SidexSides tackled tough race in Lesotho Mountains

The Roof of Africa is known as one of the toughest off-road races – not only in South Africa or Africa, but in the world! This race celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007 and in 2008, a SidexSide Class was introduced in the Quad Roof of Africa that formed the first round of the South African National Off-Road Championship.

Although quads have been participating in the gruelling Roof of Africa off-road race in Lesotho for more than a decade now, a SidexSide Class was this year allowed only for the second time. And as SidexSide racing is still quite new in South Africa, there is no official class for these popular go-anywhere-vehicles and they had to start behind the last quad.

This year, the Quad Roof of Africa consisted of only two days of racing, and not three days, like in the past. On the first day, racers had to complete a 304 kilometer (189 mile) route in the mountains of Lesotho while another 248 kilometer (154 mile) route awaited them on the second day. These routes included various mountain passes where only the toughest of vehicles – and donkeys – go as well as some river crossings, lots of rocky sections, and a few fast kilometres.

The local Basotho’s, known for the blankets and straw hats they wear and the mules, donkeys, and horses they use as transport, were woken early on both race days as the leading quad – Leander Pienaar, winner of the 2006 Roof of Africa and now on the new Can-Am DS450 sponsored by Absa – tackled the first loop. About 80 quads entered this season opener that has a history of being a quad-breaker.

Two Side-by-Sides entered the event – Kiri Oberholzer, who had participated in the Roof of Africa on a quad in the past, and his navigator, Eugene Geyser, in their new Polaris Ranger RZR. It would be the RZR’s debut race and although fitted with the necessary safety equipment like safety nets and a yellow light showing backwards, the suspension was still standard. The RZR had a long-range fuel tank and did not have to stop to refuel and sported bright red racing seats and gear-knob.

The youngsters had opposition – a Yamaha Rhino in the hands of Carl Muller and David van Zyl. The Mullers owned the 660 Rhino, but used it to “play” with when on holiday in Mozambique. And to top it off – where Oberholzer has competed on a quad in the Roof of Africa races, it was a first experience for the Rhino crew in the treacherous mountains of Lesotho. They played the role of the Good Samaritans and towed a family member on a quad back to the finish after he broke down.

Their Rhino is fitted with an air-filter; a Cdi and a DMC exhaust pipe and they race with Maxxis Big Horn tires. Their race SidexSide is so “standard” – they even use the standard seats and find it comfortable enough! Their extras include a center rear-view mirror; a horn, and a yellow light that is a necessity in South African off-road quad racing. They also carried two spare wheels and the netting is home-made! The shocks are standard Raptor shocks and half a windscreen kept the stones out.

As the SidexSide Class is still new and not part of the national championship, these Big Quads had to start the race from the back. It was still safe for everyone as the slower quad racers pulled over when they heard the horns. And as these “teams” were still new to racing and with the routes not quite wide enough for the bigger race vehicles, the going was slow – but scenic!

The Polaris RZR was the only finisher and the class winner and the crew admitted to having lots of fun! They enjoyed the scenery, had to manoeuvre their Ranger RZR through a few narrow and low sections on the route and did not experience any major problems. They will be back for the next race – and so will many more SidexSide teams.

The 2008 Quad Roof of Africa was won by Leander Pienaar on the new Can-Am DS450. He was followed by Brian Baragwanath on the Yamaha YFZ450 and Jacques Struwig on the Polaris Outlaw 525 IRS.

The Roof of Africa

The Roof of Africa is known as being a tough race, but lately certain sections of the route are adapted for the quad racers. It is still a gruelling race, but takes racers through some of the most spectacular parts in the world. And, like the bikers, quad racers also tackle passes like Don’t Cough Pass (a pass that zigzag to the top of the mountain with steep drop-offs to the side – if you cough, you can be off the road…), and areas like the Valley of a Thousand Rivers that can become quite tricky if it rains.

Quads participated for the first time in the Roof of Africa in 1990 and up to 1992, there were no finishers. In 1993 and 1994, Derrick Johnson won with the Dakar veteran, Vicus van Deventer winning in 1995. Four riders have won this race twice – the 2003 Dakar winner, Cornel de Villiers (2001 and 2002); his Dakar team-mate, Johan Steenkamp (1997 and 2000); Jacques “Boesman” Struwig in 2003 and 2005 and Leander Pienaar in 2006 and 2008 (there was no race for quads in 2007). Other winners were Jurie du Plessis (1996); Marc Breckle (1999) and Brendan Badenhorst (2004).

By: Elza Thiart

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