Experiencing the Spirit of Amarok

Established in 2004, the Spirit of Africa is an amateur off-road championship that has since gained international recognition.

Nearly ten years ago, the Volkswagen brand got involved with an event founder and local racing legend, Sarel van der Merwe which eventually spawned the Spirit of Amarok, a competition that now features competitors from countries such as Australia, Russia, South Africa and Botswana to name a few.

I joined some 29 of my motoring journalist colleagues at the Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge in Mbombela recently. The media challenge served as a sort of prequel to the real Spirit of Amarok which will take place at the same venue in Mbombela.

The V6 Amarok

For the fifth instalment of the competition, Volkswagen has, for the first time, a fleet of V6 Amarok models. My colleagues and I were given the same vehicles that would be used or the next two months of the competition. The V6 variant of the Amarok is South Africa’s fastest bakkie with 165 kW and 550 N.m of torque and 180 kW on overboost.

The challenge

With 4Motion all-wheel drive as standard, the V6 is certainly not just fast for a bakkie, it’s just fast, period. The reason that I make mention of this is because as part of the challenge involved speed driving, something which Mr van der Merwe warned us about.

There were fifteen media vehicles, meaning that we had to pair-up with another scribe. My partner was Mr Lawrence Minnie from AutoTrader who decided to take up the position of navigator, leaving the driving to me. The first part of the challenge involved technical driving where we had to navigate the rather wide Amarok through exceptionally rough terrain while avoiding the poles that oom Sarel had placed strategically in our way.

There were white poles which, if struck, took away ten points, from the possible 100 points, while white poles with red flags resulted in a 30 point penalty. Other penalties included a 30 point deduction for reversing and a time penalty, which included 15 points for every second that you arrived at the finish line early and one point per second that you crossed the finish line late.

It’s safe to say that this was alien territory for me. I’ve done some off-road work before, but never in a competition scenario against the clock and with poles involved. It was quite challenging and had I listened to the instructions, I would have known to have aimed for the white poles instead of those with a red flag, this meant that the two red-flagged poles that I struck throughout the five obstacles really hampered my team’s chances at victory in that segment.

Moving on to the speed section, I was in my element with the section set up by the master himself. To my dismay, there were more poles in this section, with the same penalties in place. I managed to miss the red-flagged poles and struck three white poles in the four sectors, but bizarrely, received a zero for one of the sectors, something which the judges could not explain later that evening.

Then, the final challenge was set to be one of the most fun and potentially the most challenging of the day. We were tasked with driving blindfolded, but to add to the complication, we’d have to reverse through a slalom course and park between two cones in order to finish. My navigator had to sit in another vehicle and direct me via a walkie talkie.

This proved challenging with only one team managing to park between the cones and finish the course. My partner and I narrowly missed the final gate, with me, as a driver, feeling incredibly disorientated when I finally took off my blindfold.

The results

Later that evening after some eight hours of competition, we had a prize giving ceremony where my team mate and I finished fifth overall, a result that I was relatively happy with considering that we were both novices.

If anything, the challenge reminded me why the Amarok is such a good lifestyle bakkie, particularly in V6 guise. Its lack of a low-range function doesn’t seem to impair it very much through the rough stuff with the “Off-Road” mode and the diff lock helping matters.

With a range of creature comforts, great overall quality and that superb V6 turbodiesel engine and eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, the Amarok is an impressive premium offering in the double cab segment.

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