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Motorsport – back to basics?

25 July 2016

Picture the scene.

It was 1962, and brothers Phil and Scamp Porter arrived at the start of the Total Lourenço Marques Rally in their Renault Dauphine Gordini. The Renault also doubled up as a daily runner, and the Porters drove the vehicle from their house to the start, with their luggage in the boot.

There were no service crews with fancy mobile workshops that could swap an engine in an hour – you arrived at the rally in your rally car, and afterwards, if it was still alive, you drove it home again. And it was not like this rally was a spin around the block, either.

It started in Pretoria, ran through Swaziland and finally ended in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). There were up to 30 short special timed stages before the cars that were left driving finished at the coastal city. At that time, almost 100 cars took their places at the start. The Porter brothers won the 1962 event – and drove their Dauphine home after the rally.

How times have changed. Nowadays, on the National Rally scene, the entry list is around 25 cars. Toyota is the only manufacturer that still runs a factory team so, with its big budgets, it really is now just a case of which Toyota will win, not what brand.

Even reigning SA rally champ Mark Cronje is watching the action from the sidelines after not being able to secure a drive for 2016. No wonder then, that the steering committee of the National Rally Championship recently announced that the top S2000 class will be dropped in 2017; instead the more affordable Super 1600 class is set to become SA’s premier rally class. Kudos to the committee for not just shrugging their shoulders, and denying that there are problems, as seems to be the modus operandi in SA at the moment.

The Donaldson Cross Country Championship is at least in a slightly better space with several brands now competing for top honours. This followed after Toyota’s two Dakar Rally-spec Hilux bakkies were moved into their own class, and the rest of the top entrants from Toyota, Ford and VW were left to battle it out in Class T.

But, to be competitive in Class T, the teams still need to bring bucketloads of cash to the party. If you have to buy a top Class T bakkie, for instance, it will cost around R4.5 million. And that’s just the vehicle. That doesn’t include entry fees, service and back-up teams, fuel, accommodation, and, and, and. So off-road racing entry numbers are also no longer as healthy as they used to be.

What is the solution?
There are as many ideas to rectify the situation as there are challenges, but we reckon going back to the basics is the most logical and realistic. So create a new national off-road production class for bakkies where the budget is limited to, say, R200 000. And ensure that the performance of all the bakkies is on par with each other, to ensure the racing is exciting and a close dice for victory.

A prime example: the 24 Hours of Lemons. This popular endurance racing series, which originated in the USA, limits entrants to $500 for their vehicle (around R7 500, which is not so realistic for our market). The racing is exciting and action-packed, and plenty of fun, too. Afterwards there are cool awards such as ‘most heroic fix’, ‘I got screwed’ and ‘the most dangerous homemade technology’, to name but a few.

The series effectively takes the ‘cheque-book’ out of racing and puts fun and excitement back in.  We think a local off-road racing version, with that budget cap may just bring the entry numbers back to racing.

Point of impression
Last month we featured an Adventure Drive article on the AfrikaBurn Festival in the Karoo – we took two ‘arty’ crossovers on a road trip to the festival. We subsequently posted a social media reference to the festival and the Citroën C4 Cactus on our social media platforms.  Please note that there is no commercial connection between Citroën and the AfrikaBurn festival. We apologise if this post created a different impression.

Text: Danie Botha