In our second desert encounter with the Cooper Dust Series, competitors who’d come from all over the country, and in all sorts of vehicles, lined up on November 30 for the grand finale of 2018’s seven-region event to test their mettle against the elements.
Deep within SA’s rural heartland, the venue chosen for the final – Vanwyksvlei – lies in a region called the Dorsland, accessible only by gravel road. Surrounded by many kilometres of apparently featureless Karoo desert and mud flats, the area is barren and dry, just as organiser Gerrie van Eeden likes it. This middle-of-nowhere town may once have been a vibrant community with its own cricket academy, but today it lies almost dormant, with only a few local sheep farms and a co-op providing work for the locals.
Our base for the weekend would be a dusty camp-ground just outside town, with the surrounding mud flats (dry, of course), mountains and quarries as our playground. Day one would see us drive deep into the surrounding hills among sharp rocks and thick sand, punctuated by countless quiver trees. Day two would comprise billiard-table-flat mud flats and tight quarry tracks.
The event itself consists of six challenges in total, with combined points added together to crown a winner for the day, and a winner for the championship standings. Many of the teams had come down from Mpumalanga, or up from Cape Town, travelling hundreds (or even thousands) of kilometres to get their points on the poll. The seven regions included this year were the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, KZN, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
To keep drivers and navigators on their toes, several new twists were added to the usual array of challenges. These included a navigation challenge, a dune charge, a gymkhana on the mud flats, a technical challenge, and − my favourite − the high speed loop on the pans.
During the two days, teams were put to the test in what Gerrie describes as “a thinking man’s event”. In other words, it’s not about how big your wheels are or how many diff-locks you have, but about driver skill, and working as a team.
After a year full of Cooper Dust Series events, comprising plenty of fun, the occasional repair and also the inevitable heartbreak, the 280 entrants who had entered the year’s course were whittled down − first to the 23 who took place in the finals, and finally to just two guys: Johan and Herman Van Zyl, brothers from Trawal in the Western Cape, who brought home the trophy in their 4.0-litre V6 Hilux.
The top ten places were very closely fought, with the podium seeing the second-placed father-and-son team of Piet and Coenraad Kotze (Free State) in a Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 TDI, with Steven de Beer and Ross Curry (Eastern Cape) bagging third in their Ford Ranger.
Of course, next year’s event promises to be even bigger, as it expands into more regions around the country. If you’d like to enter, you’ll need a 4×4 with low range, and an adventurous spirit. Get in touch with the organisers through the Cooper Dust Series Facebook page; or contact Gerrie on email@example.com
To get us to the Cooper Dust Series we employed the help of the new Isuzu D-Max 3.0-litre Double Cab in LX trim with its upgraded interior and new six-speed manual transmission. The same grumbly yet reliable 3.0 diesel from the KB300 is used, but it now works less hard on the highway thanks to a longer top gear.
Isuzu bakkies have long been known to be some of the most comfortable and best handling vehicles on bad gravel roads, and this point was proven as we travelled to Vanwyksvlei and back, doing nearly 700km of gravel in total.
New for the 2019 model year is the Alpine stereo and infotainment screen and a leather-covered dash, as well as an upgraded instrument cluster.
D-MAX 300 4X4 DOUBLE CAB LX – 6-SPEED AUTOMATIC – R 606 400
By Andrew Middleton