Sarel van der Merwe hosts the 8th Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Amarok Spirit of Africa Challenge finals at Assen Kerhr in Southern Namibia. 20 teams compete over four days in an atmept to claim the title. Image by Greg Beadle

The Pretoria brother and sister combination of Jaacie Visagie and Irma Schoeman are the 2012 Amarok Spirit of Africa champions after following the finals on the farm Aussenkehr in southern Namibia.

By all accounts it was the toughest Spirit of Africa in the competition's eight years. Just how tough is illustrated by the fact that the winning score was 62 percent compared to 87 percent in 2011.

According to the convenor, race and rally legend Sarel van der Merwe, the terrain, on the northern bank of the Orange River, 25km from the Vioolsdrif border post, was spectacular but very difficult and varied from sand dunes to rock climbs. The 20 tests included both technical exercises, usually carried out at very slow speeds, as well as high-speed tests.

The runners-up were Callie Otto and Neels Labuschagne and third were Piet and Madelien Kotze, twice previous winners of the event. Christiaan Otto from Bultfontein, winner in 2010 and 2011, was fourth with his wife Chane.

Making up the top 10 were Tiaan and Sanet Theunissen with 1 123 points, Nico van Staden and Soon Bezuidenhout (1 090 points), Salomon and Anton Victor (1 036 points), Juan Grant and Douw Roode (987 points), Leon and Lienkie Labuschagne (976 points) and Andre and Yvonne de Villiers (950 points).

The top three teams won cash prizes of R50 000, R30 000 and R10 000 respectively.

Multiple former SA Rally champion, Volkswagen works driver Hergen Fekken, finished 13th in his first attempt at the Spirit of Africa. He was teamed with his uncle, Roelof, a former works rally driver.

“It was an awesome experience,” enthused Hergen Fekken. “Sarel created a very tough challenge and it was a great experience I shared with my favourite uncle.”

Van der Merwe was impressed with the high standard of driving and vehicle control displayed by the finalists.

He said: “Each year we see an improvement in the level of skills of the participants and we have been encouraged by the increase in younger competitors.”