1985 Rand Daily Mail CASTROL D-J RUN

From the July 1985 SAVVA Automobilist magazine, volume 11 number 2

The view from a sidecar by Coen Deetlefs
Photographs by Castrol

This, the 15th D-J, was different in many ways, to any of the previous events. To start with we had a lady Clerk of the Course and let me say from the outset that Betty did a superb job of organising the event and all the changes she made, be they in the route itself, or in the meals and accommodation were changes for the better; in only one respect was there a change for the worse namely the lack of atmosphere in the garage where the machines were parked. In previous years when the bikes were all parked in one area there was a sense of hustle and bustle with machines being worked on and people wandering around and meeting their friends. This atmosphere was missing this year with the machines being housed in odd corners on different levels so much so that I only saw some of the competitors for the first time on Saturday morning at Newcastle and others at the prize giving on Sunday.

There were a number of interesting new machines on view with two James V-Twins, a 1931 Ariel Square Four, a four valve Royal Enfield Bullet and an Ariel Colt amongst the new comers as well as a large number of first-time riders whilst a number of the familiar faces were missing.

In addition there was a strong sidecar entry with no fewer than eight combinations being entered with yours truly being a passenger in the Zenith combination, thus the sub heading to this story

The breakdown of machines entered makes an interesting study, there being 20 B.S.A.s, 19 Sunbeams, 13 Velocettes, 11 Ariels, 10 A.J.S.s and 7 Nortons, dominating the entry list of 154 machines.

The VVC of Durban played host to the entrants on Wednesday evening in their recently extended clubhouse now named Castrol Hall in appreciation of the support given to our movement by Castrol South Africa. The food, as usual was excellent and a festive atmosphere was crowned by a cabaret turn by Ms. Cyrilena Richmond who sang and displayed a pair of legs that was the envy of many of the ladies present.

In contrast to the miserable conditions of last year the riders set off in perfect weather conditions with a fully pre-calculated route schedule having been provided making it so much more enjoyable, with no nagging doubts about perhaps having made a mistake in the calculations.

I felt far safer in the sidecar in the traffic than I usually do on my way out of Durban and when we started the regularity section I could enjoy the scenery through the Valley of a Thousand Hills as I had not been able to for many years. The first innovation on the route came when we had to turn left to Howick West where no fewer than twenty-seven competitors kept straight on to Howick proper, included in this group were a number of people who were old hands on this route and they fell into the trap of not reading their route schedule properly and followed the old route out of habit, those of them who did not see their mistake and did not turn round missed a marshal and incurred 1800 penalty points and a study of the computer sheets shows that those who did spot their mistake and found the right route still incurred sufficient penalties to put them out of contention for top honours.

If you want to find out how bad a road surface really is you should try being a passenger in a softly sprung sidecar which, in trial runs before the event, was very comfortable, but loaded down with all the tools I possess, rain suits, and two gallons of spare petrol soon started “bottoming” to such an extent that at times we could not maintain our set speeds, and whilst you may be able to pick your way on a solo machine a sidecar combination is a different kettle of fish and some of the roads on the way to Mooi River were very bumpy.

Lunch at Estcourt was as usual a very enjoyable affair and a most welcome break before the long slog to Ladysmith and Newcastle. The traffic along the main road was not as heavy as anticipated and we made good time to Ladysmith but the most traumatic event still awaited us. About halfway to Newcastle we saw in the distance a long line of cars and lorries ahead of us and as we rapidly caught up with them I wondered what the hold up could be, we were soon to find out for as we caught up with the tail end of the queue of vehicles we could see that a mobile crane was drawn up across the road in the process of attempting to lift a huge container that had fallen off a truck, some solo machines started dribbling past us but we might as well have been in a truck for all the chance we had of getting through and as the seconds ticked away so did our hopes of being able to do well and get back on time. After what seemed like hours but was only about four minutes we were slowly able to move and when we got clear of the obstruction the first thing we saw was a marshal and we knew our goose was cooked.

The next route check where we could put ourselves back on time was a long way off and Andy opened up to such good effect that we were actually early at the turn off to Danhauser, but as happened on a previous occasion when we did the Danhauser loop, we were hardly clear of the town when the Zenith stuttered to a halt with the tank empty, but our foresight in carrying extra fuel paid off and three minutes later we were off again going hell for leather for the final open control where we were only 19 seconds late.

This might be an appropriate place to express my views on Force Majeure. A study of the final results on the computer sheets of the various controls makes it very clear what effect the road obstruction had on the fortunes of various competitors, a number of good rallyists suffered varying fortunes. If you were lucky you got through in ten to fifteen seconds while the others suffered delays of up to ten minutes and my considered opinion is that where the majority of competitors are held up in this manner the Clerk of the Course should have the powers to scrub such a control. If that had been done in this instance the results might have been very different and I say that without wanting to detract from the very good performance put up by the winners.

