The SAPFA SA National Rally Championships Stellenbosch 2021
Compiled by Willie Bodenstein
Fifteen teams entered the competition that will eventually determine who will be representing SA and the World Championships that are on track for 14 to 20 November and will again be hosted by the Stellenbosch Flying Club.
Working mostly behind the scenes Frank and Cally Eckard had the unenviable task of setting routes that will be worthy of world championship status. That, combined with the fact that most of the teams were flying in totally different topography and weather conditions, more like that that European and others will fly in regularly, made for challenging routes.Cally, when interviewed exclusively for Pilot’s Post said: “Frank and I , as designated route planners for the World Champs, set some challenging routes for Nationals. These routes will be used as Practise Routes for the World Champs, and it was therefore necessary to make them worthy of world class standard. Unfortunately, this was a huge level-jump, as most routes we plan are of necessity, suitable for first-time Fun Rally crews. Some of the Turnpoints were more obscure than those we use in Fun Rallies, and the plotting for the navigators was more difficult than usual. Flying over the mountains of Stellenbosch, though magnificent, was treacherous for some less experienced pilots, especially for those flying lighter aircraft. Wind of Day 2 made the route over Sir Lowry’s Pass and the Caledon area exceptionally challenging, and will probably be spoken of many years from now as being the flying experience of a life time for most of the pilots. However, the timing on that route was fairly good, and did not reflect the difficulty of the conditions. The scenery was spectacular over both this “Southern Route” and Day 3’s “Mountain Route”, which explored the Franschhoek Mountains, over Theewaterskloof, and parts of Paarl Valley. Fortunately, Day 3, the last day of the competition, was calm and clear, and pilots did not experience any adverse weather conditions.”
“Despite the frustrations, hard work and long hours of creating the routes, then checking and re-checking the routes to ensure that there are no mistakes, we are very heartened to see quite a few new crews make it into the top ten results list. This makes it all worthwhile.”
“It has been very challenging to create routes that challenge both the veteran rally crews as well as those who are flying Nationals for the first time. Added to this was the fact that most of our flyers are used to the flat topography around Johannesburg, which proved to be a great advantage to the local Cape pilots.”
“Having secured the 2020 World Rally Flying Championship to take place in South Africa, with the chosen venue to be Stellenbosch, and with planning already under way from 2018, we were dealt a cruel blow have all our activities scuppered in 2020, and nothing more glum than having had to cancel this prestigious event, as well as the Nationals that would have taken place in April. With the world recovery slowly taking hold in 2021, we rescheduled our 2020 events to 2021, and secured the WRFC to again take place in November of this year, and our Nationals was also rescheduled for this April, and allowing all our teams to experience the actual venue for the Worlds, it would be beneficial to have the event in Stellenbosch.” Rob Jonkers, Chairman of SAPFA told us.
“My Navigator Martin and I had had limited practice opportunities this year, as such we arrived at the airfield just before midday on Wednesday the 14th April to find the aircraft we were going to use unserviceable with a broken magneto, which the local AMO was able to repair in time for us to at least get in a practice rally flight in the late afternoon, where we flew a route known as Bliksem – which was a route used as practice a few weeks prior as a local rally competition, and after having flown it – it lived up to its name, although we did initially fly it twice in the simulator, finding the turnpoints and photos still tough, especially those involving powerlines in the fading light.”“With at least one orientation flight behind us, we went into the next three competition days with some trepidation, at least the weather was good, although the wind and turbulence in the mountainous areas very hectic in places, our first route was towards the north in the mainly flat areas, the 2nd day’s route was towards the South East near to Hermanus with at least 30 kts of headwind up the Shaw’s Mountain Pass, and then the same tailwind going west, which is north of Shaw’s Mountain thus keeping the speed constant a significant challenge. The 3rd day’s mountain route took us over Bain’s Kloof then to the Worcester area, thereafter keeping east of the du Toit’s mountains working our way back to Stellenbosch via Franschoek. Both the Southern & Mountain routes kept us busy managing the power and altitude as we ascended and descended over the passes to keep our timing as accurate as possible. Needless to say it was difficult to do given our scores were not our best, but that is what flying in this environment entails, on top of which attempting to find photos of ground features at the same time made matters even more tough. Must say the area is for sure the most beautiful area to fly around in, just a pity we are working in the cockpit instead of enjoying the scenery…. Overall we did not have stellar performance but at least we had the opportunity to practice in the area prior to the main event planned for November.”
