Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:26

Branch thrills at Dakar Rally

Botswana is now home to one of the finest cross-country motorcycle racers in the world. The locally bred rider has won the respect and admiration of both his peers and motorsport fans across the world with his courageous and heroic performance at the ongoing Dakar rally.

Branch who has been showing his gifts on the saddle in local and regional off road race events has now become a world beater. By press time Branch is  expected to have completed the gruelling 10 000 km race across Peru in the Top 20. Having started at position 137 out of 140 racers, Branch’s riding experience, ambition and talent saw him rising through the ranks and made it into his targeted Top 20 half way into the race.

At some point the local hero even made it to the Top 10. A gearbox failure in Stage 3 could have cost the rider a position in the Top 10. Nevertheless, Branch has made a lasting impact at the Dakar having been named the best of the rookies competing in this year’s race. Having grown up in the sandy Jwaneng area and consistently competing in the 1000km Toyota Desert Race, Branch came into the Dakar with a massive advantage and surprised many Dakar followers.

A good result and personal glory will mean a great deal for the local rider in terms of recognition and attracting international sponsors. Despite his success and exceeding expectations at Dakar, Branch left for Peru in a shoe string P1,8 million budget, having to take a loan to supplement the funds. A top 20 finish on his debut is likely to see the rider securing international sponsors like the KTM team he is riding for. The rider’s stock will be expected to go up in the international cross-country racing scene. Furthermore, it will not be only Branch who benefits from Dakar glory, having flown the Botswana flag at the biggest motorsport race in the world will see a spotlight shining in Botswana and its motorsport activities.

Before leaving for Dakar, Branch said he intended to lure some of the top riders to the TDR 1000km, which was confirmed for Selibe Phikwe this year. Attracting international riders and racing teams will be a much-needed boost to tourism and local motorsports. Meanwhile, the last two stages of the Dakar were the most challenging of the race where a mass start of cars, truck, quads and bikes. Branch described the penultimate stage as one of the scariest and most challenging when he races against trucks with limited visibility. In  an  interview  this  week , the  first  Motswana  to  compete  at the Dakar Vincent  Crosbie  said Branch  has  proven  that  he  can  race  with the  top  guys  in the  world. Crosbie managed to finish the Dakar in 2017.

“The race is demanding both mentally and physically especially in the last two days. I think he is currently an hour off but with a bit of luck he might end up in the top 10 if some of the riders in front of him do not finish,” Crosbie said. The rider who plans to return to the Dakar in 2020 said Branch has a decent backing and he has been to last year’s Dakar race as a spectator.  Ross has always been an outstanding rider and at some point, he was lying in the 13th position. Furthermore, Crosbie said for both him and Branch it has been a long-term dream to finish the Dakar and represent Botswana. Nevertheless, Crosbie said securing government sponsorship remains   a challenge even though it is clear that there are talented riders in the country.

The local rider said both Botswana Motorsport (BMS) and the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) are not in a position to fund riders for an event like the Dakar. Crosbie further explained that Branch’s performance at the Dakar is likely to get him noticed by international companies at the event. Quizzed on whether Dakar exposure will draw international riders to local events like the TDR, Crosbie said this is highly unlikely. “International riders are drawn to events that run for six or seven days. It will be expensive for us to attract them to the TDR.”

Published in Sports
Thursday, 20 December 2018 13:29

Branch chases Dakar glory

Local off road two-wheeler 450cc champion Ross Branch is expected to leave for the 2019 Dakar Rally on 26th December 2018. The highly competitive rider this week confirmed that he will not just participate but go for pole position against some of the best motorcycle riders in the world in the biggest motorsport event on the planet.

Thus far Branch has worked hard in preparation for the epic 10 0000 km offroad race across South America, which happens to be one of harshest desert terrain in the world. The talented rider has won just about every accolade having been the African offroad champion and multiple 1000km Toyota Desert Race winner. Having conquered everything that local and continental racing has to offer, Branch looks to hoist the blue, black and white flag in the biggest and longest motosport circus on the  racing calender.

However, Branch is currently P140 000 short of the estimated P1, 8 million required to compete in the odyssey across at least three countries in the Americas. Branch said he is likely to take out a personal loan to make up the total. The Dakar Rally, which originated in Africa comprises different categories including trucks, production cars and special vehicles.

Branch will be racing a KTM Dakar spec replica motorcycle. As part of his training Branch recently showed scintillating form after winning the 3000km Kalahari Rally that was staged in Mafikeng, South African.  Branch won the elite 450cc category in one of the longest offroad races in the African continent. The Kalahari rally is three times the length of the epic 1000km Toyota Desert Race.

Nevertheless, the dominant rider said he is still getting to grips with the navigation system which is expected to guide him during the epic race. “I am currently with friends and family  in the Okavango Delta, I am taking time to train and familiarise myself with the navigation system that I will be using.” Furthermore, Branch said his KTM rally bike has been shipped to South America where he is expected to find it upon arrival. The rider said he   will be working with a support team based in South America. “I am hoping to do the best I can and fly the Botswana flag. I will be the country’s sole representative during the race and I am feeling great both mentally and physically.”

