Two new Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge Champions were crowned at the De Voetpadkloof resort near Middelburg on the final event of the year’s calendar.
But the laurels were taken without a wheel being turned, and the real story of the day was that none of the competitors or spectators were seriously injured in a massive storm which destroyed the campsite, uprooted trees and damaged numerous competitors’ vehicles.
“The venue was hit by a very severe storm which passed through the area on the Friday night before the event,” said series convenor, Bridgestone’s Guthrie Blaine. “The campsite was hammered for about 15 minutes by extremely high winds and driving rain which caused massive property damage,” he added.
While injuries were minor, many campers lost all their camping gear and personal belongings. Tents and gazebos were shredded, caravans moved metres from their stands and vehicles severely damaged by flying objects and fallen trees.
As the organisers took stock of the damage on Saturday morning, it was clear the competition would have to be abandoned. Many competitors had had barely any sleep, and vehicle damage sidelined several contenders. With the teams already having accrued points over preceding events, it was decided that the scores coming into the Middelburg event would be considered the final scores for 2016.
And so, in the short wheelbase class, third place overall went to Anton Coetzee and Johan Marx, driving a Mercedes Gelandewagen. The team won a Front Runner package worth R10 000 that include a pop-up tent, a set of Expanda chairs, a wolf pack storage box with a cutlery set, and a voucher worth R5 000.
Second place was taken by Hans Strydom and Johan Cilliers in their classic SVM 3000. Their R17 000 prize included a 42-litre Snomaster fridge, an Intervolt electrical battery management system and a deep-cycle battery.
But the top podium step went to Johan Bekker and Johan van der Heever in a Suzuki Jimny. The team’s grand prize was a R12 000 Bridgestone tyre voucher and a R15 000 gift voucher from Opposite Lock.
Johan Bekker was elated: “It really is amazing. We made a few unnecessary mistakes during the year, but our overall performance pulled us through.”
In the long wheelbase class, the teams bagged the same prizes as their short wheelbase counterparts. Third overall was former champion, Danny Daniels, partnered by Rob Wallace in a Ford Ranger Supercab. In second place, and just two points clear of Daniels and Wallace, were Gavin Goncalves and Chantel van Niekerk in an Isuzu Frontier V6.
And it was the husband-and-wife team of Johan and Maryke Reichel from Lichtenburg, driving a Toyota Fortuner, who took the long-wheelbase crown.
The Reichels went into the final round as favourites, carrying a 17-point margin over the second-placed team, and Johan Reichel was thrilled at taking the championship after years of dedicated attempts. “We’ve been competing in the series for the past eight years, and although we’ve come close on a number of occasions, it’s great to finally get the win in the bank,” he said.
Blaine, meanwhile, was philosophical about the near-disaster which brought down the curtain on the 2016 year. “It was a tough call to cancel the event, but it was the right thing to do,” he said. “The bigger picture is that this year’s competition has been a huge success, and we’re very pleased with the focus on a trail-based format and more standard vehicles.”
When the Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge returns in 2017, it will be celebrating the tenth year of the series, and Blaine encouraged anyone wanting to enter to contact him for further details. “Four-wheel drive enthusiasts can contact me at 4×email@example.com for more information on how to get involved,” he concluded.