Somewhere in the bush near Mbombela - “Because you guys said it was a soft-roader you’re going to be driving over rocks the whole day tomorrow to prove that it isn’t.”

And with that the legendary Sarel van der Merwe welcomed us to the Spirit of Amarok media challenge, this year set in the mountainous area just outside Mbombela in Mpumalanga.

A group of motoring hacks were about to spend the next day taking on various obstacles and timed routes that had been set up by Van der Merwe in the run-up to what will be the South African leg of the VW Amarok qualifying event before the winners take on teams competing in similar events from around the world to determine who will take the title at the Spirit of Africa event, obviously also in Amaroks.

More than 400 teams of hopefuls have put their hands up so no doubt competition will be as fierce as ever.

The weapon of choice was Amarok’s V6 165kW and 550Nm eight speed automatic, not that we saw much above fourth gear, but it did get Van der Merwe to ask us nicely to bring them back in one piece and if you’ve ever met the racing veteran you’ll know it was more of an instruction than a request.

The event follows a similar format to most 4x4 competitions in terms of obstacles driven between poles while the Spirit of Amarok has a couple of additional timed routes as well.

So, you start with 100 points, if you hit a white pole you lose 10 points, a pole with a red flag 30 points while reversing or rolling back sets you back 20 points.

In the timed run you also start with 100 points, and the same penalties apply. Each stage is given a certain time and finishing under that gives you a 15 point penalty per second while being over it is a one point penalty per second. Keep in mind that the original time was set up by Van der Merwe and despite being 72-years-old, the man knows only one speed.

Generally a group of motoring journalists are a fairly mild mannered bunch, but throw in a challenge and after the first few obstacles all bets were off as we mentally calculated who had hit what and more or less how each team was faring.

The scorer was mum every time we asked him what we had scored on the obstacle, but we figured we were doing okay as comments about guys being scolded about their speed, red flags being hit and being advised to use diff lock came over the radio.

The man in charge wasn’t wrong about spending time driving over rocks and while I hadn’t until then driven the Amarok there were a few hardcore obstacles that meant choosing a difficult line so as not to hit the poles.

The Amarok certainly isn’t a soft roader and all it takes is a push of the Off-Road button to let you tackle some seriously difficult terrain.

We only hit two white poles on the timed run but apparently my partner and I (both used to serious off-roading) weren’t exactly speed freaks which ultimately counted against us.

A collective sigh of relief was heard after it was announced that the tyre changing challenge had been shelved so a warm shower in the newly built camp site, prize giving, dinner, drinks and discussions about the merits of the Amarok around a camp fire ended a fantastic experience which no doubt the “real” competitors will have as well.

Drive360