JOHANNESBURG - You haven’t seen competition till you get a normally chilled group of motoring journalists, pair them up, put them behind the wheel of a V6 190kW VW Amarok and let them loose on an offroad challenge designed by Sarel van der Merwe.
With ears glued to the radio to hear which team had hit which pole or red flag, teams were constantly adjusting scores and planning their next move in an effort to become the 2021 VW Amarok Media Challenge winners.
Held in Limpopo this year after the 2020 version was cancelled because of Covid-19 competition was as tough as ever.
The group of media were the last round of competitors after 500 teams from the public had already completed their adventure in VW’s premier double cab. The winners will later compete in the international Spirit of Amarok.
I had teamed up with my colleague from “Citizen Motoring” Jaco van der Merwe and our hopes were high as we climbed into Amarok number 12 after the legendary Van der Merwe had explained the rules.
The event was in two parts. Starting with 100 points the first, a technical drive through a number of obstacles between strategically placed poles and red flags, each obstacle with its own time limit; too early or late past the chequered flag and five points are deducted for every second. Hit a white pole, it’s a 10 point penalty, reverse a 20 point penalty and touch a red flag 30 points.
The second part was a speed challenge where a route had to be completed within a certain time and points deducted for every second over the time or time added for touching poles with a killer 30 seconds for a red flag as we found out to our detriment.
There are a lot of people that doubt the offroad prowess of the Amarok but once you’ve seen them in action those perceptions are easily challenged. For the Amarok Challenge Gripmax are the tyre suppliers and with an aggressive pattern and three-ply sidewall on their Mud Rage range, the Amarok proved to be extremely capable.
It was noticeable during one stretch we drove between obstacles over a very rocky road which was probably grade three and bordering on grade four over some sections and it bounded over the terrain like a proverbial goat.
The Amarok doesn’t have a traditional low range transfer case, instead, with it’s offroad setting, low first gear ratios and electronic trickery as well as a rear differential lock it will get you just as far as almost every other standard 4x4 double cab out there.
While driving it around as an everyday bakkie you forget how big the Amarok is but when you’re doing a hard turn at a snail’s pace to avoid a pole or red flag it again dawns on you that this is not your average sized double cab.
“Car number 12, white pole,” the marshall would say over the radio which immediately makes you more nervous and the car suddenly seems six inches wider and longer.
During the lunch break the points were put on the noticeboard and with some deft driving and errors from the competition we may still have secured a podium.
Gunning the V6 with its permanent all wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission (it also has an overboost function that adds an extra 10kW for 20 seconds in certain driving situations, like the one we had) we aced it and came in just over the recommended time.
The drag race didn’t go according to plan thanks largely to the left lane’s corrugations at the start and the difficult reversing through poles had us hanging on by a thread.
We'd surely make it up on the next rally stage. Not so much. The slightest touch of the flag with the left side mirror opened the trap door and our race was run. The driver? No name no packdrill.
A late burst in the final speed event was enough to lift our spirits but unfortunately not our position.
Despite the competitive nature of the event it was all in good fun and while Fanelesibonge Bengo from Isolezwe (so at least it’s in the Independent group) and Sibonelo Myeni from Ukhozi FM and iMoto were deserved winners, ultimately the VW Amarok proved to be a touch of class in a variety of proper offroad conditions.