The Rand Airport Challenge was originally started as an inter-flying school competition, the idea was for all the schools based at Rand to encourage their students to take part, sadly it never turned out that way. Over the years it has become one of the most prestigious navigation rallies but still very few students enter.
The Rand Challenge was originally planned for 30 January, due to the uncharacteristic weather caused by Cyclone Eloise it was postponed for a month. This years edition took on a new life as all the teams hoping to qualify for the national team accepted the challenge as an official training day for the National Championships and the World Championships planned to be held in Stellenbosch in November this year. The World Championships were to be held in South Africa last year which would have coincided with the Aero Club of SA centenary celebrations but as we know Covid had the final say and it was postponed to 2021.
Teams started arriving early on Saturday morning but as the morning went on the weather deteriorated slightly keeping everyone on the ground. A gap in the incoming weather seemed to allow the competitors the chance to get out and attempt the course that was set up by Cally Eckhard. Cally decided to set up a course with a healthy mix of difficult and less difficult turning points, the reason for the slightly simplified course was to slowly ease the teams into rally flying as last year there were no competitions and everyone was a bit rusty. Cally did however stress that this would be the last fairly easy course, from now on they will be world championship standard to prepare the teams for what is to come.
The weather did allow the aircraft to take to the sky and we had a competition, some of the teams found the course challenging but doable and others really battled, proving that much work still has to be done before the SA team can successfully compete at international levels. Only one of the teams managed to reach the national qualifying score of 692 points, that team was Jonty Esser and Sandi Goddard, Andrew Pilling and Mary de Klerk narrowly missed the mark with a score of 736 points. Third place was taken by Mike Heffill and Loen Boutell.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't allow the competitors to stick around for a formal prize-giving as some nasty storms were predicted for later in the day and most of the teams opted to leave for home before they arrived and ruined everyone's day.
Jonty Esser has been nominated as the SA National team coach and he is taking this responsibility very seriously, putting the prospective proteas through a strict training regime to prepare them for the riggers of international competition. The Nationals will be held in Stellenbosch from 15 to 17 April, holding the nationals in Stellenbosch will give the teams an advantage of getting familiar with the area that the World Champs will be held.
Frank Eckhard deserves a special mention as he has been the organiser of every Rand Challenge since its inception 17 years ago, thank you for your dedication to SAPFA and the Rallying fraternity. Without dedicated people like Frank, Cally and all the leaders at SAPFA we would never have the pleasure of experiencing these events.