Celebrating Mit­subishi’s Rally-raid Her­itage

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story by: Ferdi de Vos Cap­tured by: Ryan Ab­bott (TCB Me­dia)

Parys to D’kar Celebrating Mit­subishi’s Rally-raid Her­itage

In or­der to put the new Pajero Sport to a test wor­thy of a 12 time Dakar Rally win­ner, Ferdi de Vos jour­neyed 2,400 km from Parys in the Free State to D’kar in Botswana; and back, find­ing some re­mark­able hid­den gems along the way …

Mit­subishi in­tro­duced its For­tunerrivalling Pajero Sport SUV in South Africa last month; what bet­ter way was there to com­pre­hen­sively eval­u­ate this new­comer than to take it on a mini-dakar?

To do so, while also celebrating the cen­tury-old man­u­fac­turer’s dom­i­nance of the 39-year-old rally-raid event, we de­vised a tough cir­cu­lar route of 2,400 km from Parys in the Free State Prov­ince to D’kar (also spelt Dekar) in Botswana.

The new SUV’S name­sake Pajero an­ces­tors built up an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion in the fear­some Dakar race. En­ter­ing the marathon rally the first time in 1983, the first win for the team came in 1985, fol­lowed by 11 more vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing seven con­sec­u­tive wins from 2001 to 2007 – all of them on African soil.

When in 2009 the Dakar Rally moved to South Amer­ica, Mit­subishi of­fi­cially with­drew from the event. But, even a decade af­ter that fi­nal vic­tory, the Pajero is still rev­ered as a se­ri­ous off-roader, and its Dakar record may never be bro­ken.


The Pajero Sport in­her­its some de­sign traits from its Tri­ton sib­ling, but is dis­tin­guished by big­ger chrome sur­rounds for the grille and frontal air in­take, giv­ing it more road pres­ence, and stylish head­lights with LED driv­ing lamps. Its long rear over­hang is well bal­anced by a high bon­net line and a chromed wedge­shape win­dow line, with side-steps and roof rails well in­te­grated into the over­all de­sign pack­age.

At the rear, it dif­fers greatly from its com­peti­tors with their sleek, hor­i­zon­tal tail lights. In con­trast, it has sharp tri­an­gu­lar tail lights with a ver­ti­cal line stretch­ing down to the bot­tom of the tailgate.while this de­sign cue may not be to every­body’s taste, it sure is dif­fer­ent.

Driv­ing to Parys for the start of our jour­ney, we ap­pre­ci­ated the com­fort and space of the seven-seater Sport, with gen­er­ous head and legroom for the front and se­cond-row pas­sen­gers, as well as am­ple lug­gage space.the com­fort­able soft­feel leather seats, with elec­tric ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat, fur­ther en­hanced the qual­ity feel of the cabin. Other use­ful fea­tures were the 60:40 split with tum­ble, re­clin­ing and slid­ing func­tion of the se­cond row of seats, dual air-con with rear pas­sen­ger tem­per­a­ture con­trols, rear park dis­tance con­trol with a rear-view cam­era, and fold-away elec­tric door mir­rors with turn in­di­ca­tors.


Our abode in Parys was the Le Grande Chateau Ho­tel, just off the main drag in Boom Street, close to the Vaal River. We were warmly re­ceived by the com­pe­tent staff in the French themed es­tab­lish­ment and shown to our clean, com­fort­able rooms (mine even had a small bal­cony).

We en­joyed a great sup­per at the Pick­led Pig Ale House in the main street but, con­sid­er­ing how we felt when need­ing to get up for our very early start the next morn­ing, we must have some­what overindulged on the es­tab­lish­ment’s huge se­lec­tion of craft beer …

Thank­fully, our ho­tel hosts pre­pared de­li­cious snack packs for us, and fit­tingly, we started our mini-dakar from the Champ­sÉlysées of Le Grand Chateau at spar­rows the next day. Head­ing down the R53 through Potchef­stroom and Ven­ters­dorp, we reached Zeerust just af­ter sun­rise, be­fore join­ing the M4 to­wards the bor­der post at Sk­il­pad­shek.

Pow­ered by the 2.4-litre 4-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel en­gine also used in the Tri­ton, the Pajero Sport ef­fort­lessly ne­go­ti­ated the rib­bon of tar­mac me­an­der­ing through the maize fields and bushveld of the North­West – in some places rem­i­nis­cent of the pam­pas in Ar­gentina. Mated to an 8-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with in­tel­li­gent shift con­trol, power de­liv­ery was vir­tu­ally seam­less, but in­ter­est­ingly the elec­tric hand­brake does not au­to­mat­i­cally re­lease when the ac­cel­er­a­tor is pushed. Ac­cord­ing

It ef­fort­lessly ne­go­ti­ated the rib­bon of tar­mac me­an­der­ing through the maize fields and bushveld of the North-west – in some places rem­i­nis­cent of the pam­pas in Ar­gentina.

to Mit­subishi this is safety re­lated, but we found it frus­trat­ing and some­times dan­ger­ous (as the ve­hi­cle ac­tu­ally will move for­ward slowly, but then needs to be stopped to dis­en­gage the brake).


