There are a few things in life one should not say to most youngsters – at my age – a youngster is anyone under 50!
The most common saying that could lead to social tragedy is, “when we were young!” or “in our days” or even worse – “the days when men were men”
They do however take kindly to stories that starts with “once upon a time, there were three bears …”
So let me start this story before I lose both my readers.
Once upon a time there were around 120 drivers in their racing machines who met late on a Friday afternoon – some still dressed up, wearing ties – I kid you not – to race through that night against time and each other to determine who was fastest – chasing rather yellowish lights due to kak alternators, through the forests near Graskop or over the 1000 Hills somewhere in Natal or a forest near Knysna or through the mountains in the Northern Cape.
The works cars had new tyres – and service crews – even a few welders and a torque wrench. They had spare radiators and it is known that some had spare cars without doors on – so the driver could just change the doors off the start car and travel on after blowing an engine or gearbox on the “number one” car – but those were rumours – like Louis Armstrong or what was his name, changing his blood during a Tour de France.
The rich had two sets of tyres and the poor ran on Bandag rally retreads.
The boot lids of the cars had two handles and the bumper two iron stepping plates on which the navigator could stand while holding onto the two handles – bouncing the rear of the car to get through muddy sections.
I can carry on and tell you much, much more – even do a Sarel van der Merwe and tell you about the beautiful groupies and luck shots – but that was long, long ago …
This past weekend it was the turn of the “new” brigade of bravehearts – a small group of talented youngsters who have been battling for the past few years through the decline of the sport. They battled because the boot-lid-handles and bump-stands with which they could get through sticky situations were replaced by slippy silicone patches.
The sport became so stiff that if you tried to bounce it out of trouble, you would have ended up with a broken ankle – a very expensive broken ankle.
Making some sort of a comeback and then working my way through the rubble to organise a rally that would satisfy at least a few people, I had my moments where I truly doubted my sanity. The time allowed to get the event organised was too short, everything and almost everyone around me was negative – many people were supercritical, if not almost hysterical about the lack of “action and excitement” generated by the S1600 cars, so I knew I had to try and “design” or select a route that would excite, satisfy and also present a true challenge to all.
I made the tight sections tight enough to keep the fast cars within reach and give the “lack-of-funds-brigade” some sort of a chance to keep up with the rich and quickies!
I also decided to throw a serious curve ball at the competitors to test their concentration, fitness and the ability to pace themselves, by looking for long stages. Real long stages.
At Rallystar I could make the stages either fast or select a route that would offer a variety of real tight-stuff, combined with short fast sections and then add a very tricky but spectacular tar stage with some real serious culverts lying in wait.
On Friday the Bravehearts would get the chance to prove themselves over a 32km stage that went over a long dam-wall. This same dam-wall caused me to lie wide awake for a night or two. The reason was that we combined this stage in reverse, with another 8kms to produce a 40km stage that they would have to tackle the next day.
This meant that the teams would cross the dreaded wall three times!
I thought about it carefully and decided that the silly almost natural habit of any rally driver worth anything, may just kick in too soon and they would start taking chances which may result in someone having to dive them out of the dam – so I decided – to let them run the dam-wall once on Friday and drive around it on Saturday.
Then I lay awake worrying if I did the right thing to put some serious money (for us at Rallystar) into this event? My two partners Johan Oosthuizen and Rocky Reinecke also had their moments of worry, but at least they could point a shaky fingers at me.
I then decided “in for a penny, in for a pound” and because the limited time to get proper sponsors were simply too short, I prayed (in desperation) for every little bit of help possible and believe me, it came from unexpected directions.
I discussed route options with the landowner and farmer, Dirk Daling – no problem he said and created a cut here, a corner there and voilá we had more than 40kms to use on Saturday and missed the dam wall! This would not have been possible if my friend Burger Strydom did not take the time to introduce me to this incredibly helpful mega farmer.
The infrastructure started to take shape – water trucks, toilets, bunting, arrows, permits, permissions, ambulances, landowners, proper stages, the media, advertisements, food stands, parking, programs, planning, service guides, roadbooks, route notes, checking of route, marshals, radio marshals, scoring, officials, trophies, decals, banners, regulations, meetings, champagne, entry and exit routes, safety plans, rubbish-bins, arrowing, shakedown stage, signage, sponsor banners, accommodation, parc ferme, service area, scrutineering, prizegiving and a few more small things, fell into place.
On Thursday when the first cars started to do the shakedown and Etienne Malherbe started to prepare his car – or so it seemed – I have a few pictures to prove that! Luckily his navigator Dr Raj Jutley was closeby to resurrect Malherbe should he overdo anything.
I knew we had a rally on our hands and I had a feeling that it would be a good one, although I knew that we would not get the same number of spectators we had at the “old Rallystar” – not first time out.
