Words and Pictures by Alan Goodway (on behalf of Bridgestone SA)
This year’s challenge series began in the Limpopo Province at Serendipity 4×4 Trails, set in the lush green hills of the Naboomspruit Valley on Tierkloof farm.
With Daniel Barbosa newly in charge of the series, some change was inevitable. He designed a nature-orientated course, with obstacles decked out with the usual barrier tape, plastic pipes, metal droppers and the infamous Bridgestone golf balls. The venue was perfectly suited to his vision for a family-based, nature-centric competition.
The course stretched through valleys, gorges, savannah and mountain streams. If competitors had the time to explore, they would’ve found clear rock pools, indigenous forest, waterfalls and panoramic views of the Waterberg and adjacent Springbokvlakte. If they weren’t too distracted by the action they could admire a large variety of trees, abundant bird life and game.
Staggered starts were again the order of the day, with the first vehicles leaving just after 07h00 and the last just after 11h00. Close to 60 competitors from eight teams were all in on the action.
Serendipity off ers three trails and Daniel selected the so-called ‘three-hour’ trail for the event. Th is is a trail we struggle to complete in fi ve hours with a relaxed drive and picnic midway. The catch for those who knew the trail was that Daniel had reversed its direction, so it was a brand new experience for all. There are great prizes on off er this year and sponsors are going all out in their support of the event. The Tuff Stuff infl atable 4×4 towered impressively over the proceedings; Tuff Stuff is sponsoring the Environmental Driver / Team Award which will be made at the end of the series, and is also the TV sponsor for the duration of the series. Obstacle 1 was very close to the start line. A U-shaped track off the main trail saw competitors plunge down into a steep gulley, with a sharp turn to the right on loose gravel shale, followed by a tricky rock step. Th en they needed a burst of momentum with the right gear selected and diff -lock engaged to get through the exit gates.
As for obstacle 2, those who know this trail will remember that the initial climb into the hills starts in an intimidating fashion with a large staircase, with ruts, erosion, rock banks and loose ground. Droppers forced the teams to make critical decisions about which lines to take. So imagine the sniggers from the Off road Marshal Unit when the second and third vehicles arrived: two Suzukis. With the chicken run taped closed, it was go up or go home! Well, never judge a book by its cover. With a hop, skip and a jump, the Jimny and then the Grand Vitara (Grumpy) turned that mountain into a molehill.
The Suzuki 4×4 Club has entered an impressive team this year, with their pimped vehicles looking the part. Th e 4×4 Off road Adventure Club (Gauteng) have a strong team this year and there’s good representation from the 4×4 Community Club. Th e ‘Scottish boers’ from the Lichtenburg 4×4 club are at it again, and we also have the chaps from the Isuzu Off road Club and the Mercedes Benz G Extreme Club, as well as a new collective of privateers who have ganged up with the famous Sakkie Baboons Pass se Baas Coetzee, to form the 4Fun Club team.
Competitors wormed their way up the mountainside, to be faced with a diff -lock challenge. Th e loose surface conditions made walking up nearly impossible and to make matters worse Daniel and his team had deployed new ‘aloe leaf’-shaped droppers – these protruded from the hillside like huge fingers, waiting to touch every 4×4 scrabbling past.
The route took the competitors deeper into the valleys along the 25 kilometre network of off-road trails. Finally it spat them out in the lush part of Serendipity we all love – the river! Although the water obstacle required vehicles to drive between visible and hidden droppers, the innovative Barbosa decided to reduce the height of the droppers through the long water causeway, thereby visually tricking drivers that the depth of the water was increasing the further they progressed. Cunning! However, those who sent their capable navigators to walk the water first soon discovered the bluff, and only had to contend with wet pants and seats.
The final twist here was that drivers had to drive fast enough to create a proper bow wave, but not too fast as that would create a bow wave which would float the golf ball droppers off their perch.
Exiting the water, competitors arrived at the dam wall, where a series of twists through a shallow stream ended in a sharp right-hand climb up a slippery hard mud wall. With such a serene approach, and with the beauty of the surrounding forest area, many competitors were caught off-guard by the severity of this obstacle.
Then the trail began to guide competitors back to the finish. Past the big dam, through the valleys and over the hills they rolled. At obstacle 6 the first entrant of the day suffered the first noted breakdown of the day: André Benson’s Defender sustained damage to its steering mechanism during a climb and had to be carefully manoeuvred down to a safe spot, so as not to block the path of those competitors planning their assault on the obstacle. At this obstacle, the field had to once again tackle a stepped uphill climb and manage the tight lines set out by Daniel Barbosa. The sun was baking down and walking this and the next obstacle, both on very steep gradients, had most competitors wishing for some shade. After conquering both obstacle six and seven, the field slowly wound its way back to base to complete the 25 kilometre trail. Using supplied GPS coordinates, they followed a track back to an area near the main gate of the venue. Here, in the one hour section, two very short yet tricky and serious obstacles were constructed using the natural environment; these caused many headaches on the day.
A sharp decline, mixed with a left side dip through water and a sharp sand bank rise with droppers protruding from the earth and from the trees above, caught many off guard. Th e fi nal obstacle caught everybody by surprise. Competitors were led down into a river section between a well-defi ned and eroded path, but Daniel had placed a dropper away from the right wall, forcing vehicles to use some of the left bank to make a zero fault run. Off -camber situations aren’t easy for most drivers. But oft en we don’t know how capable our vehicles are until we enter competitions like this.
Searching for obstacle 10, competitors soon realised they’d been duped – there wasn’t one. So no chance to make up any lost points. Th e competitors fi nally headed home aft er handing in their score sheets – no time for prize giving. Th is will happen at the next event – a daring GPS Challenge in… okay, that would be telling! Watch for the next instalment to read about that adventure.
By close of play, the preliminary results for the day showed that Regardt Marais and Hannelize Classens from the 4×4 Community Club were in fi rst place. Th ey were closely followed by the popular duo from the Lichtenburg 4×4 Club, Wimpie and Reder Olivier. Holding up the ever-present Mercedes G Extreme Team’s chances in third place were Graham Jupp and new navigator Bruce Hains. Looking at the top 10, it’s evident that there are some promising new kids on the block this year, which is going to cause some serious ructions amongst the old guard.
Th e overall prize in this series is a Conqueror trailer and tent combination, and there are also other tents to be won in the individual heats, sponsored by Bushtec Adventure. Th ere are also other prizes up for grabs from Bridgestone SA, Opposite Lock and Boltons GPS Warehouse.
Th e series is being televised, and SA4x4 is, as it has for several years, covering the series from start to fi nish.