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How team 53 plans to win Rhino Charge

Having failed twice in their bid for the coveted Rhino Charge title, Team 53 is back again with another attempt at the championship set for next month.

Brandon Barbour, James Boorman, Ndung’u Njung’e, Jamie Manuel and Lovat Carnelly will try their luck again, albeit with improvements on their Suzuki LJ800.

While many drivers spend up to Sh4 million to get their cars ready, Brandon’s Team 53 barely used Sh500,000 in getting their Suzuki – referred to as the Tick -ready for the 2014 Rhino Charge. Team 53 is targeting a top 10 finish.

Brandon said its small size and speed give it an advantage over other competitors.

Climbs faster

He said: “We nicknamed it the Tick because of its size, and secondly because on the sharp inclines it ‘sticks’ to the ground making it faster while climbing. It also goes down the steep slopes fast, a thing the bigger cars cannot do easily as they would easily roll,” said Brandon.

In 2012, with Manuel behind the wheel, the Tick finished 17th out of 65, after covering a little over 60 km and crossing 13 of the 14 checkpoints.

Being one of the smallest, less-fancied cars, this earned the team the best new entrants’ award. At that race held at Il Ngwesi in Laikipia, Terry Child covered 47.678km and won the title .

Last year in Ol Doinyo Nyoike, the team dropped to position 40 out of 65 after their car rolled thrice. In spite of the incidences, Team 53 completed 12 of the 14 checkpoints after covering slightly over 28 km.

Sean Avery won the title after crossing all checkpoints and covering 26.990km, that was 193m better that top rally driver Ian Duncan’s 27.183km.

“The car was a wreck when Manuel,   whose idea it was to enter the Rhino Charge, bought it for Sh20,000. A lot of work had to be done on it to prepare it for the 2012 contest that was one of our toughest races,” said Brandon.

Having learnt from last year’s mistakes, the team tweaked the Tick to make it more suitable for rough terrain. This year’s venue has not been announced, in keeping with tradition as it is revealed the night before the championship.

Team 53 got a major boost when car website cheki.co.ke got on board as co-sponsors alongside Fred Black Insurance Brokers and a Danish family the Hallundbaeks.

The year’s race was launched at Camp Carnelly’s near Lake Naivasha. Journalists and sponsors had a feel of the Tick on a track created to test it.

Team 53 driver Brandon Barbour with route scout James Boorman on a test run of their car at Camp Carnelly's in Naivasha on April 24 2014. Photo/Courtesy
Team 53 driver Brandon Barbour with route scout James Boorman on a test run of their car at Camp Carnelly’s in Naivasha on April 24 2014. Photo/Courtesy

“The sponsorship couldn’t have come at a better time. We are happy that they have faith in us. We hope to pay back their kindness by doing well,” said Brandon.

A week before the Rhino Charge starts, Team 53 will test their vehicle at Hell’s Gate in Naivasha.

“We have tested it a few times, and we shall do it again once we feel it is ready for the event. The terrain at Hell’s Gate is quite challenging,” said Brandon.

Ndung’u, Team 53’s chief mechanic, overhauled the car’s engine to improve its performance.

“We put in a Datsun 1200cc engine when it was bought. Ndung’u took the car apart and fitted it with 32 inch tyres from the initial 28, for better clearance and firmer grip,” said Brandon.

The spare wheel was moved from the side of the car to the back, to strengthen its centre of gravity. Winches have also been added to both ends of the car. To boost cooling, the crew will use an electric fan rather than the one run by the engine.

Boorman will be the navigator, while Manuel and Carnelly will scout routes for the team.

Team 53 will face off with former champions Terry Child and Sean Avery, but this does not move them, as they believe they are ready for the challenge.

They are confident they have what it takes to perform well.