South Africa’s roughest form of motorsport boasts a surprising number of female competitors. When this year’s South African Cross Country Championship resumed after Covid-19 lockdown with the recent Bronkhorstspruit 400 event, four ladies finished in the top 12 places.
And the number of women involved in the sport does not start and finish in the cockpit. They range from competitors to officials, organisers, families and supporters. Cross Country racing has, since its inception in the mid 1960s, been a family orientated sport. This is evident in the number of husband and wife, father/daughter and brother/sister teams that have participated and excelled in the sport over the years.
Elvene Vonk navigates for Lance Woolridge in the Castrol Ford Ranger in this year’s South African Cross Country Championship. Pictures: Nadia Jordaan
This family bond can also be seen on events in the designated service park where mothers, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces and granddaughters pitch in to ensure competing teams’ well-being. This ranges from providing food to assisting with refuelling, changing tyres, cleaning helmets and visors, to monitoring the stopwatch to make sure the team does not overstay their allocated pitstop time, resulting in time penalties.
This year, the SA National Cross Country Championship has quite a few lady competitors of which the 2018 SA National Special Vehicle Navigators’ Champion, Sandra Labuschagne-Jonck, is one. Sandra, a veterinarian by profession, earned her Protea Colours in 2018 and moved from the navigator’s seat of a Total Agri Porter to the driver’s seat when dad Coetzee retired after more than two decades of racing. With her husband Jaco now reading the notes, Sandra is learning fast and enjoying every second behind the wheel.
Protea navigator Elvene Vonk
Another lady who earned the green and gold is Elvéne Vonk, who is a Protea Rally Navigator and a multiple South African Rally Navigators’ Champion. This season she navigates for the double Class T champion Lance Woolridge (Castrol Ford Ranger ) in the Production Vehicle category..
A number of ladies in the Production Vehicle Category are also not afraid of traversing routes with dust, mud, rocks and ditches at high speed. Letshego Zulu, a former Survivor South Africa finalist and widow of former rally ace, Gugu Zulu, has navigated as a celebrity guest for Terence Marsh in the Red-Line Motorsport Nissan Navara on various occasions. This year, the seat is permanently hers and the team claimed their first Class T victory of the season at the recent Bronkhorstspruit 400. They and are now the national 2020 class points leaders.
Jolinda Fourie, wife of Marius Fourie, is an accomplished business women and navigates for Marius in their Ford Ranger. The couple joined the Cross Country family in the Special Vehicle Category in 2010 and are the 2017 South African National Special Vehicle Overall and Class A Champions.
The tiny motorcycle rider Taye Perry, earned the nickname of South Africa’s Desert Rose when she started and finished the epic 2020 Dakar Rally in the motorcycle category. She has now also had her baptism by fire next to quad racing champion, Brian Baragwanath, who has been competing in the SA Cross Country Championship Production Vehicle Category for a few years.
Protea navigator Sandre Labuschagne-Jonck – now a driver.
Baragwanath invited Perry to read the notes for him in the left-hand drive, two-wheel drive Century Racing CR 6 at the recent Bronkhorstspruit 400 and the pair finished fifth overall in the extremely competitive FIA Class. And while the ladies are battling it out either behind the wheel or in the navigator’s seat on a race that spans over two to three days and totalling between 400 and 1 000 gruelling kilometres, there are more who fill important roles behind the scenes to ensure that events run smoothly.
Taye Perry started and finished the 2020 Dakar Rally in the motorcycle category. Now, she navigates for Brian Baragwanath in the South African Cross Country Championship Production Vehicle Category.
“Cross Country racing can proudly say that ladies form an integral part of our sport and we extend our appreciation and gratitude to each and every one, past and present for their contribution to the sport,” said South Africa Cross Country CEO Archie Rutherford.
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