2021 Spirit of Amarok

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The 2021 Spirit of Amarok was held in Limpopo in Bela Bela and it went down as an epic event….largely cause I was in the winning team.

The Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge is an event where the cream of the South African media compete in off road challenges in the country’s most powerful double cab, the 190kW VW Amarok. The event is organised by Mzansi’s racing legend, Sarel van der Merwe. This event brings in all the factors that make South Africa such an excellent off road land, with technical challenges, high speed challenges that push a driver to their limits and beyond.

This years Media Challenge started off with a 3 hour drive from the truly excellent Zebula Lodge to the Geluksfontein Private River Lodge where a fleet of Amaroks were waiting for a team of 2 in each car. I was fortunate to drive with Fanelesibonge Bengu of iSolezwe and this was the first time we participated in the event as a team cause in 2019 he was partnered by our Lawrence Nzama….don’t even ask what position they got then as they also won’t tell me. This year was my first time and I was anxious as we set off for the first of 13 challenges.

As the “Zulu” team at the event, we fed of each others strengths and by the end of the 5th stage, we had amassed a couple of full 100 points, it would have been more but a very interesting penalty, anyway on to the next stage. By lunchtime, racing legend Sarel van der Merwe showed everybody the scoreboard and we were 3rd, two points away from the lead, boy  were we surprised. When Sarel then said “You never knew it was in you, now push yourself further and see what you can achieve”, we really started to believe.

After a couple of solid points in subsequent stages, the penultimate stage saw us pick up a penalty point for a jump start. On the way to the final stages, I have to admit, the mood was quite sombre in the No. 11 Amarok as someone told us the jump start would mean we lost all the Stage 12 points which would ruin our podium (top 3) chances. We were now on the final high speed stage (Stage 13) and we knew a good score will give us a better chance to get our much desired podium.

“Get ready, you are off in 3,2,1…..GO” and that’s when we made the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel sing as the Gripmax tyres scrabbled for grip on the loose sand surface. Fanele was in charge of the traction control, diff lock and instructor ……and boy were we pushing now. 4 wheel slides from one pole to the next meant the traction control was completely off and we were now gathering crazy pace. As we take the final corner, my co-driver shouts that I need to put foot down and liberate 200kW of over-boost power for 10 seconds and the 8 speed auto now shifts 580Nm of torque to all wheels. KWASHUBA.

The off road Gripmax do their best to retain traction but as we exit the last corner, the rear steps out for a lovely oversteer and we are now flying towards the flags……….”BOOM” Sarel says “34 seconds for No. 11, well done that’s a very good time, 100 points is definitely yours”. At that moment Fanele starts screaming, I join and even the Amarok hooter joins in as we cause a stir but we really didn’t care at that point, we were happy we at least finished on a high as we were sure our Stage 12 jump start all but ruined our podium challenge….lets enjoy this moment in full.

At the awards ceremony Team No. 11 (that’s us the Zulu team) win the Technical Driving Trials award and we are really excited to at least walk away with an award from this gruelling event. As we walk off the makeshift stage place with a Prize, we feel really good cause this is a great thing since its our first event. Next off the 3rd best team is announced and Sisanda “Dozer Drives” Mbethe and Charlen Raymond get their award.

Next up its the 2nd Place winners, Brendon Staniforth and Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger who also bagged the Team Spirit Award.

Fanele gets the phone ready to take the video of the winners as Sarel v/d Merwe starts to announce the 2021 Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge winners. It takes a second for us to get it that we have indeed been announced as the winners. All hell breaks loose as we jump with pure joy (no F1 Champion winner or even Academy Award winner has ever displayed the emotion we showed) as we dance, sing the Shaka Zulu movie theme song, Fanele does the Hakka, I am in disbelief as I kill my voice shouting.

So there you go, The Zulus have conquered the 2021 Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge and this means 2022 we will have to defend the title but most unfortunate, because of Covid-19, there is unlikely to be a chance where we show honour to the rainbow flag at the International Event, oh well….2022 HERE WE COME.