Talking to Tarryn she said, “Our first National Rally Flying Championships couldn’t have been set in a more beautiful but challenging place than Stellenbosch. Having never flown much further than Mpumalanga before, the mountains and the weather in the Cape were a new experience for us. We came up a few days early to try get used to the conditions, have some fun doing old routes and figure out the lay of the land before the serious stuff started.”“Day 1 of Nationals and we arrived bright and early to a plane that wouldn’t start. A bit of a stressful start to the day but we got our race time moved out and the plane sorted and enjoyed the Northern Route. We made a few silly mistakes and hoped to improve on Day 2. Day 2 was the Southern Route and the wind gave us hell all the way around the course. Timing went out the window as we bounced and blew over the mountains just hoping to stay vaguely on track. Day 3 was the Mountain Route, which was something special to see in the very few moments we had spare to look at the scenery. We had a good day, things gelled nicely, and we found all the turn points within the timing windows.”
“When all the results were tallied, we ended 9th overall. We are both happy with our results, considering this is only our third Rally competition ever. The bug has bitten, and we will be practicing hard, hoping to be back in November.”“We have to say a huge thank you to Frank, Callie and Colin for their hard work and to Ursula and the marshals for time and effort in helping everything to run smoothly. Thank you to Mauritz for all the tips throughout the year and for the hard work over the event and to Coach Jonty, thanks for all the training, advice, guidance and spare renoster snot. We have learnt more in the last few months than we could ever have done on our own.”
Piet Meyer when speaking to us said; “My navigator Adrienne Visser and I fly a Jabiru J400 and with a few friends made it our mission to practice and qualify for the World Championship. We downloaded a few routes from SAPFA and with the help of the team coach Jonty Esser started flying these routes. After a few training sessions we took the long trip down flying from Wonderboom in my trusty Jabi on Friday 9th April to have some training days in Stellenbosch before the Nationals.”“Needles to say, we bit off a little more that we could chew but stuck it out and braved the high mountains of the Cape. After a few sessions flying local routes and after months of patiently waiting, race day arrived. The route was planned to the North of Stellenbosch over flat areas with hardly any distinct features. We had a hard time flying the arc…. And if I say we, I mean me, the pilot. As I got to the beach with clear blue ocean, looking at my map to see no pretty beaches or for even a small dam that I could pretend was the beach with pretty girls, umbrellas, and cooler boxes, I knew I messed up. Luckily, my navigator finished plotting the route and could get her head up and help me get back on track. Humbling experience and I felt sorry or my navigator who did well but the pilot not so good.”
“The second day took us to the South over Hermanus, some extreme mountain tops and beautiful scenery. On this day we did very well. Navigator finished plotting well ahead of time, the pilot, slight headache from some cold refreshments the night before but much calmer not too shabby on the route as well as time management.”“As for the 3rd and last day, the route was towards the mountains and over some very scary terrain. We were way out of our comfort zone as the only mountains I am used to is the northern ridge of Hartebeespoort dam. Again, my navigator did an exceptional job, but the pilot could not maintain the correct times over the turn points.”
“As for flying 9 days in a row, exhausted, happy, proud, team “Where the Hell is North” is signing off. Mic Drop. Piet and Adrienne out.”
When we arrived at the airfield there was much to discuss and to be arranged to ensure that we all knew the tasks that was at hand to ensure that we as marshals can assist the teams .To enable the teams to comply with the applicable rules, we as the marshals had to do the following tasks :-
1. Body search all competitors
2. Check all aircraft for GPS devises
3. Paint white lines on aircraft wheels (needed for the landings)
4. Issue the competitors their envelopes on time (Minutes / Seconds)
5. Man, the landing box and verify the landings by means of visual reference / video’s and electronically (Bingo Box)
6. Once returned from the route, the competitors had to give us their answer sheet that was sealed and taken to the de-brief and scoring room.
Stellenbosch Flying Club organised members / student to assist the SAPFA Marshals on the day. The necessary training was given and everybody knew his designated task.
We had lots of fun, made new friends, and looking forward to marshal at the World Rally Flying Championships to be held at Stellenbosch airfield later this year.
Steve vd Merwe and Alewyn Burger relaxing after a day’s hard flying. We spoke to Alewyn Burger who together with Steve vd Merwe fly for SAFAIR and he told us that when Steve asked him if he would like to team up with him for the 2021 SA National Rally Championships he immediately said “Yes!”
“Later he send me the FAI Rally rules and I said to myself “Oh Veldskoen!,” this is going to take something spectacular to not to make fools of ourselves. Two weeks before Nationals we attended a very valuable training camp held by the “Grey Beards” of the SA rally scene. The very next day we flew our first official rally together. The route was called “Bliksem”, need I say more. Our results were a reality check, the learning curve steep but we were hooked.”
