THE RALLYSTAR EXPERIENCE
We were four adults who decided to take a tentative step into the world of rallying – not one of us being what the adrenaline junkies would describe as brave – but in the IT -, banking-, medicine and even marketing world you need some guts to get through a working day – so we decided to give this adventure a go!
How this came about…
My partner and I went to a few parties over the past few weeks after being locked in for a number of months. After the general shortage of liquor and tobacco, we craved for more than just a draw on some “aap-twak”. Not that I smoke it – but we were all hungry for some fun – we needed to catch up.
That is how we started talking about some of the “adventures” available in and around Pretoria.
A lot of things sounded like fun, but everyone we spoke to who have been to a company called Rallystar was so eager to tell us about their experience that their enthusiasm convinced us that the rally experience must offer something special there, and on top of that it could also help hone our driving ability.
They mentioned a rather “oldish guy” – but did not want to say much more. “Go meet him!” was the general suggestion – “he really knows his story!”
So we booked two so-called “Rallystar-self-drives” and the girls were convinced to do the “Hotseat-spins”, as they were too scared (like us) to drive a proper rally car.
On Saturday morning we left Randburg, and after about an hour’s drive we arrived at the gates of the Carousel Casino (now closed), and after some navigation (thanks to the instructions we had received) we arrived at the “large green gates of the Rallystar facility”.
We phoned as we were told, and were promised that someone was on his way to open the gate.
A few minutes later a car stopped, and an elderly gentleman got out to open the gate for us.
My partner jokingly remarked that this old man was probably our instructor and everybody laughed and said “never!”
Little did we know that we were looking at one of the best, if not the very best in the rally game…
We followed him to the lapa and there it was – a true blue Subaru STi in full rally colours stood waiting for us!
I felt like Colin McCrae already.
A few other people were standing around the rally car talking and joking about each other’s skills.
The “old man” introduced himself and I then saw that on his shirt the embroidery said “Leon Botha – Rally Pro”. Then I remember the name that had often been mentioned in the best company by my rally-crazy father.
According to him, Leon was a legend, especially in his “Red Pizza Hut Golf” – a giant killer of note.
I told my three friends as much as I could remember of what my dad had told me over the years about this crazy guy who chased anything with wheels, no matter which class he was in, and no matter what car he drove. They however still looked doubtful.
We were then called to take our seats, and the group of 10 people started to hear about the rules, the sport, the problems with drivers, what to do, and what not to do.
The talk was very interesting, amusing and serious at the same time.
I will rather let you experience it yourself – but what I can say is that Leon’s passion is contagious. I wanted to get more involved in the sport and could not wait for the drive to commence.
Then he started telling us more about Rally Pace Notes so that we could apply them once we were behind the wheel.
I have to admit that the fact that I did play a few computer games was a bit of help – but these notes were different from those used in the rally games I played. I found out that there are many different systems being used.
I could see that some of the other guys sitting there, had also started to understand the system although they did look quite nervous.
Leon explained everything perfectly and simply. I now had a fairly good idea of what to expect. He warned us that the recce run would be crucial to success later on – and that proved to be true.
We heard stories about a few escapades with some drivers, and he did mention a car brand or two, whose owners were without a doubt, not his all-time favourites.
We were now as ready as ready could be, and got into the recce vehicle three at a time.
Leon started calling the pace notes as he drove over the recce stage – and goodness knows, all the confidence I had disappeared out of the windows.
“I will never get this right,” I told myself – but when we stopped, Leon assured us that he was there to help us and that we would be surprised at how easy this was going to be.
Two of the other group went first, and they were all smiles after getting out of the Subaru after their recce runs – and had lots to tell excitedly.
Then it was my turn.
Despite being warned about the first turn, which was a “Caution Right four – turn sudden Right 9 – very tight” – which Leon had pointed out during the recce run, I overshot completely!
Not because I overdid the driving – but because I concentrated so hard on my driving that I had forgotten to listen to the instructions!
New respect for rally drivers!
Now wide awake I listened intently while driving within my limits – and soon I was, as Leon had promised, getting the hang of it.
Still, for a rookie like me, it was stressful, and I concentrated like mad.
After everyone had a turn on the recce – the real rally stage lay ahead of us.
There is a choice between two short or one long combined stage. We all selected to do the combined stage, as one gets the benefit of an uninterrupted run.
Determined not to make a mistake again and also not to stall the Subaru again on pull-away I pulled away – and almost made a mistake at the very same place I did the first time. This time I wanted to turn at that sharp 90 Right, while the instruction was “Stay Left” and not turn R9!
