The Botswana Tourism Organisation in partnership with Gaing-o Community Trust and The Matsieng Flying Club proudly hosted the prestigious Race of Champions in Botswana from 17 to 19 September 2015.
The base for the race was Lekhubu Island with aircraft taking off and landing on the hardened salt plains of Sua Pan next to the island. Lekhubu Island is a Botswana National Monument and is managed by a community based trust. There is a pre-historical wall on the southern side of the Lekhubu rocky outcrop which postdates the post Great Zimbabwe ruins and the ruins themselves are said to have been an initiation centre for males in the past. Key turning points were aligned with destinations that are home to some of Botswana's rhino population, including Serowe and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and Debswana's Orapa Game Park.
We left Krugersdorp (FAKR) in Juri's award winning RV7 not, unfortunately, to participate but to report on this historic event. After 25 min we landed at Pilansberg to clear custom that, except for the usual paperwork, was painless and we were soon airborne again with a stiff headwind most of the way. The second leg of the race was to take place to the south of Lekhubu Island over the almost featureless landscape down below over which we flying and it was clear that navigating would be to say the least a challenge.
After about 2 hours 50 min the pans showed up on the MGL and the size was astounding. Lekhubu Island was slightly to the left of our track and as we approached "Khubu City", as the campsite was named for the weekend came into view and took our breaths away. The logistics to establish the site is mind-blowing. Lekhubu Island is seventy kilometres from the nearest town and everything single item had to be transported in and out again. No waste, including waste water was left behind. Almost 270 tents from four suppliers were erected and serviced during the weekend. Generators supplied much needed electricity. Hot showers and flush toilets were transported from Pretoria. Competitor's fuel that was sponsored was loaded in Durban by Westline trucking and taken to site. Almost 500 meals were served in a huge Bedouin tent that also served as the briefing area.
A temporary ATC tower with a 360 degree view was erected on the highest point of the island. Manned and by Botswana air traffic controllers McBae Setshego and Joseph Openshaw they did an absolute wonderful job during the two legs of the race. The Botswana Customs Service dispatched their staff to the island and clearing customs was an absolute pleasure and over in mere minutes.
The briefing for the first leg was held by AirTeam's Chris Briers and the Bedouin tent on Thursday evening during which Chris explained the rules and answered questions from the participants. Then it was time for the group photo before the serious business of getting to know the route and planning for the next day's race started.
All work and no play they say make for a dull person and so much merriment was had when after supper local artist entertainment by local traditional artist was laid on.
Two Runways, 04/22 and 11/29, both of 2000 meters were demarcated with 11/29 used during the competition. Sixty six aircraft were entered but because of late cancellations 57 took part in the first leg held in perfect weather on the Friday. The first to start was the fastest aircraft. The leg of 308.86 nm took place to the north of the Island and navigation proved difficult to seven competitors that missed turn points, four did not finish due to various factors including a turbo problem and one precautionary landing whilst three had logger malfunction and two were excluded.
Race one belonged to the big guns with Beech product dominating five of the top eight places followed by Cirrus with two with Vans, Jabiru and Piper with one each. The lonely Jabi that was handicapped at 121.36 kts managed to improve that to a course speed of 122.18 over a flown distance of 314.34 miles.
The top eight finishers for race one were 1st Robbie Myburgh & Adrian Barry in a Beech 58, 2nd Abel & Jaco Pienaar in Jabiru, 3rd Nigel Hopkins & Jason Beamish in a Cirrus Sr-22 G2, 4th Hennie & Dandre Bischoff, 5th Joggie Prinsloo & Rufus Dreyer in a Beech F33A, Jaques Willemse & Dewyk Vos in a Beech 58, 7th Ryan Beeton & Patrick Daly in a Vans RV and Deon Wentzel & Demetrius Kondos in a Cirrus SR22 G3 in 8th.
Broadcasting before, during and after each day's event at Khubu City was Capital Sounds that kept all informed of the progress during the days racing. Capital Sounds always brings something special to an event not only by entertaining and informing but also fulfilling many other functions not normally associated with event broadcasters.
Botswana has a strong skydiving community and the Botswana Boogie will be held at the pans later in the year and a demonstration of Canopy Piloting was held during the afternoon by Graham Field, Rob Kruger, Jean Jacques Wallis and Baily Edmonds.
Friday afternoon and Khubu City had its own private airshow much to the delight of all who since the day's racing was over were either relaxing by their tents or in the Bedouin tent. All quickly flocked to tents that faced runway 04/22 for some splendid action and unusual arrivals.
Botswana President Ian Khama a Helicopter, Fixed Wing and Motorised Paraglider pilot surprised all when he flew his Motorised Paraglider low down the the road separating some of the tents.
Friday night and the briefing for Race Two were again held in the Bedouin Tent. This leg of 300.23 miles took in the southern sections of the country including waypoints over cultural and other noteworthy areas.
But then in the early hours of Saturday morning the wind swept with increasing furiousity over the dusty pan until by start of race time that was set for 09.00 in was close to 20 mph but fortunately on the nose. For this leg aircraft took off in reverse order with the slowest taking of first. With the handicapped system in place, theoretically all aircraft should arrive in a bunch.
The first arrivals were eagerly anticipated and the hill soon served as an impromptu grandstand as everyone tried to get the best position.
The wind that was still howling and would continue until Sunday no doubt played a role in the final positions as the heavier aircraft was able to handle the condition better than the lighter ones. As in Race One Beech again dominated with five in the top eight, completing the top eight was two Cirrus and a one Vans RV. The official final results were however only announced during a lavish ceremony later in the evening when Hennie & Dandre Bischoff race number 23 who finished 4th in Race were crowned the winners.
Ryan Beaton and Patrick Daily in a RV7 who had finished 6th in Race One finished a close secondÖ..
Whilst Jacques Willemse and Dewyk Vos who had finished 6th in Race One took third place.
Robbie Myburgh & Adrian Barry in a Beech 58 was placed 4th, Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beemish in a Cirrus SR22 G2 5th, Joggie Prinsloo & Rufus Dreyer in a Beech F33A in 6th, Deon Wentzel and Dimitrius Kondo 7th in a Cirrus SR22 G3, Bennie du Plessis and Cilliers Manser in a Beech K35 in 8th, Guy Leach and Graeme Wuth in a Piper PA-32R-310T in 9th and Coetzee vd Merwe & Jan Randall in a Cessna 182H in 10th.
The price giving was followed by auction during which almost 450,000 Pula was raised for the set up and mobilization of a Central Rhino Operations Unit which will monitor free roaming Black and White Rhino in Botswana.
The Race for Rhinos was without a doubt the best organised aviation event in southern Africa that we have had the honour to attend. To thank all individually would be impossible but a special word of thanks must go to Guillaume Knipe, Chris Briers and Antionette van der Nest.
The Botswana Tourism Organisation and the Tlhokomela Botswana Endangered Species Trust humbly thank their sponsors for their kind donation without which this event would not have been possible.