Alfie Cox, reigning production vehicle champion and overall winner of the event last year in a Nissan Hardbody, revelled in the punishing conditions and made history by becoming the first man to win the mountain kingdom’s annual off road race on a motorcycle, a production vehicle and a special vehicle.
Cox and co-driver Hennie ter Stege, in a Motorite Racing BAT Spec 2, led home the similar BAT of team-mates Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann at the end of the punishing 350-km event on Saturday by 52,4 seconds after nearly six hours of energy-sapping racing during which the tenacious Hutchison never let the equally determined Cox out of his sight. It was a memorable battle that went to the wire.
The third Motorite Racing BAT, an updated Spec 1 driven by BAT creator Brandon Harcus and navigated by local expert Alec Salley, finished fourth behind Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter in their Wrapsa-backed BAT Spec 2.
Harcus, a former national co-driver champion, and Salley had returned the quickest time in Friday’s 44-km prologue that determines the starting order for the main race. They led the field for the first hour before being forced to change a flat wheel and losing four and a half minutes to their rivals, which dropped them to fifth place behind Hutchison, Cox, Gary Bertholdt (Porter) and Alberts.
Cox almost immediately took over the lead from Hutchison when the reigning class B champion and Motorite Racing team manager took a wrong turn. At the end of the first of three laps that made up the route, when they made a mandatory stop at the designated service point at the Matsieng sports ground near Maseru, Cox led Hutchison by a mere 26 seconds after 1¾ hours’ racing. Alberts was a further 1¾ minutes behind. Harcus was fourth, five minutes in arrears.
At the end of the second lap, both of which Cox said he was forced to drive flat-out because of the close attention of his team-mate, the gap was just 36 seconds, with Alberts dropping away to seven minutes behind and Harcus closing to within a minute of him.
“Alec and I are disappointed,” admitted Harcus. “After our second place in last year’s event we were looking for a win this time. But flat wheels are part of off road racing and this time it was our turn to suffer. Over four minutes was a lot to make up with three of the latest spec BATs ahead of us, but we’re just pleased we were able to put all three of our cars in the top four. It was a great team result.”
The vastly experienced Cox, the winningest South African off road and enduro motorcyclist and veteran of the Dakar Rally, could not contain his delight at the finish. “This was even better than last year’s win in the Nissan. The very rough conditions favoured the special vehicles with their ultra high ground clearance. The BAT is magnificent – you just screw the accelerator into the floor and it just rides over the obstacles. The engine and braking power is enormous. Thanks to the Motorite Racing crew for a great job in preparing the car. Everything went like Swiss clockwork.”
Hutchison, a former champion quad racer, was not that unhappy to defer to his vastly experienced team-mate. “It was rough and tough, as you expect the successor to the Roof of Africa Rally to be, but it was a great race. The dice with Alfie was one of the highlights of my off road career so far. Three cars in the top four is a great result for the Motorite Racing team. Brandon came back well to finish fourth.”