After the World Championships in Brits in November 2022, flying seems to pause. We haven’t given much thought to what comes next, and we honestly welcome the breather.

Before long, it is time for Rally Nationals again, taking place in March 2023. Why so soon you might ask? Well, with Covid-19 messing up the timing of everything, the next Rally World Championships will be in Mâcon, France, in July-August 2023. Normally spaced 2 years apart, there are now only 8 months between the two events. Anyone who does want to take part in France will need to start planning soon.

This year, South African Rally Nationals will take place in both Stellenbosch and Brakpan. The motivation is to make it easier (and cheaper) for teams to participate after the three-year slog leading up to the 22nd World Championships. We certainly appreciate not having to travel far to participate and I am sure that the Western Cape teams appreciate not having to come all the way up to Gauteng again!

The Brakpan event is planned for Friday and Saturday 24 and 25 March. Bonsai, our Jabiru, has limited hours left before our 100-hour service was due, so I arrange to hangar at Brakpan overnight. This reduces the additional hour there and an hour back each day, and I can fly directly to neighboring Springs Airfield for the service directly after the competition.

With that in mind, Iaan sets off by car to Brakpan very early on Friday morning while I make my way to Eagles Creek. Unfortunately, the weather decides not to play along. Low clouds and rain mean that the competition is delayed with most competitors, like me, stuck at their home fields.

Waiting and hoping the cloud will lift

At first, the stress builds as I wonder whether the competition will be further delayed, cancelled or simply start without me. The most pressing thought is whether I will make the decision to not fly, even if everyone else does. We are still undecided if we want to go to France, but maybe this is our answer?

After a few hours, the stress wanes and boredom sets in. I have Bonsai ready and am sitting in the cold, drinking coffee when the clouds start to lift properly. Finally! The forecast shows further improvement expected for the rest of the day and so I take off, 3 hours later.

Most other competitors are based closer to Brakpan, so I am the last to arrive. With very little time to worry, I rush into the clubhouse, collect loggers and paperwork and my navigator, Iaan. There doesn’t seem to be much rust accumulating from our break as our cockpit procedures slip back into place.

Perhaps it was the lack of time to worry, but we had one of those stellar days where everything just seemed to go smoothly. My timing was fantastic, Iaan spotted loads of photos, we got all the turnpoint photos correct (an embarrassingly rare feat) and I topped it off with an excellent landing. Now we need to focus for Day 2, it can be difficult to keep up this kind of momentum.

Pam Russell sums up Day 2 perfectly. “The sound of falling rain can be beautiful. It’s a lovely way to wake up on a lazy morning when you can just roll over and let it lull you back to sleep. It’s less delightful on day 2 of a National Championship. Still, there’s nothing to do but head out to the airfield and wait. And eat breakfast. And wait. And drink coffee. And wait.” After a lot of waiting and coffee, the difficult decision was made to cancel Day 2.

The rules recognise one completed route sufficient to declare a championship so while everyone was disappointed not to fly again, it also led to a conundrum for the organisers. How do the results get calculated when Stellenbosch has already completed both days of their competition? It was decided that the fairest option was to halve the total scores of the Stellenbosch participants. With that done, the results could be announced.

The Final Results

With our amazing Day 1, we managed to end up third overall, exactly one point ahead of Marko Nel and Leon Bouttell. The top 7 teams all qualified for the South African team. With that result, how could we possibly miss out on France?

Third overall!

My next challenge is to beg, borrow or steal a Cessna to practice in. A Cessna 150/152 or 172 are most likely what we will need to fly in France. Unbelievably, none of my 350 hours so far have been flown in these popular training aircraft! Perhaps it is time to get a rating or two?