We were amongst those that opted to stay at the Iscor hostel in Newcastle and I was quite happy with the accommodation and the food, we got what we paid for and no one could expect more for the very modest sum charged.

Saturday was another day of brilliant sunshine and with an open section from Newcastle to Volksrust we could enjoy the run over Majuba and Laings Nek with the faster solo machines coming into their own on the fast sweeping bends. I had thought that I would be bored sitting in the sidecar once we were on the flat roads of the Transvaal but having armed myself with my rally tables I could keep myself occupied with doing some navigating without interfering with the way Andy was riding and keeping time. We had agreed beforehand that Andy would ride as if he were on a solo machine and that I would not interfere, this worked very well and notwithstanding our trials and tribulations on the route we were happy with our results.

The lunch stop at Standerton was at Mike’s Kitchen and a vast improvement on the food we had had on previous events. After lunch we had another bad experience, getting stuck behind a huge mobile crane with a long line of cars towing caravans and other smaller trucks and motorcycles being held up for a long time but eventually the driver must have used his rear view mirror and pulled on to the left-hand shoulder of the road allowing us to get past. We had been at the tail end of the queue and not long after we had passed this mobile chicane we heard a noise behind us and on looking over my shoulder I saw this huge vehicle bearing down on us sounding his air horns for us to get out of his way but fortunately for us there was an uphill stretch just ahead and we managed to pull away from him and then stayed ahead of this behemoth for the rest of the run.

The two hour run from Greylingstad was uneventful if slightly frustrating in that the kilostones were few and far between but we were glad to arrive at the Johannesburg market to be welcomed by a big crowd. We both enjoyed the experience of using a sidecar combination for a change but agreed that we would be back on our solo machines next year, although Andy did mutter that it might be interesting to ride the Zenith without a sidecar next year.

There were twenty-one non-finishers this year and amongst them a number of competitors who had never before failed to finish the event. Derek Du Toit being one of them, suffering ignition problems on his 1931 Ariel Square-4, the two Woodleys with various problems on the Douglas and Triumph, Oliver Barrett Snr. and Cliff McArthur also being amongst the unfortunate sufferers. Oliver Barrett Jnr. Performed an heroic feat in getting the usually very reliable 1911 Scott to the finish, having had to push his machine up Town Hill and suffering other miseries along the way, soldiering on without stopping for lunch or tea and deserved his award for completing the course on the oldest machine entered. Gus and Yvonne Heinze were also first time users of a combination being mounted on a 1930 Sunbeam and sidecar which lost all but top gear on leaving Pietermaritzburg and with the help of various push-starters” managed to get over Town Hill and after that by dint of much clutch slipping managed to complete the run even managing to clear Majuba in top gear – just and then suffered further misfortune in Standerton when Gus discovered that the frame on the Sunbeam had fractured just below the saddle, but having been a good Boy Scout Gus managed to lash the frame together with some ski rope and carried on in top gear, to the finish. It speaks well for the robust clutch on the Sunbeam that they did manage to finish.

I have now taken part in fourteen D-Js and I feel that it is time that perhaps a new route should be tried and in this I am not alone as a number of the old hands seem to agree with me that from both the safety aspect as well as from the interest point of view some other route should be tried, after all, there is very little left of the old D-J road and a new route might present more of a challenge. Some competitors know the route so well that they have even made “pace notes” of every Kilometre of the present road and can thus annotate their route schedules accordingly, there is nothing wrong in this, but it shows to what lengths some people will go to rally “for fun.” Letters on this subject will be welcome.

This is the last time that the Rand Daily Mail’s name will appear in a report on this event and it is very sad that this should have come to pass. I should like to express the hope that Len and Dawn Bassett will in future still be seen on this event and express our thanks to them for all the hard work they have done in the past, this run has lost some of its image with the passing of the RDM.

At the prize giving party Mr Bond of Castrol pledged their continued support for this event and we thank them for their past support and look forward to a long association with CASTROL South Africa.

The prize giving party was held at the Sandton Sun Hotel and proved to be a very nice venue with no crowding and the food being served at the tables, something of which I heartily approve.

Computer Sciences (Pty) Ltd. again provided a very efficient service in producing the scores promtply, by the time the first competitors arrived at Newcastle, the scores for the first three controls were already on display and early in the evening the first day’s results were available. Something to be noted this year, was that the person in the lead in Newcastle, Richard Lewis, kept his lead despite the tradition that the leader on the first day rarely wins the event overall. The very detailed results provided by the computer provides interesting data for post-mortem study by competitors. Our sincere thanks go to the scorers and the Infonet Division of Computer Sciences.

Mr. Gordon Bond Managing Director of Castrol SA (Pfy) Ltd. at the prize-giving party.

Cyril and Betty Richmond with the Clerk of the Course trophy awarded each year to the Clerk of the Course of the D-J.

The Club Team Award was won by, Steven Lange, Richard Lewis and Bill Van Dongen seen here with Claire Gordon and Audrey Salmon.