Words and pictures by Alan Goodway (on behalf of Bridgestone SA)
The second leg of the 2012 Bridgestone 4×4 Fundi Challenge was held at a secret location, identifiable only by GPS waypoints which were issued to competitors a week beforehand. Instructions for this event stated that a torch would be required – which seemed a little odd given the 07h00 starting time – and that tyres would need to be inflated to 3.5 bars.
Organiser Daniel Barbosa and GPS guru Kevin Bolton worked together to ensure that the GPS leg of the 2012 4×4 Fundi Challenge would be an adventure and serve as an introduction to what can be expected during the Reg Raid later this year. The Reg Raid will be an event which stretches over anything between 100 and 200 kilometres of back roads with natural obstacles like rivers, mountains and
gorges – areas that seldom see vehicles so there’s no-one to assist if you get lost.
A map and rally charts with GPS positions to serve as control points were issued at the start of the event after scrutineering had taken place. Bridgestone selected a brand new venue for this leg of the series: a stunning facility named Leeuwenkloof, located near Broederstroom, south of the Hartebeespoort dam, about 30 minutes from Pretoria and 45 minutes from Johannesburg.
This mountainous 700 hectare family farm is ideal for a variety of outdoor activities, and was the perfect location for this event. The African Dream Adventures (ADA) facilities adjacent to the farm were used for the scrutineering and first three obstacles. ADA has been involved with all aspects of rider or driver training, tours, events and challenges since it was launched in April ’05 to manage the Honda Adventure Academy in SA. With top-notch facilities and the skill and expertise of Hein Engelbrecht from ADA and the ever-impressive Daniel Barbosa from Bridgestone SA, Bridgestone competitors were set to enjoy a professional, well-planned event. After scrutineering, the vehicles were faced with a dusty skid pan which had to be conquered in 45 seconds or less in order to score points. The skid pan layout was tight so too much enthusiasm would see the vehicle touch a cone, ensuring a loss of points. What’s more, early morning shadows made it difficult to judge layout. The LWB vehicles hated this one but the shorties revelled in the tight turns!
On to obstacle two, which was nearby and resembled a wall of death. This natural obstacle was a sheer climb up a very soft sand wall, with a left circular turn around a tree followed by a tight exit. A definite no-no for the LWBs. What was the catch? The soft sand climb – you had to remember to deflate your tyres from 3.5 bar! The leading competitors all forgot and scored a zero. As the day progressed, the pressure message worked its way down to those further back in the field and suddenly this obstacle was a breeze. A brief drive through the ADA facility took the teams out one gate but before they could enter the next farm gate, out stepped the dreaded GPS king! Kevin Bolton approached each vehicle with a set of questions. “What is the time of sunset today? What distance have you driven from the start? What is your location in Gauss format? What is your current height above sea level?” He got mostly blank stares from drivers and navigators. Oops… better brush up on your GPS skills, the Reg Raid is looming guys!
On to obstacle three, which required competitors to follow the route sheets and the map. But while the fi eld was still fresh and not yet bunched up, vehicles began appearing from all the wrong directions. “Eish, where is the next obstacle?” was a common question. It was here that the 4×4 challenge really began. Obstacle three was a long hill climb cut sharply up the towering hillside. Underfoot conditions were grass, rock and sand, so the correct line was key. Momentum was vital, and traction even more so. Oh yes, also in the mix were Barbosa Pinnacles – those elusive white droppers that gobble up points from the teams when touched.
What goes up must come down, and so obstacle four was a seriously slippery downhill, strewn with loose rocks and a large rocky drop-off towards the end. It was easy enough for the smaller vehicles who could comfortably keep their vehicles between the poles. Observing this obstacle at one stage during the day, I feared for the worst as the fi re engine red Range Rover (FRED!) lost engine power twice, and hence all control on the way down. Th e driver did amazingly well to regain control on both occasions, getting the motor going again, and getting the vehicle safely to the bottom. But when he fi nally alighted from the cabin he was as pale as a ghost! Obstacle fi ve was another sharp rise with a bit of a dogleg. It proved to be quite simple in the end. Th e most exciting part of this obstacle was the extremely loud barking of a nearby male baboon at one point which had the marshals more concerned about the traction on their escape route than the competitors’ movements.
