Lining up for the home straight


Words and Pictures by Bridgestone SA

Lining up for the home straight

The penultimate round of the 2012 Bridgestone 4×4 Fundi Challenge was always going to be tough; based at the Gerotek Vehicle Testing facility west of Pretoria, with its mild to wild 4×4 testing tracks, this round of the 4×4 Fundi was designed to separate the men from the boys.

Driver skill counted as much as the vehicle ability. The crews also had to keep a cool head as there were a number of minor factors that could catch out the unwary. And catch them out they did. But let’s start at the beginning.

Marius and Magdel du Plessis, driving a Fortuner V6, got the event underway early on a chilly Highveld morning. Obstacle one wasn’t a long one but it gave the crews two entry options. The Du Plessis couple, aka ‘Beauty and the Beast’, tackled the slope. The Fortuner leaned alarmingly but bounced back to all fours as it crept slowly down the decline. In the process though, a few golf balls – and a few points – went flying.

Next was the virtually standard Mahindra Thar of Herman Muller and Wayne Harvey. After inspecting the two options, they went for the same gate the Toyota had used. It was an action replay of the first 4×4 – massive lean, a few yelps, back to all fours, a few golf balls flying about, and through the obstacle. Nothing though could have prepared the teams for obstacle two. With a long, slippery, steep climb, littered with rocks and seemingly impossible ridges, this obstacle would be the undoing of many teams. There was another catch: the teams could only reach obstacle three once they’d completed obstacle two. So if they couldn’t get up obstacle two, 200 points would be lost.

The Mahindra Thar, without any locking parts in its differentials, didn’t get halfway up this obstacle. Next were Vaughn Ashford and Liza Williams, in their Nissan Hardbody 3.0 V6. Sporting a new set of Bridgestone Dueler ATs, and bolstered by copious amounts of enthusiasm, the Nissan spun and hopped its way up the steep incline. Very near the top it got stuck, it had taken out numerous white poles along the way.

Marius Dreyer and Craig Rocher, in a Discovery 3 TDV6, were next. And they nearly, nearly made it to the top. The Disco just had to make a second attempt at a very tricky lump of rock that required the ‘perfect storm’ of momentum. Dionne and Kurt Harber, in a Jeep Wrangler CRD, cleared the obstacle without any stops, although points were lost after hitting a few poles.

The Mahindra Thar of Cobus Böhmer and Rudi Grobbelaar is armed with a rear differential lock and some other modifications, but it couldn’t make it higher than halfway up the obstacle. The same spot also brought Hannes Jansen van Rensburg and JJ Hallatt’s V8- powered Defender to a premature stop. Meanwhile defending champions Marco and Joe Marinkowitz, in a diesel Geländewagen, recorded the first 100 points for this obstacle. So it certainly wasn’t impossible – but that balance between care, momentum and traction was clearly vital.

Stuart Stirling is a man that knows everything there is to know about momentum. Driving a big chunk of Volkswagen Syncro without a low-range gearbox, getting the Volksie bus up this obstacle was always going to be nigh impossible. And those are odds that Stirling and his co-driver Paul Hoogstad thrive on. With the Volksie’s lockers engaged, and with his right foot pinned to the carpet, Stirling stormed the hill. The bus bounced, hopped, skipped, leapt, jumped… and amazingly, made it to the top. In the process it had taken out nearly every white pole on the obstacle.

“Who cares?” said Stirling at the top of the hill. “I made it up here, man! I made it!” Obstacle three was another challenging one. Set on a steep and rutted downhill, with virtually no margin of error through very tight ‘gates’, the table was set for more golf balls to go flying. Stefan and Tristen Wintershoven’s reasonably compact Jeep Wrangler made it through okay, as did Martin Eddy and Riaan Harmse in another Nissan Hardbody 3.0 V6. The Fundi crews were clearly in it to win it.

Obstacle four was another short and technical one. The Suzuki Jimny of Marius van Niekerk and Esme Minnaar displayed a most appropriate amount of momentum in this obstacle – not too much, and not too little. The single cab Hilux of Corrie and Francois Bos also made it through without worries – after the chaos at the first few obstacles this was easy!

Obstacle five was a bit more challenging, with a tight turn in the obstacle catching a few patrons out. The Fortuner of Johan and Maryke Reichel narrowly missed one pole but made through; the single cab Hilux of Wian Smith and Kobus van der Merwe, dropped one golf ball; while the Xtra Cab of Dewald Jacobs and Hendrik Pelser, made it through unscathed.

Obstacle six was, inter alia, a catch 22 situation. The crews had to drive about one kilometre on tar to reach Gerotek’s sand test area. There they had to attach a Hilux 4.0 V6 via a tow rope and tow the Hilux through the sand.

Amazingly, the near standard Jimny of Van Niekerk and Minnaar managed to get the Hilux through. Amazingly, neither the Jeep Wrangler V6 of Stefan and Tristen Wintershoven or the Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 of Steven Grieve and Jaco de Jager could complete the obstacle. And this is now where those “minor factors” that could become gamechangers come into the equation. Idmar Marx and Cober Viljoen, in a G-Wagon, arrived at this obstacle. This crew would eventually score full marks at every single obstacle in this challenge, except for this one though.

With the Toyota hooked up, Idmar floored the Merc – but it managed only about 15 metres before grinding to a halt. It was a short while later, after watching the similar Mercedes of Henry Dippenaar and George Schoonraad tow the Hilux through the sand to complete the obstacle that the penny dropped: driving on tar to reach the obstacle, the team had selected high-range, and had completely forgotten to engage lowrange for this test! Oh dear!

Obstacle seven was based on Gerotek’s so-called rough track, a cement-based track designed to test mainly armoured vehicles. That big Volksie Syncro of Stuart Stirling and Paul Hoogstad made it through, albeit after wheeling that bus on its back wheels and mortally wounding a few cones along the way.

The Nissan Hardbody of Martin Eddy and Riaan Harmse took a less aerial route, and bagged full marks. Next was obstacle eight, another descent and climb on the cement surface, through a maze of white poles. The Syncro bus – as usual – got through but killed more cones in the process. The Geländewagen of Anton and Connie Coetzee had a more interesting time here, with at least one cone now receiving counselling after being harassed by the Merc’s left-front Bridgestone MT tyre.

Obstacle 9 was one with a difference. The teams had to drive over a bed of rocks, while the co-driver dangled a bucket with water out of the window. Spilt water equals lost points. Werner and Armand Schaap, in a beautifullykitted Grand Cherokee CRD, had little trouble here. The same applied to Johan Swift and Dieter Schaap, in a three-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

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