The KTM rider said he is a private entry in the Dakar and has no major sponsor. As part of   promoting Botswana, Branch said he will try and lure international riders to come and compete in the popular 1000km Toyota Desert Race next year. Branch will emulate his compatriot Vincent Crosbie by being the only Motswana to compete at the epic race. Batswana fans can expect a live update during the race. “Some of Branch’s sponsors at the Dakar include Pick n Pay Botswana, Armstrong Attorneys, Ultimate Cycle Base, Van and Truck hire, Clean All Services. The rider is expected back in Botswana on 21st January.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 18 December 2018 14:43

Phikwe seals Desert Race deal

It is now official, the Toyota Desert Race (TDR) 1000 KM racing circus will be kicking up dust in Selibe Phikwe in a few months’ time. The race, which forms part of the South African Cross-Country series leaves the Jwaneng   mining town which has been its host for the past five years and relocates to Selibe Phikwe, a town home to defunct copper mining operations and  economic challenges.

The race will now call Phikwe home for the next five years following a Memorandum of Association signing between Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) and the TDR 1000 organisers this past Wednesday. SPEDU has lured the annual racing spectacle to the region as part of a strategic plan to turn the area into a premier sport tourism hub and hopefully reawaken the town. “When we bid for the rights to host the Toyota 1000km Desert Race for its next five-year cycle, we knew that the competition would be very fierce. After all, this is a race that holds the record of being Botswana’s biggest sporting and social event of the year,” said SPEDU Chief Executive Officer, Dr Kubang Mokubung after the MoU signing in Phikwe.

“This is a race that brings spectators from virtually all parts of Southern Africa and reaches millions across the African continent via a popular TV channel. We were determined to not fail the hundreds of thousands of people who call the SPEDU Region home and gave this bid our all. I am happy that our effort didn’t go to waste and today we have put a smile on the faces of people who live in a region much larger in size than some countries.” Dr Mokubung applauded one of the event custodian the Botswana Tourism Organisation for a vote of confidence in the SPEDU region and assured stakeholders that they will not disappoint in the next five years of hosting the event.

Furthermore, Dr Mokubung said it will be up to government, race officials and farmers to develop a race route on the designated land and in that way the economic productivity of the land that has lain fallow for decades will be significantly enhanced.  “In that regard I am happy that BTO takes meticulous care to ensure that the land on which the race is held is used in an environmentally sustainable manner.

As the race headquarters, start-and-finish point as well as designated service park, the town of Selebi Phikwe will provide first-class infrastructure and amenities befitting of its status as one of Botswana’s first towns.”Dr Mokubung said it was necessary to share SPEDU’s sports tourism programme with stakeholders: 

“Sports tourism is emerging as a hugely lucrative component of the global tourism market. As a matter of fact, market research analysis by Technavio predicts that global sports tourism market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 41 percent between 2017 and 2021.”

Published in Sports
Friday, 22 June 2018 15:23

Why Toyota must lose

The indomitable Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) factory team must lose this year’s 1000km Desert Race. Toyota’s unlikely loss this weekend is necessary in order to save the appeal, credibility and mystique of the racing circus that pulls crowds of up to 200 000 spectators to Jwaneng mining town and surrounding areas.

The TGR has not lost a race since 2011. Their last recorded loss was at the hands of the Ford Ranger racing team. However, since then TGR has had a strangle hold in the popular marathon race, which is among the longest and most gruelling in the African continent. Boasting one of the most advanced racing programmes in the world and some of the best rally driver Toyota will be hard to beat on paper. Another advantage the TGR has in the TDR is lack of worthy rivals.

Ford does not provide any real threat to TGR, however new entrants the Nissan Red-Lined Nissan team will add a much-needed dimension to the two-day event. The Red-Lined Nissan team specialises in races like the TDR and they are well funded and resourced enough to give the TGR a run for their money. However, Botswana is Toyota country and they boast a lot of experience in the TDR that has sponsored the event for many years. The men behind the steering wheel also matters in a tricky off-road event like TDR. Multiple TDR winner Leeroy Poulter and former Dakar Rally winner Geniel De Villiers are some of the best rally drivers in the world.

Their combination with the robust TGR racing programme makes the team virtually unbeatable. The Elf Renault team provides the TGR with a rather mild threat, as they hardly have the resources nor drivers that are capable of beating the reigning TDR champions. The privateer entry 4X4 Mega World FIA spec Hilux will be posing another threat to the TGR crew. 

Given the speed, skill and sheer luck the TGR team enjoys, it will be farfetched to bet on any of their rivals causing an upset. However, an upset is what is necessary at this year’s event.  If TGR wins it will be just another repeat of last year’s race where De Villiers won by a country mile with his teammate Poulter coming in second position. Nevertheless, more than half of the 200 000 spectators of the TDR couldn’t care less about who wins the TDR, they are there to see racing car flying past at dizzying speeds. For those who care about the results and classification, there is need for change of guard at the top end of the competition.

