BY WEZILE BONANI
COVID-19 took away a lot from us. We lost people we love, and we had to stop doing a lot of things we had come to love as South Africans. Life without football and rugby was just too much to bear. And for us those that love cars, the absence of motorsports was a huge pain. Things are getting back to normal, which means the return of the much-loved and challenging Spirit of Africa, under a new sponsor, Nissan South Africa.
This is an off-road competition designed by oom Sarel Van Der Merwe, a living racing legend, who also owns the concept. Unbelievably he is still actively racing at the age of 76. The man has National Colours, Springbok Colours, and the Motorsports South Africa Lifetime Achievement Awards among others.
The competition is a series of obstacles designed by Sarel to best test off-road driving prowess. This year it was rather different as it is usually over two days. However, this year is was all done in a day. Things did feel quite rushed, which may have negatively affected most strategies among the teams. We tend to take this competition very seriously and it goes beyond bragging rights. Motoring journalists generally see themselves as driving gods, so to win such a competition does add a feather to one’s cap.
We were based at a farm in Doringkop in the outskirts of Bloemfontein. The weather gets very cold in that area during this time of year. We did a lot of high speed obstacles and one very technical 4 minute course. I reckon we did not do quite a number of other obstacles that earn some of us more points. I was teamed up with Fanele Bhengu from Isolezwe who is a previous winner, while I was a runner-up the last time I took part. We finished 5th overall, this year’s winners were Jay Dickson and Blessing Mtshakazi, Congratulations to them.
This year we used the trusted Nissan Navara PRO4X, which is powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine with 140kW and 450Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The bakkie proved its mettle, especially with its multi-link suspension system. It handled articulation very well and the power was enough during the high speed runs. However, seating position for me was not the best. It was my first time driving this product, and I was left impressed overall. It really made me wonder why this Navara does not sell well into the top 5 at least because it carries all the attributes of a good bakkie in this bakkie-loving country.