Lekhubu Island taken from Juri's RV7 on our arrival on Thursday morning
The Race of Champions hosted by the Botswana Tourism Organisation in partnership with Gaing-o Community Trust and The Matsieng Flying Club are so much more than just another air race. Held for the second year at Lekhubu Island, in the middle of the vast open Makgadigadi Pans, Lekhubu was transformed into a huge tented city that had all the amenities to make for an unforgettable experience.
Every single piece of equipment used in the construction of the temporary village at Lekhubu Island was trucked in. For the weekend “Kubu City” had its own radio station that kept its temporary inhabitants informed and entertained. For Capital Sounds, that had travelled 19 hours, all the way from Welkom in the Free State, the Race of Champions was not a job, it was an adventure and of the biggest deployments in the history of the company. Nine crew members lay almost five kilometres of cable. Their FM broadcast covered a 10 square kilometre area. Their participation contributed to the huge success that the race was.
The huge tent city still almost deserted when we arrived later hummed with activity
Almost seventy aircraft entered the Race of Champions dedicated to Botswana's Rhino and endangered wildlife conservation initiative. The event was marketed as the Race for Rhinos, with key turning points aligning with destinations that are home to some of Botswana's rhino population.
The huge marquee that was located next to one of two runways served as the dining, entertainment and briefing room offered welcome shade during the day. Located at end was a free coffee bar, sponsored by Absolute Aviation, and on the other end a bar to quench the thirst. Three wholesome meals were served per day to all entrants
After supper on Thursday evening Chris Briers, originator of the Race of Champions briefed the competitors on the rules after which some serious route planning took place.
Chris in a serious mood
Guy Leitch & Ian Kriegler who flew in the Piper Seneca and finished 4th overall and Wendy Mills and Gregory Clegg who flew a Sling 2. Wendy was the first woman competitor home on race day Two
Mark and Jon-Marc Hill who flew the legendary Antonov AN2 and Mike Bottger & Jack Onderstall finished 15th overall in the RV8
The weather was perfect on Friday 1 July for race day one when the competitors lined up at the starting gate.
First away was the Pilatus PC-12 of MB Mathiassen & Henri Brink followed by the AHRLAC (an unofficial entry) with Paul Potgieter & Lance Wellington followed by the Lancair 2000 with Dieter Bock & Dale de Klerk who were excluded for missing a turn point. Fourth to leave the starting blocks was the Piper PA-31-325 Alan Kynoch & Colin Chapman who finished 32nd overall
Stefan Erdman and Stephen Hartman who entered in Stefan's Piper PA-A -28RT-210T Arrow ZS-KIC last year did not finish because of turbo problems. They however had so much fun, made such good friends and especially enjoyed all the entertainment laid on that they againentered this year. Fate unfortunately intervened once again and a suspected broken ring in one of the cylinder pods put an end their race on race day one. They fortunately made a successful out landing with no damage to the Arrow or injuries. The Arrow will however have to be repaired on site and they were kindly offered a lift home in the Antonov AN2. Despite the run of bad luck they promised to be back next year.
Etienne Fouche and Lawrence Ryan flew in from Vereenging in a Cessna 177 RG,ZS-LLS. Last year Etienne and his then navigator missed a few turning points. Partnering with Lawrence they promised to better and did finishing a respectable 31st.
Deon vd Berg and Roel Jansen who flew in the RV7 found race day one, like last year, tough. Turning point three at the pan was a bit confusing because of increased mining activity and to make matters worse the wind turned from east to northeast. To be successful, team work is essential and they thought that the handicap system was fair.
It was Craig and Christina Hunter's first air race and their first time in Botswana. Christina is still a student pilot and with Craig flying and she navigating they finished 31st in race day one in a Cessna 182E. They thought it a wonderful experience and a huge privilege and found the camaraderie fantastic. Graig and Christina finished 23 overall and in the process beat quite a few air race veterans and won the trophy for the best performance by newcomers. They said they will definitely be back in 2017.
Rufus Dreyer and Joggie Prinsloo in the RV7 said it was a fantastic experience. Flying in Botswana is always special. Day one had very little wind and good visibility although flying over the featureless pan can make navigating difficult. Trust in ones instruments and navigator is a must. The legs were long and on one leg they hit a swarm of bees. They also thanked all involved that made it possible.