In keep­ing with our Dakar theme (next year’s event will fol­low a route from Peru through Bo­livia to Ar­gentina), we also crossed the bor­der; into Botswana.ar­riv­ing early, the whole pro­ce­dure was quick and pain­less, and soon we were on the A2, mak­ing good time to­wards Ghanzi.

Apart from the trains of trucks, the Trans-kala­hari High­way, ini­tially wide and smooth, is no­to­ri­ous for free-roam­ing an­i­mals.we spent most of our time dodg­ing er­rant herds of goats, cows, and don­keys. Es­pe­cially don­keys.

For­tu­itously, the Pajero Sport is en­dowed with a va­ri­ety of safety sys­tems. Its rel­a­tively fast steer­ing and class-lead­ing turn­ing cir­cle also as­sisted, mak­ing the Sport ag­ile enough to avert ev­ery sui­ci­dal beast, although a cou­ple of slow-re­act­ing birds did not make it, I am afraid.

By now we were west of Kanye (a Kar­dashian mo­ment fleet­ingly passed), as well as Jwa­neng and Kang, fast ap­proach­ing the sandy scrub­lands sur­round­ing Ghanzi, D’kar, our end des­ti­na­tion was now only 50 km away.


En­ter­ing D’kar – a small, dusty vil­lage sit­u­ated about two kilo­me­tres from the A3 main road lead­ing to Maun – we did not ex­pect much. How­ever, much to our sur­prise we found a mu­seum, a school, clinic, and a build­ing ded­i­cated to the Kuru Art Project, de­vel­oped since 1990 by mem­bers of the Naro and Dcui San based in the D’kar com­mu­nity.

Once a farm of the Dutch Re­formed Church, it later evolved into a ru­ral vil­lage af­ter be­ing do­nated to the Naro. The art project en­cour­ages San artists to share their unique vi­sions and ex­pe­ri­ences, and even with no for­mal train­ing the lo­cal artists have won many awards, both col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally. Their work can be found in col­lec­tions through­out the world and their art have been dis­played in over 160 ex­hi­bi­tions in more than 15 coun­tries glob­ally.

While mar­vel­ling at the art project, we were told that we had just missed the an­nual Kuru Tra­di­tional Dance and Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, held at the nearby Dqae Qare San Lodge on the week­end of the full moon in Au­gust. The vil­lage and cul­tural cen­tre had turned out to be a true hid­den gem on our trip, and we con­tin­ued our jour­ney, des­ti­na­tion Maun, with a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the plight of the San peo­ple.

Af­ter play­ing dodgems on the pot­holed road to Maun, we reached the gate­way to the Oka­vango Delta at dusk. We stayed over at the ide­ally sit­u­ated Maun Lodge on the banks of the Thamalakane River, and af­ter a good night’s sleep we started the re­turn jour­ney the next morn­ing; with a short de­tour to visit the Mak­gadik­gadi Pans – one of the largest salt flats in the world.


The area has many pans, the largest be­ing the five square kilo­me­tres Sua (Sowa) pan close to the town of Nata. In com­par­i­son, the sin­gle salt flat of Salar de Uyuni in Bo­livia – venue of one of the most spec­tac­u­lar stages in the Dakar

Rally – mea­sures 10,6 square kilo­me­tres. Af­ter a four-hour trip, in­clud­ing a rough dirt road de­tour that truly tested the suspension of the new­comer, as well as noise, vi­bra­tion, and harsh­ness lev­els – which it passed with fly­ing colours – we ar­rived at Nata Lodge, an oa­sis in a wild, un­for­giv­ing land­scape.

From here, we fol­lowed a dirt route through the Nata Bird Sanc­tu­ary to Sua pan, cov­ered with wa­ter af­ter some good rains.to get closer to this refuge for birds and an­i­mals in the arid area, we fol­lowed an un­marked track through the marsh­land and shrubby sa­vanna.

Here the unique Su­per Se­lect 4-II 4WD sys­tem with elec­tronic off-road as­sis­tance of the Pajero Sport came into its own. With a lock­able rear dif­fer­en­tial added, the Mit­subishi proved un­stop­pable in the wet, muddy con­di­tions.


Af­ter a so­journ in the neat, clean camp­site at Nata Lodge, we set course for Fran­cis­town the next day, and soon we ar­rived at Sebe Sebe Lodge sit­u­ated next to the Lim­popo River.

Af­ter our long jour­ney, we savoured the beau­ti­ful scenery from the big deck over­look­ing the river, and the friendly staff went out of their way to make us feel at home. It was an apt end­ing to our ar­du­ous mini-dakar.while the Pajero Sport worked hard at times, it never missed a beat dur­ing our 2,400 km ex­cur­sion, do­ing its her­itage proud and prov­ing it­self a real con­tender in the SUV mar­ket. Still, com­pared to the av­er­age dis­tance of the Dakar Rally, we only fin­ished the equiv­a­lent of four of its twelve spe­cial stages …

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