Words and pictures by Neil Harrison
Great sporting events like the Absa Off Road Championship series don’t simply spring forth from nothing. Our editor spends some time with a man who’s tasked with organising these races.
There’s a great deal we take for granted in this world. When you buy a can of cola from the local cafe, you don’t think about the process that delivers that cold can into your hands – all the people, the different industries, the carefully coordinated timings and synchronicities, the transport logistics. You don’t think about these things; unless, of course, you work for Coca Cola. It’s the same with sporting events. Our role is simple: we pay for a ticket and then we pitch up – and if we’re attending an event in the Absa Off Road Championship, we don’t even have to buy a ticket! But we never stop to think about what goes on behind the scenes to make such an event possible. I recently spent the day with Adri Roets, one of the people behind the scenes who’s instrumental in making such events happen. Adri is the Race Director, which means he’s the oke in charge at an Off Road Championship race, before, during and after. Having been a racer himself from the mid 80s to the late 00s, Adri is clearly a motorsport enthusiast. I spent a few hours with him on one of the days leading up to the 4×4 Mega World 400 event that was held at Carnival City, Brakpan, at the end of August. Although our time was spent driving the route to check out final changes, Adri’s job actually begins some three months before this, when permissions are sought and obtained.
This requires Adri to deal with the affected land owners (private, corporate, agricultural and government) and the local authorities like the traffic department (especially if the route crosses public roads) and related divisions within the municipalities. This can be an intricate and laborious process – one that demands a great deal of patience, finesse, and, no doubt, sheer charm.
With permissions in place, the route planning can begin. In the case of an existing event, the route is simply reversed every year, but in the case of a new event, a new route has to be designed, using existing roads or tracks with the appropriate environmental considerations. But even when an event has been run in the same place for several years, there’s no guarantee that the route can run unchanged from year to year – what was an open piece of veld last year, might well be an informal settlement this year. Adri aims to finalise the route a month in advance of the actual event; but it was clear that last minute revisions do crop up in the final days.
Naturally, Roets has to know the route intimately, which means he has to drive it repeatedly. Happily, he has the perfect ‘office’ for the job: a new Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCI 4×4. His previous vehicle was also a Ranger, and while Adri mourns its dashboard slide-out tray and the 4×4 donkey lever, he’s thrilled with the new model’s comfort and space, and very impressed with its power output.
The Ranger gets a good workout, as Adri has to drive the track at speed; not race speed, but quite a lot faster than most of us would feel comfortable driving off-road. It was quickly apparent that the standard suspension was not quite up to this demanding application, so Adri had a full OME suspension fitted courtesy of 4×4 Mega World, and has pronounced himself very happy with the conversion.
‘The vehicle absorbs some big hits from time to time but takes them in its stride. Plus, the Old Man Emu seems to have smoothed out the ride on fast gravel – it’s much more comfortable at speed’.
Buttressing the suspension upgrade is a rugged ARB bull-bar, also from 4×4 Mega World; just the thing to give Adri peace of mind when he’s driving an overgrown track where obstacles might be hidden by long grass.
As we drove various legs of the track, Adri explained how the racers navigated their way around the course: they rely on a combination of course notes and tape markings.
The tape markings are always found on the left hand side of the track, with different meanings according to the number of markings: one piece of tape is a confirmation marker, ‘you’re on the right track’, while two squares of tape signals a change in direction, and three squares is a caution to mark a hazard of some description. Used together with the course notes, this allows the driver and navigator to travel unfamiliar terrain at high speed. But sometimes things go wrong: locals remove the tape, it gets eaten or damaged by farm animals, or simply destroyed by someone taking the wrong line. No-one said that racing was easy!
4×4 Mega World’s support and headline sponsorship of this event comes as no surprise when you learn that company CEO Deon Venter is an active competitor in the series, in a Hilux in Class SP, together with navigator, Ian Palmer. And, more recently, Deon’s son Jason and navigator Vincent van Aleman have been campaigning in Class D in another Hilux. But it’s not just a vanity sponsorship, says Venter senior. ‘The offroad- racing enthusiast makes up a huge portion of our target market in terms of the products we manufacture and sell… so, from a marketing perspective, it makes absolute sense.’ Together with the group’s well-known conservation- and community-outreach programs, 4×4 Mega World is clearly one of those lucky few companies which have learnt how to mix business with pleasure while maintaining a robust social conscience. Normally a tricky balance to get right!
On the day of the race, it turned out that it was the Fords’ chance to take podium honours, with Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst achieving their second win of the season in what was the sixth round of the Championship. A little further down the honours list, Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the SP Ford Rangers scored a third place finish. What’s more, Ford also claimed the manufacturer’s award, thanks to strong Ford privateer results.