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.
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 >