One by one the teams pitched up and the chaos turned into an organised event.
The first stage was at Rallystar and I went into hiding – I knew that it would be tight and that we may have one or more casualties there and then! The idea was sure as hell not to lose any competitor from a very limited field.
I predicted and average of around 60k/h through the stage which made “ideal time” 8m39.6s – so call me a liar for 1.9s – as Wilro Dippenaar posted a 8m41.4s
Theuns Joubert was second quickest but the gap was 9s already and we all knew that the guy to beat would be Dippenaar. On the other hand – Joubert has never really been quick out of the blocks – he usually starts to shape after settling in. The problem however was that the rally was designed for those who could turn on the pace from the start. The next stage would be 32km and there was simply not time to “settle in” – a bad run through that could mean a minute and more gap opening between you and those you need to catch.
Leeke opened the taps and posted fastest S1600 time, trailing the S2000 time by 13.8s – which on paper looks worse than what it really is. Botterill was a further 4.3s down and AC Potgieter dropped even 7,9s more.
Matthew Vacy-Lyle was 6th, followed by Tjaart Conradie and then Chris Coertse who lost his mother the day before. My respect goes to him – for keeping his composure and driving well under very sad conditions.
The 32km tester lay in wait.
Dippenaar proved that he did not come from Namibia to fool around and did what I feared may spoil the excitement later on – he opened the gap between him and Joubert who battled with a problem on the car, to 1m6.9s
Botterill also posted a quicker time than the problem stricken Joubert and was only 3.7s short of second place overall.
Leeke was trailing Botterill 17.5s in fourth. He was followed by AC Potgieter, Matthew Vacy-Lyle, Coertse, JJ Potgieter, Tjaart Conradie and in tenth place George Smalberger.
Then we all had a longish break – waiting for the darkness to arrive and I held my breath that the tar stages would be exciting enough to entertain the spectators and fans.
Small mistake on our side – we did not mark the beacons with reflective tape and most drivers hesitated here and there as they could not see the markers clearly. Sorry, next time…..
No matter what, the spectacle was worth the wait and we saw some serious driving on the two night tar stages. Thinking about it, we never had reflective anything on arrows during the “once upon a time days” – no matter I will keep my promise…
Tjaart Conradie and AC Potgieter both picked up cement-culvert-related-problems and their service crews had only a few minutes to replace rear axles the next morning.
At least they were still in the rally, but rally leader Wilro Dippenaar had to throw in the towel after the first stage for Saturday, which he won – but had to withdraw due to steering rack problems. The long road back to Namibia began… what a pity, but as they say, Rallying is not known to be a fair sport.
At the end of day One the leader board looked like this:
Dippenaar, 2) Botterill +96.3s ; 3) Joubert +97.3s; 4) Leeke +113.9s; 5) AC Potgieter 152.5; 6) Mathew Vacy-lyle +193.1s followed by Coertse and JJ Potgieter.
Early Saturday morning – spectators started to arrive, service crews were waiting for their cars to come out of parc ferme, the smell of coffee and fried onions hung over the whole Rallystar Rally area, while the water truck did a quick run over the main spectator area of the stage.
Funny surface we have here – Car 0 was concerned that the track would be too wet – but the second car on the road pulled dust in the spectator area!
This was then also the final stage for Dippenaar – which he won and then had to withdraw
George Smalberger and Carolyn Swan rolled out of the event on the first stage on Saturday and the sunflower giants waited to bite a windscreen or two in the next two FORTY kilometre stages!
Yes, you read that correctly – the teams had to do a forty kilometre run, take a break and do that same 40kms again before returning to the Rallystar home base.
I made up the forty kilometers by combining at least eight different types of road, a variety of surfaces and twisty tracks split by super fast sections. This would offer real rally drivers the test they so long avoided – this was real “once upon a time” stuff!
Dirk Daling knew his farm and the roads, the links and every piece of surface like the back of his hand. It was actually uncanny to see how he put this stage together without crossing paths. At one place where the roads came too close, he simply took out a row of sunflowers!
Where jumps were too high or ditches too deep he repaired and improved the road for us! This was simply the ideal landowner – a real petrolhead with the knack to improvise and the understanding that we needed roads to test skills and not jumps that would destroy cars.
Theuns Joubert in the spectacular Salom Toyota S2000 put his head down, and did what he came to do. He showed the difference between an S2000 and an S1600 clearly by beating Guy Botterill by 54.9s over 40km. Botterill in turn beat Leeke in the S1600 Ford by a mere 14s while Leeke opened the gap between him and the next car that was driven by JJ Potgieter by 38.8s.