“It was a long two weeks before Steve could fly back down to beautiful Stellenbosch, the home of the Stellenbosch Flying Club in order for us have another run at the “Bliksem”. Thanks to the rally prep team there was an additional five routes worked out for this area to cut our teeth on and so, we got to work or should I say, plan, plot, cut, stick, fly, time, spot and observe. Don’t forget the spot landing at the end!”
Entry 9 in the competition consisted of participants Marko Nel (pilot) and Leon Bouttell (navigator), this is a new team that was formed 3 weeks before the national event with limited time to prepare. Marko the resident CFI at the school has excellent knowledge of the area and flying experience. Like most of the established competitors the team elected to use a C172 flown at 75K for the event.
“Lessons learned from day one lead us to significantly improve our performance for the later routes.” Leon told us. “Of particular note was during the third routes flown we did not miss a single turn point correctly identified the photographs, this was an absolutely brilliant effort on the part of the Marko with a less than adequate map. Our navigation scores also improved with every successive day flown. However, the on-route photographs did present a real challenge to find and this was a large component of the penalties scored in the competition.”
After to prizegiving Jonty Esser, the RSA Team Coach made the following statement: “Firstly I would like to thank all the new Elite Rally crews that have invested their time and commitment to joining this Extremely Elite Group of Pilots and Navigators. You all did extremely well and have learnt a lot especially Windy Mountain flying to the second. I am really proud of all Crews that have gained superior flyings skills during this World class Difficult Competition. We will continue to train and do our best to prepare for the Qualification Round Two competition that will be held in June in Brits”.
I knew the competition was going to be challenging, but actually did not realise quite how challenging, until we took off against the backdrop of the magnificent Helderberg Mountain range surrounding Stellenbosch. With 15 well trained and heavily practiced teams competing for the title, and having to best interpret and plot the challenging routes planned by the Eckard team, we were all facing 3 days of pin point accurate navigation and precision flying in order to achieve the ultimate win and possibility of selection for the South African Rally Flying Team to represent our country at the World Championships due to take place in Stellenbosch in Nov 2021. Fortunately the weather gods were smiling down on Stellenbosch and surrounds in terms of wall to wall blue with visibility to “foreverland”…..
Day 1 Route took us over some flat land to the north. Most teams found this route to be extremely challenging and the results for this day were not pleasing to most. Even though Adrian and I were placed first, we knew there was a lot of room for improvement. World Class teams need to return to base with only double-digit scores and ours was a triple digit.
Day 2 dawned and brought with it howling easterly winds pumping in the south. The route was taking us down south and so no crews were spared the enormous buffeting and turbulence, not to mention the fight against 30-40 knot headwinds screaming down the valley with venturial force only to turn our backs on the wind and then have to pull out all stops to slow the craft down while listening to the stall warning screaming ……. But the spectacular mountainous scenery somehow managed to overpower this sometimes rather terrifying experience. Fortunately, all crews landed safely but the experience was not over for Adrian and myself. For some unaccountable reason, both of our loggers bombed out and only fragments of the route had been logged. Despite being thrown around like a cork on a choppy sea, we knew we had flown a good route and so were bitterly disappointed to hear that we faced the possibility of no result for the day. But thanks to the supreme skills of Frank Eckard, he managed to somehow piece the entire route together between what was retrievable off both loggers and the result was delivered. This time we were placed second by a mere 2 penalty points behind the brand-new team of Marco Nel and Leon Bouttel.
Day 3 awoke to a perfect day for flying and the crews took to the skies to enjoy and incredibly magnificent mountain route that really showcased the sheer beauty of the Western Cape area. By now everyone was settling in and both the plotting and the flying seemed somehow to get easier.
Prize giving took place on the lawn in front of the picturesque club house and winners were announced with certificates, medals and trophies being handed out to all the deserving marshals, organisers and participants. Colin Jordaan had directed the 2021 South African National Championships in a most successful and near flawless event and I got to defend and retain the title of SA Rally Navigation Champion for another year.
The teams to represent SA are still to be announced.
I have been fortunate to cover and report on a number of SA Rally Nationals as well as the previous worlds held in SA and this year’s one has without a doubt been the best organized and as far as I can remember the best supported as well. The number of new teams, not only in experience but in age, is very heartening to see.
Thank you to all at SAPFA for your hospitality. We are so looking forward the world championships!