Winners Jaacie Visagie and Irma Schoeman flank organiser Sarel van der Merwe with Jaco Steenekamp of VW Commercial Vehicles, far right
Winners Jaacie Visagie and Irma Schoeman flank organiser Sarel van der Merwe with Jaco Steenekamp of VW Commercial Vehicles, far right

THE Pretoria brother and sister combination of Jaacie Visagie and Irma Schoeman are the 2012 Amarok Spirit of Africa champions. The finals were held on the Aussenkehr farm in Namibia.

By all accounts it was the toughest competition in the event’s eight years of existence, which is illustrated by the fact that the winning score was 62% compared to 87% last year.

According to the event’s creator, legendary race and rally driver Sarel van der Merwe, the terrain, on the northern bank of the Orange River, 25km from the Vioolsdrif border post, was spectacular but very difficult and varied from sand dunes to rock climbs. The 20 tests included technical exercises, usually carried out at very slow speeds, as well as high-speed tests.

The runners-up were Callie Otto and Neels Labuschagne. Third place went to Piet and Madelien Kotze, who have won the event twice. Christiaan Otto from Bultfontein, winner in 2010 and last year, was fourth with his wife Chane.

Making up the top 10 were Tiaan and Sanet Theunissen with 1,123 points, Nico van Staden and Soon Bezuidenhout (1,090 points), Salomon and Anton Victor (1,036 points), Juan Grant and Douw Roode (987 points), Leon and Lienkie Labuschagne (976 points) and Andre and Yvonne de Villiers (950 points).

The top team won R50,000, the second won R30,000 and the third went home with R10,000.

Multiple former national rally champion Hergen Fekken, who is a works Volkswagen rally driver, finished 13th in his first attempt at the Spirit of Africa. He was teamed with his uncle, Roelof, a former works rally driver.

"It was an awesome experience," said Fekken. "Sarel created a very tough challenge and it was a great experience I shared with my favourite uncle."

Van der Merwe was impressed with the high standard of driving and vehicle control displayed by the finalists. "Each year we have seen an improvement in the level of skills of the participants and we have been encouraged by the increase in younger competitors.

"This was the third year we have used the Volkswagen Amarok and the first time we had the single cab 2.0l TDI version. It has proved to be a more than capable vehicle under very testing conditions and its overall performance impressed everybody. We experienced no major mechanical problems at all. Thanks to Volkswagen, the 20 finalists can buy their bakkies after the finals."

Van der Merwe also paid tribute to the sponsored Goodyear Wrangler AT/SA tyres fitted to the 23 Amarok bakkies.

"This tyre, which features SilentArmor technology, has been specially developed for South African conditions and delivered a reliable and impressive performance throughout the two months, without any failures.

"Danielle and I and our team will now take a well-earned break before we set our minds to Spirit of Africa 2013," he said.