Next fastest was AC Potgieter, who were greeted by a sunflower cob that took his windscreen out. He was 7.2s down on JJ Potgieter, while Chris Coertse was in 6th spot. Tjaart Conradie was 7th fastest while Etienne Malherbe and Kenian Jutley who wrong slotted for a bit, impressed by still being 8th quickest in the well-known Datsun.
The repeat of the same 40km stage was again won by Joubert who improved his time by 15.1s while Guy Botterill blasted through the 40km a second time, improving his previous time by 32 odd seconds. This was just 23s off of Joubert’s first time through – without doubt proof of the qualities that makes him a champ.
AC Potgieter – driving without a windscreen was third quickest, followed by JJ Potgieter. Few people realise that driving without a windscreen – especially at night makes you quicker than with one. The reason is simply because you see so much better – the problem or danger however is to pick up, for instance a sunflower without a windscreen – that is very, very dangerous and I believe that cars should not be allowed into stages like that. Think about it….. a mealie or sunflower at 160 equals a small hand-grenade in the face!!
Be it as it may – AC is still with us and posted third fastest time in the wind and fresh air!
After Stage 7, which was the second 40km stage – Joubert led by a comfortable 91.5s from Botterill who in turn had a light year between him and AC Potgieter – the gap being 165.9s
In fourth spot JJ Potgieter hung onto a mere 9.4s between him and Coertse, while the 7 minutes Leeke lost due to a broken side-shaft in SS7 moved him into 6th overall spot and with all tight stuff ahead – nothing short of a miracle could save him – not even Kohne!
Stage 8 – Rallystar 2 belonged to Joubert – but Leeke did come up with an impressive second fastest time of 8m57.1 which was only 5.4s off Joubert’s winning time. He beat AC who was also in a hurry to make up a bit by 7.3s.
Guy Botterill was 4th fastest – which is understandable as he knew nothing except Murphy could catch up with him. No not Sarel Murphy – Murphy – Murphy!
Stage 9 – The Hencom Autobody Witbank stage was a repeat of SS8 and yes – it is true, Leeke won the stage overall – but unfortunately also while Joubert had nothing else to lose, but his overall lead. The latter would still have the nightmare he experienced on the York rally in his mind – when he lost the lead and the rally right at the end.
It was heartening to see the spirit that developed over the whole rally – except for an incident that involved – guess who?
The fans were chirpy, glad to see old faces, watch the new ones go and to be honest having a good time again.
The stand was packed for the last stage – guys who sold flags and children goodies, traded briskly. A few old hands stood around discussing … what else, than the good old days – but one thing was sure – no one complained about the action.
The young ones delivered because they had the stages to do so.
Stage 10 belonged to Leeke again and he seemed to enjoy placing a little bit of psychological pressure on the Botterill’s and Potgieter’s of this world!
I have to admit – neither Botterill, nor AC Potgieter seemed to be worried.
The rally belonged to Theuns Joubert and his navigator Chris Brand – they had a problem or two early on, but then put their heads down and opened an early minute and half – which they maintained.
Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle ruled S1600 after they also had an early hic-up – but then proved to be in a class of their own.
AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz became acquainted with a giant sunflower – lost a windscreen, but made up time to finish in a well-deserved third spot overall. I believe that AC is still leading the championship by a point to two.
Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich eventually won the battle for fourth place against JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit by a mere 2 seconds – like in “One thousand and one, one thousand and two” – this always amazes me as two seconds does not make any sense in a rally with three super long stages!
Richard Leeke and his navigator what’s his name – finished in a fine sixth place keeping in mind his true bad luck in the 40km long Stage 7.
Tjaart Conradie and Mari van der Walt finished a credible 7th after a few spots of bother.
Jose de Gouveia and Megan Verlaque truly delivered an entertaining drive and were one of the crowd favourite teams.
A team that truly seemed to try was that of Jacques du Toit and Ronald BarryRens in the Sentra – they finished in 9th spot and Ian Rademeyer and Matt Kohler completed the top ten.
The absolute crowd favourites – Malherbe and Jutley gave it their all – but could not do better than 12th overall.
Luné Snyman gave the best display of how to get out of trouble after a jump! She drove very neatly and it was a pity that she and her father Edward Strydom did not complete the event.
Then we had a great prize-giving where the atmosphere, the spirit and the food were absolutely great!
Thank you to each and every competitor, thank you to my company Rallystar, Hencom Autobody, Step Ahead Interior, Sun Carousel, Phoenix, Potwyk Bouers and every person who had anything to do with the organising, the control and the success of this event.
I hope each and everyone of you who were there will bring four other people along for the next event – then we will be in a fantastic position to start equaling the “old Rallystar” numbers soon.
Thank you and I hope to see you all at the next Rallystar event!
Watch this space carefully!