On top of the hill and through the thick scrub, competitors had a way to go before rounding the koppie, to be faced with the next obstacle. Walking the obstacle, they didn’t like what they saw! Again it was sand and rock underfoot, with a sharp left breakaway and side slope right at the end, with another sharp drop-off to the left . No 4x4er likes sidewall driving, especially not in competitive situations. But why all this bravado stuff ? With various clubs competing in the 2012 Bridgestone 4×4 Fundi Challenge, it’s not only about pride. You can earn pride, but you cannot win it. What you can win from the fabulous sponsors includes a Conqueror trailer to the value of R80 000. Wow!
Opposite Lock, a new 4×4 accessory and fi tment chain are on board with an adjustable suspension system for second place to the value of R20 000, plus prizes to the value of R22 500 for the fi rst fi ve heats. Bolton’s GPS Warehouse is sponsoring GPS equipment to the tune of R15 000 for the winners. Judging by the course today, it won’t be an easy win to come by. Th e teams will need to sharpen their skills if they really want to make the most of these stunning prizes! Bridgestone SA also secured Bushtec, who are sponsoring tents to the value of R50 000 across the heats for the winners, and TUFFSTUFF have sponsored prizes to the value of R15 000 across all the heats too. TUFFSTUFF have further sponsored the new Environmental Award prize – R20 000 – which will go to the most environmentally aware team of the series. One team has wasted no time in taking this environmental objective to heart and are currently donating SA’s Tree of the Year for 2012, the Syzygium cordatum or Waterberry / Waterbessie, to each of the venues where the series is being held this year.
Finally, to ensure the competition stays heated in the team arena, Bridgestone has created a Bridgestone Club Award for the best performing club during the season, with a sponsorship of R60 000 worth of tyres for the most deserving team. Now do you understand why the guys were all fi red up on the day?
Leaving obstacle six the contestants took a long drive deep into the hills of the holistically-managed farm, spotting kudu along the way. Th e scenic drive, along well-maintained roads, allowed the teams to gather their wits ahead of the four remaining obstacles. At a designated waypoint, the teams were met by a marshal and instructed to leave their vehicles, take their torches and follow the GPS points provided. Th e next instruction at obstacle seven was to enter an old disused mine and search for a GPS waypoint on a piece of paper. Th is was a GPS challenge event aft er all.
Competitors really struggled with this one, with some losing GPS signal in the mine. Others clambered up the mine pathways, popping up several metres outside of the mine shaft s, on top of the hill. Today, some still swear blind that there was nothing to be found inside. Obstacle eight and nine were more climbing challenges, taking the vehicles through tightly-placed poles. Th e most fun obstacle of the day was certainly the last, where drivers had to reverse across a narrow pathway, avoiding a huge drop-off to their left . Th en they had to contend with a sharp corner and a few poles before reversing into a ‘garaged’ gated area. Doing this in reverse meant that left s became rights, rights became left s, tempers fl ared and the entertainment factor grew. By now most of the fi eld were in this area of the farm, patiently waiting to drive one of the four remaining obstacles. It was then that the chief marshal came tearing down the road, screaming about a fi re. All aft ernoon, the signs of nearby bushveld fi res on neighbouring farms were cause for alarm, but when the wind changed, competitors were suddenly stuck in a valley almost surrounded by fl ames. It was time for an orderly yet hurried exit. Daniel Barbosa summoned all competitors, marshals and Bridgestone staff to the start point and closed the event. Safety is the key factor in any Bridgestone activity! Th e competitors accepted the fact and decided to stay a bit longer and relax with a good braai.
So, now we’re two prize-givings behind, and nobody is sure who’s in the lead anymore. Bridgestone SA will decide if enough competitors completed enough obstacles to fairly calculate scores for this event, otherwise it will be voided. It also meant that competitors didn’t get enough practice for the Reg Raid – the intended objective by Kevin Bolton, as sponsor and coordinator of this GPS event. Make sure you get the next issue of SA4x4 to see what happens as this series progresses. In the meantime, Fundis, sharpen your skills for the Reg Raid – it will be bigger and better this year!