Dale de Klerk and Dieter Bock entered Dieter's Lancair 2000. The Lancair was built by Dieter and during race One averaged 220 knots. Dale, a previous world rally champion navigated and he said that it was the most exciting race he has ever taken part in. Unfortunately they missed a turn point during race One that put them out of any chance of winning.
Callie & Lane Holl finished 35th overall in their Jabiru J450…..HJ Reyneke & DB Naude unfortunately missed a turn on day two in their Piper PA-28-28R
Tristiaan Brouard & Sean Russel was the first Sling 2 home. They finished 25th overall…..Reginald Dyason & Shaun Stander was the 2nd Cessna home and finished 17th overall in a 182T
The Race of Champions does not lack in afternoon and evening entertainment and free from the bureaucratic interference in all aviation sporting and recreational activities that we are used to, Botswana offers a relaxed yet safe outlet for the best of the best from down south to display their talents.
Friday night saw competitors hunched over their route maps. Every second would count. Missing a turn point would be a disaster.
Deon Wentzel and Demetri Kondos finished in 14th overall in the Cirrus SR22 G3. Jason Beamish and Nigel Hopkins had a look at the maps and then decided to rather entertain the visitors with some breath-taking aerobatics
Race day two and despite predictions of high wind, conditions for flying were good. Take of was in reverse order, the slowest aircraft taking off first, the fastest last.
President Ian Khama sets off Botswana residents Brett Warren and Grant Buckmaster in the Aviat Husky on race day two. Brett and Grant finished in 46th overall
Jan Hanekom & Johan Strydom in the RV10 finished 20th overall whilst Tommy Marx & Dries Briers finished in 21st position in the Beech V35B
Deon Wentzel & Demetri Kondos was placed 14th overall in the Cirrus SR22 G3
Patrick Daly & Ryan Beeton finished 6th overall in the Vans RV7 whilst Jaco Schoen & Bertie Wessels were placed 33rd overall
Brandon & Darian Bregman start race two in their Cessna 210N. They were placed 24th overall
Tristiaan Brouard & Sean Russel of the Sling Racing Team flew a Sling two in what for them was their first race. They said the that the set up was fantastic and the hospitality wonderful. They also found navigating over the pans challenging. Although hunted down by Mike Blyth and James Pitman in a factory Sling 4 they managed to stay ahead. They eventually finished 24th overall, only four places down from James and Mike.
Johnie Smith & daughter Alzette flew in Johnie's RV8. Alzette originally wanted a trip around South Africa as a birthday present but because of work pressures and study commitments they decided to enter the race. They loved the venue and will definitely do it again. It was Alzette's first race and first time navigating and she prepared well and it paid off. They finished 22nd overall.
Another father /daughter team was NAC's JP & Jinel Fourie who flew a Beech 58. JP said it was a unique experience and a fantastic destination and entering the race gives one the opportunity to fly in real Africa. They praised Chris Briers and his team and Botswana Tourism for a superbly organised event at a unique venue with all the amenities. JP's biggest joy though was to fly with his daughter. They were placed 9th overall.
The Airplane Factory's James Pitman and Mike Blyth are legend for their round the world trips and both agree that that Lekhubu Island is a magical place. Having visited before they found the transformation from a dry salt pan into a village with beautiful runways, warm showers, flush toilets, tents with bedding and a lovely bar amazing. Being able to watch the President of Botswana flying his paramotor glider and the aerobatic display of Nigel Hopkins in such an inspirational place is just amazing. They finished in 18th place and will be back.
An Arabian themed Gala Dinner was held on Saturday evening after which the much awaited final results were announced.
3rd place went to Robbie Myburgh and Adrian Barrie in a Beech 58 ZS-CHL who had a 46 second gain on their handicap of 195.8 knots
Last year's winners, Hennie & Dandre Bisschoff finished in 2nd place in their Beech F33A-BNA. They had a 59 second gain on their handicap of 170.3 knots
Dawie van Staden & Thys Kuhn took the hounours this year in their Vans RV8 ZU-FCE. They had a 1 minute 32 second gain on their handicap of 177 knots
Fourth place went to Guy Leitch & Ian Kriegler in the Piper PA-32A. Fifth place was taken by CL Cloete & Jan Randallin a Cessna 182K.