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Race for Rhinos 2018 breaks World Record

By Mark Mansfield

The fourth edition of the Race for Rhinos was once again held at Sowa Pan, Botswana, and set the world record for the biggest air race to date with 120 entries and 116 aircraft taking off on race day 1, the previous record was set a few years back in the President’s Trophy Air Race (PTAR) held in Tempe, Bloemfontein, South Africa with a 104 entries. Race for Rhinos has its origins in the Race of Champions series, the brain child of Chris Briers, that was held at various venues across South Africa for a number years, and eventually moved to Botswana with a major sponsorship from Botswana’s Tourism and Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs departments; it was renamed to the Race for Rhinos to place emphasis on the plight of the rhinos that are been slaughtered at an alarming rate. Putting on a race of this calibre is no small fete, and within seven days before the event, an entire ‘city’ is built literally out of the sand. With over 500 tents erected, electricity installed (via a Scania sponsored generator), portable toilets and showers, a runway and taxiways scrapped, an apron prepared, food for over 700 people (including three full meals a day), Customs and Immigrations setup on site, as well as arguably the world’s busiest air traffic control tower at the makeshift airport that handles all the race traffic simultaneously when the entrants cross the finish line, as well as a host of other service providers that add to the huge success of the race.

Race 25 piloted by Michiel Jansen and navigator Greyling Jansen flying in their 100Hp Aveko won the 2018 Race for Rhinos by a whopping 11 seconds gain on their handicap of 134,79Kts, with a course speed of 140,77Kts.
Their closets rivals, and coming second was Race 108, a Piper PA22-150, crewed by Richard Fair and Timothy Fair, crossed the finish line with a six second gain on their 109,20Kts handicap.

The race format was flown over two days, and as in the past, the previous President of Botswana, His Excellency Seretse Khama Ian Khama started the race with the first day taking the competitors on a 300nm cross-country from Tshukudu (Sowa Pan) to Kubu Island, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Ntimbale dam, then onto a point on a main road, then back to Tshukudu.
From the results after day 1, it was very clear that Race 25 were clearly the favorites with a gain of just over six seconds on their handicap.

Race for Rhinos is a challenging race as there is a lack of reference points on the route, and this was clearly evident with 13 disqualifications after day one, mostly due to turning points that were missed.

Race day two took a field of 104 survivors on another tough 310nm cross-country from Tshukudu to a pan, then onto Leroo La Tau, Baines Baobabs, Vet Gate, then back to Tshukudu, and claimed a further 10 victims for missing turn points.

This year saw some rare aircraft enter, amongst them was Race 14 – a Rockwell Collins 112 possibly an early 70s model as well as Race 105 a Rockwell Collins 114, both aircraft were first time Race for Rhinos entrants, and very rare to see both a 112 and 114 model together. Another rare aircraft was Race 40, the Dornier DO 27, also a first timer at Race for Rhinos, as was a Harvard and a Navion, which was also the oldest aircraft to have entered the race; 1946 model. A Stinson and the famous Antonov AN2 (Little Annie) were other notable rare aircraft racing. Besides the majority of all the entrants were South African, this year also saw entries from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Switzerland, USA, UK, Italy, and Mauritius.

In what has become the norm at Race for Rhinos, and forms part of the daily highlights, is the impromptu airshow that takes place over the water and the banks of the pan come alive as competitors and others gather to watch the spectacular performances of some of the best aerobatic pilots. Adding to this year’s record-breaking race, and for the first time seen at the race were Team Extreme, The Raptors, that saw a mass formation flypast of 12 RV aircraft, Neville Ferreria Airshows, as well as the Puma Energy Flying Lions that water-skied across the pan to everyone’s delight. The dusk show and water-skiing of the Puma Energy Flying Lions left those on the banks of the pan speechless.

Closing off a very successful race was the gala dinner, themed – ‘1960s Aviation’, that saw most of the attendees all dressed in 1960s aviation regalia. In his opening address, and with his usual amount of tongue-in-cheek humour, the honourable Minister T. S. Khama Minister of Environment, Conservation, Natural Recourses and Tourism Affairs emphasised the commitment of Botswana to protect its wildlife and to make the country a tourist mecca.

Photo Credit: Mark Mansfield

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