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An exciting Savanna Rally

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“Jeroen! Come! NOW! TOWING CABLE NOW!!!!!” We stood nose down and tilted on a steep sand slope and the car was in serious danger of capsizing. JW had followed the instruction to drive full speed in low 4WD gear up against the steep slope, but the officials had forgotten to add that we should keep left. JW steered a little bit to the right side... with almost fatal effect. Instant panic by the officials but adequate action as well, not in the least from the car behind us, and in no time we were pulled out of this hazardous situation, back on the hill top.

The Savanna Rally 2012. For the tough driver this means four days of crossing under high pressure through areas varying from dusty sand to muddy forest. Deep pools and even streams are no obstacles. Forest trails are usually not wider than 2 meters so JW never hesitates and steers the car straight into the bush when necessary; scratches and dents are inevitable. (This time we only lost part of the rear bumper.)

For the navigator the rally means four days of heavy brains racking in a cavorting and bucking car. Map, dividers, ruler, pen and compass in one hand, the other hand ready to operate the tripmaster (= meter counter, utmost precision is necessary), keeping yourself oriented on the surroundings and at the same time solving many puzzles. In short: a challenge.

We drove quickly out of the city into the savanna heading for the Highway To Hell, where we were almost knocked over in the middle of the night.
Steep sand slopes kept following us, as after a slippery bridge consisting of tree trunks, we arrived again at the bottom of a steep sand hill. No prob lem in the ordinary course of events, but in the meantime our 4WD gearbox had started to make strange noises; after consultation with the officials we were guided out of the line and around the hill. The rest of the night we dared not use the 4WD gear and at the breakfast-finish the technical team detected not even one drop of oil in the gearbox! The plug was gone and a rubber seal was leaking. They filled it again and cut a plug out of a piece of wood, which took more than 90 minutes in all. It was our luck that this morning break was extended for the first time in 41 years so we started only 3 minutes late (instead of one hour, which would have been fatal for the remainder of our rally). Technical team, thanks a lot!

We camped at the Blaka Watra site, a marvellous spot in the forest where you can relax and cool down in the fresh black jungle stream. After a tank stop (Staatsolie is main sponsor and drove on and off with trucks) all cars were ferried across the Suriname River on a sand pontoon. This was followed by again heavy stretches of toiling in dusty sand.

JW had already caught a smell and 800 m before the lunch finish we saw smoke coming from under the hood. We stopped, waited a bit and added cooling fluid, but after another 60 m the whole thing was boiling again. Luckily we had just arrived in a forest where we had to cross a stream. Now we had plenty of water to cool the engine and fill the radiator. Coincidentally there was a car with some press, driven by the managing director of Sol (Shell Suriname), who knew exactly what to do. He nursed our car so we could drive on and arrived with a margin of only 1 minute at the lunch-finish (29 minutes late while we were allowed 30 minutes). The technical team rushed forward again and Kenneth immediately checked the whole system. We were not the only car with cooling problems, he told us, but after a thorough examination we could move on.

In the afternoon we encountered lots of dusty sand again, but the car held up and we only lost a couple of minutes in addition to the 29 minutes of the morning stretch. At the finish you are allowed to be 60 minutes late so we felt we were okay. Until we arrived in a traffic jam on a narrow forest trail only 700 m before the finish. A car was tilting over in a deep hole of an uprooted tree and two(!) cars auto’s struggled for a long time to pull it out. In the end we finished with a margin of only 4 minutes!

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