Another win by TGR will be mundane and sooner or later it might take its toll on the appeal of the race. As things stand TGR has bigger fish to fry and that is the South African Cross-Country Series and the Dakar Rally, which is the ultimate prize. For TGR the TDR is just practice for the 2019 Dakar Rally in Peru. The celebratory champagne in the podium has long lost its sweetness.

Published in Sports
Monday, 10 April 2017 12:13

Former BMS president pushes back

The dissolved Botswana Motosport (BMS) Committee headed by Simon Modisaemang is pushing back after they were allegedly removed from office without any explanation.

The troubled BMS committee found themselves divided among both the Executive committee and affiliates last year as two centres of power within the association collided during an explosive Special General Meeting (SGM) last year. The heated meeting saw several established BMS clubs calling for a motion of no confidence against Modisaemang and his committee.

The SGM deadlock between BMS affiliates prompted the Botswana National Sports Commission (BMS) to intervene by quickly dissolving the old committee and setting up an interim body headed by John Carr Hartley.

In an interview this week, Modisaeman confirmed that he had recently served the BNSC with a letter asking the commission to clarify why his committee has been dissolved. “We were never given an audience as to why we have been dissolved. I have long told the BNSC that the constitution did not allow me to fully control my committee,” Modisaemang said.

Modisaemang who is Botswana’s FIA liaison officer said he   was in frequent contact with the BNSC and provided all the   details regarding problems at the BMS. The former BMS   president said he kept the BNSC updated eve when the former BMS vice president and treasurer did not file receipts for auditing purposes.

Modisaeman says that three member affiliates called for a Special General Meeting after the initial Annual General Meeting was cancelled. “Following the failed SGM, I suggested that club affiliates be co-opted to form and work on a new constitution.

“This is before we were dissolved by the BNSC. Nevertheless, we have not received any form of writing that we have been dissolved by the BNSC.” Modisaemang said he has since written a letter through his attorney seeking clarity from the BNSC. “I do not recognise the new committee. Nevertheless, I will not let the sport suffer as they continue with their business.”

In an interview this week, the BNSC chairperson Solly Reikeletseng said he has received the copy of letter from the former BMS president’s lawyers. “The matter has now gone to the law. I do not know of any response from the BNSC,” he said.

Reikeletseng said they have given the interim committee time to prepare for their next Annual General Meeting. The chairman added that there are important motosport events like the Toyota 1000 km Desert race coming up.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 12:16

Car spinning returns to Gaborone

The popular yet polarising form of motorsport  known as spinning is making a comeback to the City of Gaborone on September 26 after the event was cancelled   under controversial circumstances almost three years ago. 

This week the Spin City organisers told members of the press that they have repackaged the adrenalin action-packed event to make it more family friendly and sports like. The raised alarm among security officers with the influx of foreign drivers event has even been repackaged and renamed ‘Road Rally Technique’ instead of just spinning. Known for pulling huge crowds on Saturday afternoons in Gaborone, spinning   witnessed phenomenal growth in a short time as even South African competitors were clamouring to attend the shows and compete with locals for bragging rights.

The shows featured powerful and loud rear wheel drive sedans like the popular BMW matchbox known as Gusheshe.Nevertheless, with the growing popularity other negative factors came into play as there were allegations of drivers competing under the influence of alcohol and rowdy fans who got caught in the moment and came too close to the stunt cars in action. However, organisers say things will be a lot different now after roping in other stakeholders like Botswana Motor Sport (BMS), Gaborone City Council (GCC) and the Botswana Police (BPS). So serious are the show organisers that they have brought in a social responsibility officer, environment officer and a group of accredited race marshals for good measure.

The event’s social responsibility officer Thabiso Seobamo said the event organisers had to comply with rules set   by the   international motor racing federation, FIA. “We have set out to ensure spinning competitors have protection, which includes third party and group cover insurance,” Seobamo said.  In addition, Seobamo said the event would be regulated by the BMS under international road rally technique rules.

“We have put safety first. In past events, there were no rules to manage and guide the sport. The BMS now issues licensing for spinning, Karting and accreditation for marshalling. Forms for such can be sent to our office to asses.” Speaking at the same event, the BMS FIA Liaisons Officer and event organiser Joseph Khengere said it was important that they encompassed the traffic laws of the country. He conceded that in the past the events, things were out of control as drivers tended to perform stunts at undesignated places in town.

“This is why we have the GCC   and the BPS. To get a permit from the police   we have to encompass the laws of the country. Drivers used to spin too close to spectators, this time there will be a 10m barrier to keep them away.” Moreover, Khengere said spectator used to watch the event from the top of truck trailers, which he described as unsafe. He added that there would be a safer sitting arrangement this time. “From now onwards any driver seen to be indulging in an illegal act will have their spinning licence revoked,” he said.  In other issues, the organisers assured the event would be more environmental friendly with drivers having designated places to dump their used oil and other refuse after servicing their vehicles.

Published in Sports

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