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2017 Bridgestone 4x4 Club Challenge Kicks Off

Bridgestone's 4x4 Club Challenge, which started life in 2007 with a small field of diehard off-road enthusiasts, is this year celebrating its tenth year of competition. The 2017 series is split into four qualifying rounds followed by several more knockout events, with the qualifiers being held at the Wolwekloof 4x4 trail east of Pretoria.

The trail format which proved immensely popular with competitors in 2016 has been retained, and long-serving route master, Sakkie Coetzee, is again supervising the design of the ten obstacles on each event.

The recent first qualifier of 2017 attracted a field of 40 teams including, for the first time, an international competitor, Robb Pritchard. Pritchard, a 4x4 journalist from Wales who writes for a host of international publications, was partnered by local team-mate, Anthonie Coetzee, in a short wheelbase Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2Di-D, fitted with a Tough Dog suspension and various Front Runner accessories.

Headline sponsor Bridgestone, and faithful supporters, Opposite Lock 4x4 accessories and Front Runner, are now joined by Snomaster and Cross Country Insurance, ensuring bigger and better prizes.

The first obstacle of the 2017 series was a nailbiting, steep climb, and this daunting standard persisted throughout the day, with the teams eking out every point on offer.

The two-class format with separate entries for short or long wheelbase vehicles has been retained from last year too, with the obstacles favouring each class about evenly.

When the teams were all safely back in the clubhouse at the end of the day's competition, Welshman Robb Pritchard, who has competed in many 4x4 events across the world, pronounced himself suitably impressed.

"A club event for standard 4x4s honestly didn't sound like much,” he commented. “But it turned out to be an absolutely great day! It was incredibly well run, and briefings at the Dakar rally are not as thorough as they were here. The sections were properly challenging, and that first obstacle was a real wake-up call," he added. Pritchard himself proved his mettle by securing third place in the short wheelbase class.

The overall podium for the day was filled by three experienced teams. Lourens and Beryl Dames (Jeep Wrangler Rubicon) came in third overall with 815 points, while second place went to Wimpie Olivier and former driver's champion, Jaco van Zyl, in a Nissan Terrano, with 835 points. But taking the win with a margin of more than 100 points were Flip Kotze and Herman Steyn (Suzuki Jimny). The team scored a total of 940 points out of a thousand on offer.

The next qualifying round takes place on Saturday, 25 February, at the Wolwekloof 4x4 trail east of Pretoria.

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