I started really getting into the competition and found myself actually enjoying it.
We were competing in the C2 production vehicle class, which basically means showroom spec vehicles. However, some of the vehicles in this class were handicapped by their fitment of oversized tyres or aftermarket lockers. Luckily, our Isuzu had only a standard rear locker. I’ve done several long trips in an Isuzu; in fact, I have driven one all the way to the Congo River. Except for an alternator brush that once needed resetting, I haven’t had any problems. And now, when we were in an extreme 4x4 competition, (and some of the old hands who attend this competition every year told me that the obstacles were much more technical and challenging than in the previous one,) Isuzu continued to impress me.
What I found in these events is that one needs to watch what the others are doing, and then come up with some sort of strategy as to how you are going to drive the obstacle – taking into consideration your ability and your vehicle’s capabilities. Obviously some obstacles favour the SWB vehicles, but then again other obstacles favour the longer vehicles such as the Isuzu, so it does kind of balance itself out. Each event or obstacle has been designed in such a way that you will almost always have to touch a pole or take a reverse.
The key is to figure out how you will lose the fewest points when doing so. After our near disastrous start, things improved somewhat; and towards the end we were picking up maximum, or close to maximum, points for each obstacle. With each obstacle the drive order changes, so he who was first goes last and everyone else moves up one place. This is done to make things as fair as possible, and it is a good system. One thing I have to comment on is that at each obstacle there are several marshals; eagle-eyed marshals, to be precise. They watch each contestant and raise a flag or shout out whenever one touches a pole, rolls back, reverses, or breaks some or other rule. It is all pretty fair, and you do know how many points you have scored for each obstacle, so it is pretty transparent. I can think of some rugby refs who could learn a lesson from this... Although we were competing in the C2 class and were kept pretty busy throughout the day, I did manage to watch a little of the other classes’ efforts. One of the more impressive sights of the day was the performance of 11-yearold Bradley Schreiber, who was driving a 1600 2WD buggy. This event was his first Isuzu 4x4 Challenge, and his dad served as his co-driver and mentor. I am not sure who was more excited, father or son. Amazingly, Bradley finished third overall for the day.
As for the class in which I was competing, Gerhard Groenewald reigned supreme in his Fortuner. Gerhard runs the Goodyear Academy and is well known in 4x4 circles for his outstanding driving capabilities. We didn’t fare as well as I would’ve liked, but I learnt quite a bit. Most importantly, it had been a great day out in a pretty capable vehicle. And, who knows, maybe next year an Isuzu will win again.