The spunky Suzuki Jimny stood proud once again at the Bridgestone 4x4 Club Challenge in the fourth and final qualifying round by taking all three top spots on the podium. We wish all our Suzuki qualifiers best of luck in the elimination round, we look forward to sharing their stories with you. Thank you to Danie Botha, freelancer for Leisure Wheels, for sharing all their adventures with us - and don't forget you can follow all the action on our Facebook page as well as on DSTV's Ignition channel.
Bridgestone qualifying ends on a high!
Hartbeespoort Dam - For some teams it was the endgame - the game that would make or break them as they attempted to lift the 2015 Bridgestone 4x4 Club Challenge crown. It was the last of four qualifying rounds, and to add further spice to proceedings, almost 50 teams lined up for the start at the Leeuwenkloof 4x4 venue.
Amongst the teams there was a group of Suzuki Jimnys, considered by most of the other teams as the vehicles to beat because of their diminutive size and 4x4 ability. There were also teams of Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagens, Toyota Hilux and Fortuner 4x4s, a handful of Land Rovers, a classic old Range Rover, some Nissan and Mitsubishi bakkies and a good helping of Jeep products too.
So it was a full house of endgame players who were there to secure their place in the elimination rounds as there would be space for only 60 teams after this last qualifier was done and dusted.
The top six point scoring teams of each 4x4 club automatically advance to the first elimination round late in June at the Hobby Park 4x4 track in Krugersdorp. The five lowest scoring teams at that event will be eliminated from the competition - and this trend will continue until the Club Challenge Final showdown in November, where only 30 teams will compete for top honours.
But back to the last qualifier. The action started off hot and fast with an early recovery at the infamous obstacle six - an extremely rocky business where the ideal line with just the right amount of momentum is vital. The first team took 20 minutes, but eventually the Nissan Pathfinder was free. It was perhaps an omen of all the hardship that was to follow. Later that day a Nissan Hardbody was so stuck on this obstacle the organisers probably pondered leaving it there to become part of the scenery!
The track was extremely dry and dusty, and obstacle nine proved particularly so. A short but steep climb on some powdery, liquid-like surface was the nemesis of virtually every 4x4 on the track - only five vehicles out of the 47 entrants scored points here.
As was the case in previous events, the infamous obstacle three again claimed a few victims. Robert and Dustin Hale, in an Isuzu Trooper V6, bent an aluminium rim during their speedy ascent in the big 4x4. "I had to go for it, and unfortunately we hit a boulder very hard with the left rear wheel. Oh well, that's how the cookie crumbles. We still managed to conquer number three,"said Hale while changing one sorry-for-itself Isuzu wheel.
Another team that made quite an impression on obstacle three - and especially on track designer Sakkie Coetzee - were Karina Jacobson and Anja Eder, who drove a Jeep Wrangler. The two young ladies, driving in their first 4x4 competition, took on the challenge of this humdinger that had the better of many other 4x4s, and scored 75 points, making it all the way to the top!
"That was so scary!" said Karina later. "When we got to the top I just sat there, unable to speak, shaking like a leaf!"
Sakkie Coetzee was so impressed by the young ladies" bravery and driving skills that he duly awarded them with the prized Bridgestone tyre voucher worth R10 000.
Another stand-out performer on obstacle three was a stock standard little Suzuki Jimny, campaigned by the media team from Wegry magazine. Gerrie van Eeden and co-pilot Charles Thompson somehow managed to get the little 1.3-litre Jimny - which has no locking differentials or traction control - up that hill. When the Wegry team heard they had dislodged two golf balls from their perches on the way up (resulting in only 50 points), they correctly stated that the Jimny is so narrow, it was nigh impossible for them to have dislodged said balls.
Sakkie Coetzee was on hand to shed some light on the mysterious dislodging of golf balls: "You're right, you didn't hit the poles with the Suzuki. But the wheels were spinning so much that rocks were flying in all directions, and it was the flying rocks that took out those balls!" The media team nevertheless finished the event in a highly commendable 8th position overall - a feat all the more impressive considering the vehicle is stock standard, unlike all the other Jimnys in the competition.
In the end it was indeed the school of little Suzukis that filled the podium, the narrow gates obviously suiting the smaller 4x4s. Third place was claimed by Henry and Adele Barnes, who won a set of LED work lights, courtesy of Opposite Lock. Second place belonged to Raymond and Anel Martin, and they bagged a Mean Green recovery kit, also with the compliments of Opposite Lock.
The undisputed winner of the day was Pieter Smit, partnered by Gert van Niekerk. The team's Jimny has both front and rear lockers and this no doubt helped them record that amazing 850 (from 900) points. The team also won a R10 000 tyre voucher from event sponsor Bridgestone South Africa.
"It was no walk in the park," says Smit. "Sakkie and Bridgestone really, really put us to the test on this track. Now we are looking forward to Hobby Park to see what new challenges the organisers will come up with."
So, with the four qualifying rounds now wrapped up and the top 60 crews selected, it's time to get down to business as Bridgestone SA and track master Sakkie Coetzee ups the 4x4 ante in the elimination rounds. If the competitors had thought they had had it tough on the Leeuwenkloof track, they are in for a big surprise.