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Until last week I was a Cannonball Run virgin. Other than my exposure at too young an age to the cheesy (but classic) ‘80s flick by the same name, that is.
However, Burt Reynolds’ permed hair would play no part in this experience, nor would Farah Fawcett’s perky, erm... eyes. Celebrities at the Cannonball Run Africa 2012 were entirely of the vehicular variety and of the 43 cars entered, one Jaguar XKR-S would be in the hands of yours truly and partnered by Sunday Times’ motoring writer and good buddy Thomas Falkiner.
And that’s about all I knew going into last weekend’s event.
In the weeks prior, almost all details were kept secret. I knew it was a four-day challenge run in Gauteng where the fleet of supercars (and one Audi A4 driven by a rather mischievous crew) would be competing in a sequence of competitions, and that proceeds would be donated to the QuadPara Association of South Africa. But where would the proceeds come from? Where would we be sleeping? Where did the 1.8km roll of cling wrap come from?
All answers would come in due time.
It all began in the early hours of Thursday 9 August at the Kyalami Castle, where tea and coffee did their best to warm teams’ hands and bellies, and the idling Aventadors, SLS Roadsters and 911 Turbos in the car park did their best to warm the Earth’s atmosphere. From there we’d be given the first of many cryptic clue books which, if deciphered, would lead us from checkpoint to checkpoint.
At each location, we’d be earning points either by timed track challenge, or by completing other tasks such as searching storage lockers for clues, driving golf carts blindfolded, and eating worms, crickets and cat food. With our Jag’s five-litre supercharged V8 making 404kW and 680Nm, Tom and I naturally scored well on track, but when it came to eating dodgy stuff we exited left. Which is also where some of the charity proceeds come from.
The Cannonball Run’s own comedic police force, aka The CHIPS (Cannonball Run Highway Idiots on Patrol), were always on hand to “fine” competitors for indiscretions such as not eating “lunch”. Spot fines were also dished for not knowing your car’s tyre size or licence disc details, and one hefty one was issued to the couple in the Audi A4 for completely wrapping a Porsche with cling film in the dead of night at our five-star hotel in Magaliesberg.
From the outside the Cannonball Run looks a glamorous spectacle.
A high-revving and tyre-smoking parade of expensive automobilia darting from one venue to the next. Affluent competitors grooming themselves quietly within the confines of their multi-million rand machines. Cash on wheels. Rolling wealth.
But in reality it’s a very different and frantic thing. Any extra space, of which there’s very little in Jaguar’s flagship grand tourer, is strewn with empty chip packets and water bottles, crumpled pieces of paper, and other road-trip necessities that get piled up in the heat of competition.
Up front on our XKR-S’s flight deck we had wires powering GPS devices, laptops, video cameras and cellphones, and all were entangled in a very unglamorous way. There’s simply no time to tidy your ride when Cannonballing. All priority and attention goes into those darned clue books, and navigating your way to the next secret checkpoint.
And as Cannonball Run rookies we did struggle. While more experienced teams hopped around Gauteng with pinpoint accuracy and spot-on timing, Team Jaguar looked more like lost tourists. On more than one occasion we’d convinced ourselves we were on track, only to find a pack of competitors heading the other way. Thankfully our Jaguar was very good at U-turns. Big, loud, lurid, smoky ones.
STAR OF THE SHOW
The XKR-S, although outnumbered by hordes of more common supercars, was the star of the show. Well, actually a brand-new Aventador was, but its all-wheel drive meant it couldn’t do a burnout for love or money. The rear-wheel drive Jag, of course, can and did. And very well I might add. It happened at every robot, stop street and occasion that arose over several hundred kilometres and four days. A set of seriously wide 20” tyres and around six tanks of petrol was a small price to pay for Cannonball Run stardom.
In the end, Team Jaguar and its two buffoons managed to score 213.49 points to the winning team’s 384, meaning we were credited with a dismal 36th place.
But, if anyone asks, we also beat two Lamborghinis in overall points, even if one of them retired on the first day with a clutch failure. We also finished well within the top ten of every track-based challenge, and came second only to the Aventador in setting a laptime at Zwartkop circuit outside Pretoria.
More importantly though, Cannonball Run Africa 2012, which was the tenth running of the event, raised R185 000 for QASA and a wheelchair-accessible van has been purchased with the money.
One last thing...
The two unassuming journalists in the Jag weren’t entirely innocent during that fateful cling-wrap episode. But we got away with it. Until next time CHIPS! - Star Motoring