The calls came fast and furious, and Leon as navigator did well to stay with me all the way. I never doubted what would come next, but here and there I simply did not believe what he said. The corners were mostly hidden and although the instruction said it was a fast corner you could not see it, and of course, my brain said “slow down boet! The corner is much tighter than what he told you!”
Time and again what Leon predicted lay right there in front of me. When he called a tight corner it was truly such and when he said “opens” the corner did open as if by magic.
I was starting to get the hang of things, and my driving was much more confident.
Then it happened: I powered the Subaru too soon in a hairpin and got the understeer we were promised during the pre-drive talk. Luckily I remembered what I was told – “into a corner like Tweety and out like a Lion! Never the other way round.”
Next hairpin I waited for the right moment and started powering when I knew that I would get through the corner without lifting off again and vóilà – magic! I felt so good about having done a perfect corner I wished I could stop and just relive the moment.
But the calls kept on coming…so I drove and concentrated on my newfound knack of entering and exiting corners intelligently.
I could feel my concentration going slightly and must admit that I had mixed feeling at the end of the run – on the one hand, I truly wished it could last forever but on the other hand, I was relieved to have made it without any mistake or going off the road to avoid getting any warning.
I realised that the secret lay in the fact that in the end, all of us listened to the warnings and instructions, accepting that it came from a very experienced instructor.
When everyone completed the stage it was our turn to move into the navigator’s seat and go with a pro-rally-driver.
I was sort of pushed to go first for no reason I could think off. So, still full of adrenaline I jumped at the opportunity to get a first taste of what promised to be an incredible experience.
I thought I did very well during my drive, especially at the end of my run and was confident that Leon could not do much better than I did.
After the Rallystar team made sure that I was well strapped in and could step onto the floorboard firmly. Then Leon said that he hoped I would enjoy the run, and we pulled away.
A civilised pull away – crawling out of the lapa area – onto the stage and just as I thought it may not be what I expected Leon applied the power and for the first time I felt what this blue monster could really do.
The first corner came up so sudden I thought he was going to go straight on but he reduced speed and we went into a 90 degree to the Left as if it was an easy corner.
We accelerated out of that corner to a “ninety Right” 70m away. I was impressed but thought “ag this is not so fast!”
Then we turned into that 90 – suddenly I felt the real power of the Subaru.
Leon went up through the gears – hit fourth within about 200m and because I saw a sharp corner to the Right speed towards us, I waited for him to slow down…
This was when I realised that we were going to die in the bushveld – trees and bushes flashed past faster and faster and then, without missing a beat, we went into the corner I feared.
We were doing the sort of speed I do on a highway when late for a very important operation to perform. That is if the “Waze” app assures me that there was no “traffic inspection point” ahead.
Some of the roads we used
Leon simply turned into the corner without even pretending to slow down – the car slid to the outside bank of the corner and growled as the rest of the available power kicked in. I will never forget that pleasant sound of the Subaru engine as we accelerated out of that corner towards some esses and then to a left-hander before we hit a 180m straight leading to a 90-degree corner to the right.
This was when I realised that my life was in very – and I mean very capable hands. He looked relaxed and so calm I could not believe it. Leon made driving a car in anger look like a Sunday afternoon cruise.
A little later we passed by the lapa, where everyone was standing or sitting around to see what was going to happen.
As we came around the corner at the Lapa, everyone who sat jumped up to move a few meters back…thinking that there was no way in hell we were going to make that corner.
Needless to say – we did – with some space to spare.
When I got out of the car at the end of the Hotseat spin – I could not help laughing at the worried looks of those who still had to do the Hotseat spin and felt rather sorry for my partner, as she did not even have the little experience I had before the run.
She did make it – and to be honest, seemed to have enjoyed it even more than I did…
What a day! Everyone had their own story to tell, and memories to take into the future with them.
An experience that changed my attitude towards, as Leon calls it, “The art of driving!”
That alone made the very reasonable fees worthwhile, and the drive was simply a wonderful bonus.
I want to thank everyone at Rallystar for one of the greatest, if not the greatest experiences in my life. Quite frankly, even the most complicated operation I ever had to perform on a patient gave me the same satisfaction as this experience.
“Oom Leon” allow me to say that you redefined age for me.
To my partner – this was truly the best present I have ever received!
Certified and all.To the rally drivers of the world – new respect!
The Rally Doctor.
Only a few businesses I know have ever received this sort of write up – and I think the “Wish to stay anonymous” doctor and the group that was there with him and his fiance. should have been a little more exposed!
But they did not want some of their colleagues and I think insurers to see them driving rally cars.
To keep my part of the agreement – I have posted general pictures of some of our clients, so you will not find Doctor Rally between them.
Maybe Dr Rally should consider becoming our own Stig!
Thank you anyway C. This is a great gesture.