Neels van Deventer and Solly Pretorius, flying a Cessna 172D, are the winners of the 2009 Suzuki President’s Trophy Air Race, one of the premier events on the South African aviation calendar.
The Gauteng-based duo pipped the Cessna 182P of Fabian Cairns and Wade Gomes to the post after a closely contested battle that saw adverse conditions and strict handicaps put many of the fancied crews out of contention. Third place went to the Lancair 360 of Dave Mandel and Rod Crichton.
For Van Deventer and Pretorius, who fly out of the Kitty Hawk airfield near Pretoria, it was a dream debut in what is generally considered the toughest air race on the calendar.
“We were a bit shaky on day one in the turbulence, and even struggled to find the turning point at Barkley East, but we still managed to come in third, a jubilant Van Deventer said afterwards.
“As the slowest competitor, we started first on day two, and managed to cross the line in second place. The win came as a complete surprise.”
The race, which is run on a handicap system that allows different aircraft to compete on an equal basis, attracted a record entry of 113 aircraft, of which 104 were classified as finishers.
Despite the testing conditions, with strong winds and turbulence over the mountains near Barkley East, there were relatively few incidents.
Perhaps the most serious of these was the forced landing of Lisa Mandel and Alewyn Burger, when their Van’s RV6 suffered a prop separation. Mandel executed a perfect touchdown on a mountain plateau, and the crew escaped unhurt.
Meanwhile, Tienie and Chris Prinsloo, flying a Mooney M20G, circled above the landing site to ensure the RV6 crew was okay, and also relayed the co-ordinates of the forced landing site to the race organisers.
Their gesture cost them any chance of a race win – the intrepid crew still managed a creditable eighth place on day two, but were classified 99th on the overall results sheet.
Conditions on day one were particularly treacherous, with the strong headwinds on the inbound leg hampering the slower, less powerful aircraft, while the turbulence over the mountains made flying adventurous, to say the least.
Douw Wentzel, navigating for Arnie Lowes in their Cessna T206H, got caught out by the rough conditions, and ended up in hospital with a suspected back injury after the aircraft hit an air pocket.
The second day brought cold and frost, but also much better flying weather, and the air traffic control at Tempe had their work cut out to set off the hundred-plus aircraft at sometimes extremely close intervals.
After a total of 637,8 nautical miles and two days of flying, the finish was desperately close, with Van Deventer and Pretorius, 10 min 24 sec ahead of their handicap time, while close rivals Cairns and Gomes beat their handicap time by 9 min 40 sec.
Even closer was the third placed finish, with the Mandel/Crichton Lancair gaining 9 min 18 sec on its handicap time.
“The close competition and the spirit of camaraderie at this year’s Suzuki President’s Trophy Air Race not only made for one of the best races in years,” said Francois van Eeden, the company’s national marketing manager. “It also vindicated Suzuki Auto SA’s decision to back what must rate as one of the top aviation events in the country.
“We would like to salute all the air crews who competed for making this year’s race a memorable one, while race director Kassie Kasselman and his team deserve a big round of applause for a job well done,” Van Eeden concluded.
Suzuki Press release