Pa­trolling the Kala­hari

Mem­bers of the Nis­san Pa­trol Fo­rum come to­gether one week­end ev­ery year some­where in the coun­try to push their ve­hi­cles to the limit. This year Go­era Pan in the Kala­hari was the cho­sen play­ground.

Go! Camp & Drive - - 4X4 DESTINATION | NORTHERN CAPE - Text and pho­tos Evan Naudé

It’s early morn­ing in the Kala­hari and a blood-red cres­cent sun rears its head over Go­era Pan’s flat hori­zon. There’s a slight chill in the air, but it’s def­i­nitely not cold enough for tough guys to put on long pants.

All along the one side of the pan you see Nis­san Pa­trols parked next to tents, off-road car­a­vans and trail­ers. Here and there is one with an open bon­net, al­most like it’s wo­ken up with a big yawn, with the en­gine purring in the morn­ing sun like a con­tented cat.

Slowly but surely peo­ple start crawl­ing out of their tents, and the smell of cof­fee and ba­con per­me­ates the air. Be­tween the sounds of siz­zling ba­con you can hear tyres de­flat­ing – a sure sign that to­day there will be dune-driv­ing. But that’s not all the mem­bers of the Nis­san Pa­trol Fo­rum came to Go­era Pan to do: This week­end we’ll also see who’s king of the quar­ter mile.

The wild thing and the GT-R

Ev­ery year the Pa­trol Fo­rum chooses a des­ti­na­tion where they can test their ve­hi­cles in the dunes as well as on a fast, flat sur­face, like that of the Go­era Pan. This year the guys ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to Nis­san South Africa and they ar­rive with the best ve­hi­cle for such a chal­lenge: the 5 ℓ V8 T1 Navara that’s go­ing to par­tic­i­pate in next year’s Dakar Rally. The Nis­san team will be us­ing this op­por­tu­nity to test the bakkie but also take the Fo­rum guys for a spin in this wild ride.

While we’re en­joy­ing break­fast, this in­sane set of wheels chases over the pan with stag­ger­ing speed, roars up and down the dunes, and slides side­ways through turns be­fore drop­ping off its wide-eyed pas­sen­gers at the camp. And if that didn’t drum up enough ex­cite­ment, Nis­san also brought a few new Y62 Pa­trols to play in the dunes as well as a GT-R to take on the quar­ter mile.

Tom­mie Watkins from Cen­tu­rion is camp com­man­der for the week­end and con­venes a meet­ing with all the driv­ers be­fore the day’s fes­tiv­i­ties start. He

ex­plains that ev­ery­one will be driv­ing in con­voy to Een­saamheid Pan, a salt pan on the other side of the R360 where the quar­ter mile track is laid out. En route there’s a trail that takes you through the dunes. “I sug­gest you drop to 0.8 bar for the sand,” says Tom­mie. We take the last few sips of our cof­fee and the group sets off in a long line over the pan.

Quar­ter mile gam­bol

It takes some care­ful driv­ing via a de­tour to get the GT-R on a trailer to the Een­saamheid Pan, but when it gets there it’s the first to tackle the quar­ter mile – while the sur­face is still hard and even. And this isn’t any old track: The guys from Tur­bologix brought pro­fes­sional tim­ing equip­ment and start­ing lights so that ev­ery ve­hi­cle’s speed and time can be mea­sured to a mil­lisec­ond.

There are two tracks laid out and next to each is an elec­tronic board that dis­plays the speed and time af­ter each rally. Tom­mie ex­plains the safety rules, the dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cle classes (diesel, petrol, and a mod­i­fied class for each) and what you should do when you’re on the >

start­ing line: “When that light hits green, you go, go, go!”

The GT-R does ex­actly what you’d ex­pect from it, de­spite the road tyres’ lack of grip on the gravel sur­face. With Nis­san’s Janus Janse van Rens­burg be­hind the wheel, the GT-R ef­fort­lessly scores the day’s best time of 12,217 sec­onds at a speed of 180 km/h within the first two ral­lies. Its wild team mate with the roar­ing en­gine, the T1 Navara, tries in vain to catch up. The T1 does a few more ral­lies over the course of the day and ev­ery now and again you see the crazy thing chas­ing over the pan in the dis­tance. Its ul­ti­mate best in the quar­ter mile is 14,199 sec­onds, with a top speed of 141 km/h.

Now it’s the Pa­trols’ turn. There isn’t a spe­cific sched­ule; you sim­ply look your op­po­nent square in the eye and do the “it’s you and me, mano a mano” thing with your fin­ger. First up it’s those with sim­i­lar ve­hi­cles or en­gines that chal­lenge each other to see if there’s any truth to the specs writ­ten on pa­per.

Pairs form up and fly off in a cloud of dust. At­tie Died­er­icks’ 4.2 ℓ tur­bod­iesel bakkie throws dust in the eye of David Marais’ red one. Steven Robin­son’s su­per­charged 4.8 only just beats Eben Barnard’s tur­bocharged 4.8 the first time, but later Eben claims vic­tory.

Although it’s a Nis­san Pa­trol week­end, there are a few friends of some of the Fo­rum mem­bers who came along with other ve­hi­cle makes. And, of course, they also have to be mea­sured against the Pa­trols.

Jo­hann Horn’s Ford Ranger 3.2 goes up against Eben and later also Steven, but can’t keep up. Michael Steyn with his 4.2 tur­bod­iesel chal­lenges his friend Mar­ius Vorster in his 3.0 Hilux and shows him who’s boss. The Hilux races against other Pa­trols, with mixed suc­cess, and Deon Louw’s Land Rover Dis­cov­ery 4 also leaves a trail of dust in its wake. David Volschenk gets an op­por­tu­nity to do a few ral­lies in the one of the new Y62s and it’s re­ally sur­pris­ing how quiet the en­gine is. But the big kahuna on the quar­ter mile re­mains a Pa­trol, and it’s one you don’t use to drive to the shop­ping cen­tre.

“Yster” is a cre­ation of Tom­mie and his friend Thys El­lis. It has the bon­net of a dark-green Pa­trol bakkie, but the load­ing bin has been re­placed with a frame­work that will even­tu­ally be trans­formed into an Aussie-style flat bin. But for now it car­ries a spare wheel and a cooler box fas­tened with a strap. But it’s what’s un­der­neath the bon­net that gives Yster its name: a 7 ℓ V8 Chevro­let en­gine. Yster is not a ve­hi­cle to cart around gro­ceries; it’s a mon­ster that should be un­leashed some­where in the wild.

A few ve­hi­cles try to take on Yster, with Thys be­hind the wheel, but that’s like ex­pect­ing Faf de Klerk to arm wres­tle >

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