Time Out! 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge
Bezuidenhoutshoek, or Bez Hoek as its owners affectionately call it, is a beautiful farm near Middelburg, Mpumalanga. It’s not a venue that’s about tourism or rough-and-tough 4x4 tracks – rather, it’s a place about giving back, about biodiversity and about conservation.
So, it’s the last place you’d expect to host a 4x4 driving competition. Yet, in a giant leap of faith, the owners of Bez Hoek decided to open their farm to host the fourth round of the 2012 Bridgestone 4x4 Fundi Challenge. On a frisky Saturday in late July, the farm provided the backdrop for the annual regularity raid event. For these events, Fundi crews have to navigate to certain points with a route schedule, while keeping to a time schedule. GPS systems are employed for control and safety reasons. An interesting addition to this year’s raid was the treasurehunt element. Competitors had to photograph certain landmarks with their digital cameras – finding these landmarks, such as the area’s unique cycads, would prove to be a challenge in itself.
As could be expected, there was a myriad of rules to ensure this sensitive area was not harmed in any way whatsoever. For Bridgestone South Africa’s Daniel Barbosa, it was an all-or-nothing kind of scenario. “As organisers, we can make rules, as many as we like, but that doesn’t guarantee that the competitors will oblige. I had faith in the Fundi crews, but one can never control all the variables,” says Barbosa. So, the heat was on. Would the Fundi crews come to the party, or would Bridgestone’s Daniel Barbosa, with his hat in his hand, have to explain to the farm owners why some of the competitors preferred to ignore the rules about responsible off-road driving? Just as the Big Brother television series is an experiment in social interaction, this round of the Fundi Challenge was an experiment into the psyche of the off-road enthusiast.
Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen crew, Graham Jupp and Bruce Hains, got the competition under way at 06h00; and Sakkie Coetzee and Christo Davids were next to start, driving an Isuzu Frontier. They, in turn, were followed by Robert and Leehain Hale in their beefy Isuzu Trooper.
Regularity raids are all about timing – the competitors have to be at certain points at certain times. So, the navigators have to be proficient at working out average speeds to ensure that they clock in at the respective marshal points at exactly the right time. The competitors don’t know where the marshals are waiting, though, so the best remedy is to be on time all the time, while following the route schedule.
Adding an extra element of challenge were several 4x4 obstacles on the actual route. If a competitor gets stuck at an obstacle, time will be lost – the navigator then has to make up this lost time, but without exceeding the maximum speed of 45 km/h. This is where the GPS systems come in. Each team’s route and details are downloaded at the finishing line, so the organisers can follow the track, and check speeds. Back to the first 4x4 obstacle– a muddy river crossing followed by a climb up a rocky slope. First on the scene was Sakkie Coetzee and Christo Davids! It seemed as if the G-Wagon of Graham Jupp and Bruce Hains had been lost already. As Sakkie and Christo ventured into the mud, though, the right front wheel did a David Copperfield and disappeared!
Fellow Isuzu competitors Robert and Leehein Hale followed closely behind, and with Sakkie realising that time was of the essence, a recovery rope was hooked up at the best possible speed, and the Frontier towed out. Displaying great sportsmanship, Sakkie hastily erected a “gate” of rocks, to ensure that other competitors didn’t end up in the same hole. Graham and Bruce eventually arrived in their G-Wagon, but after starting the event in first place, they were now running way down the field. Clearly they had lost bags of time along the way, after getting lost.
Fast forward to the next 4x4 obstacle, a rocky and steep climb up a hill. For Stephan Schoombie and Riku Wessels, this ‘easy’ challenge included a whole lot of difficult. Driving a stock standard Mitsubishi Triton bakkie, fitted with its original highway terrain-ish tyres that had seen better days, the Triton tackled the climb without much success. They got hung up on a rock. With Riku giving Stephan directions, the Triton went left, right, a little bit up, and a little bit down. Eventually the Triton completed the obstacle but one of the tyres had been damaged beyond repair. However, if points had been allocated for persistence and never-saying-hokaai, this team would have scored full marks.
Meanwhile other teams were lining up for this test, including the tiny Suzuki Jimny of Philippus Kotze and Hermanus Steyn. This crew had finished second in the Riverside Fundi challenge with open differentials. As the Triton had struggled so much, surely the Suzuki would have an even harder time? Not quite; no. After watching the Triton on the hill, the Suzuki men took a different line, and with just enough momentum, the Jimny made it through without a hitch.
Next were Reghardt Marcus and Hannelize Claasens in another Mitsubishi Triton. This Triton featured some upgrades, including MT tyres, increased ride height and aftermarket suspension. For this round, Reghardt was in the passenger seat doing the sums, and Hannelize was doing the driving. Hannelize had also spotted the alternative line up this hill and drove the Triton up the incline without any problems. As previously mentioned, this event included a treasure hunt – each team had been given a list of things to photograph along the route, and at the finish, had to present the score-keepers with their photos. One of the subjects to be photographed was the rare Middelburg Cycad Encephalartos middelburggensis, a plant on the critically endangered list.
This fact, along with the sensitive bio-diversity of this area and the magnitude of wild life that roams free here, further highlights the trust the owners had placed in the Fundi competitors. The last 4x4 challenge on the Reg Raid was a river crossing. The water wasn’t deep – it was more a case of taking careful aim between the rocks. The big VW Syncro of Stuart Stirling and Paul Hoogstad made it through easily enough, but their compatriots Dean and Alan Levin, in a second Syncro, were already back at the nearby Olifant’s River Lodge – their Volksie bus had lost 4WD and the crew was out of the running, and the event.
Anton and Connie Coetzee, in their Geländewagen, sailed through the crossing, as did Johan Terblance and Marlene Muller in their Isuzu KB bakkie. In fact, none of the crews broke a sweat here, including that stock-standard but slightly battered Mitsubishi Triton of Stephan Schoombie and Riku Wessels. In the end, it was down to running on time, taking some snaps, and just taking in the amazing Bez Hoek views and vistas. It was Lichtenburg 4x4 Club’s Wimpie and Reder Olivier who managed their timekeeping most accurately, with a winning score of 96.54 – even though they’d got their Cruiser Pick-up stuck at the same mud crossing that had delayed Sakkie Coetzee and Christo Davids in their Isuzu, early that morning.
Proving that the Lichtenburg crews certainly know how to use a calculator and make some calculations, were Johan and Maryke Reichel, in a Fortuner 3.0 D-4D, in second place. And rounding off a most outstanding day for the Lichtenburg crew, were Vaughn Ashford and Liza Williams, in third position, driving a Nissan Hardbody 3.0 V6. But perhaps the most important result was the fact that the owners of the Bezuidenhout Farm – notoriously fastidious and protective – were so impressed by the Fundi competitors’ conduct that they have invited Bridgestone back in 2013.
So that’s one social experiment that really worked out well! In fact, it worked so well that it has now sparked an initiative amongst 4x4 enthusiasts on the 4x4 Community website to return to Bez Hoek to help the farmers combat wattle and gum trees on the property – both are Category 2 invader plants.
It’s a great gesture, and shows what the Fundi teams are really made of. And, judging by the willingness to get involved on the 4x4 community platform, this is endemic to the 4x4 industry. Something to put a smile on Mother Nature’s dial.