Kenya’s Rhino Charge saw 65 teams converge on the African wilderness for the 2022 instalment of this gruelling cross-country navigation challenge.
While Britannia hummed with nostalgia for the Jubilee, southern Kenya thrummed to the sound of modified 4x4s from around the world taking part in the 2022 Rhino Charge. Land Rovers saw victory in both the Unmodified and Modified classes. Both winning team leaders gave us their accounts.
What is the Rhino Charge?
The objective: drive to 13 waypoints and back, in ten hours. GPS tracking is used to determine how far each vehicle as travelled, and the team which covers the shortest distance wins.
That means each team has to forge their own path, travelling as the crow flies as much as possible, and driving 100% off-road (to avoid penalties for taking what tracks there are). Each team, comprising up to six people, raises cash for a local wildlife conservation charity as a condition of entry – minimum £5k per team.
This year’s event alone raised £1.08 million for the Rhino Ark Kenya Charitable Trust.
Unmodified winners: Car 9
John Bowden of Gumtree 4x4, driving Car 9, took a class win with the team's UK-built V8 90 hybrid. 2022 was the second year running that Car 9 has won its class, and the third time since its first entry in the late 1990s. John was unable to join last year due to Covid, but flew out in late May to take part again.
He told LRO: ‘We had a pretty good event, aided by some excellent navigation from Lorian Campbell-Clause using satellite images of the area. Often we were literally driving blind on compass bearings through thick bush, with almost zero visibility ahead of us.
‘We landed so hard on one rock that the fuel tank guard was pushed up, doing the same to the tank. It then rubbed on the floor bolt under my feet and developed a hole! We had to take the floor out and bung up the hole with a self-tapping screw and PTFE tape which worked for a bit… The tank finally developed a split, but not until the day after the Charge, so Van Ballard (who prepared Car 9 and drove it 8 hours on the roads from his base at Nandi in the tea district to get there) drove it home with a pipe secured into a jerry can.
‘Most of the cars are transported to the event on trucks so we consider it is a badge of honour to drive in and drive out again whenever possible.
‘We also ripped a rear brake pipe off, three sections from the end, and drove them with no foot brake. That was “interesting” on a couple of rocky downhill descents when apparently only one wheel was on the ground at any one time…’
Overall winners: Team Bundufundi
Winning the Modified class, and taking overall victory for the second year in a row, was Kenya-based Team Bundufundi in Car 38.
Since 2004, their Land Rover has now been on the winner’s podium 11 times, including four outright wins. The vehicle started life as a Series III Truck Cab, but has been rebuilt and stretched onto a Discovery chassis with coil springs and A-frame rear axle arrangement. The engine is a 3.9 EFi V8.
Sean Avery, the team’s 72-year old founder, driver and chief mechanic, describes the car’s build and its history:
‘The axles are standard Volvo C303 portals salvaged many years ago by my eldest son from a scrap yard in Kuala Lumpur. These have worked well for us, with the original front and rear vacuum membrane diff-lockers operating through switched vacuum lines piped from the petrol engine inlet manifold. These axles came standard with drum brakes and were originally fitted to a leaf-sprung vehicle.
‘We ran it like this with parabolic springs for a few years, but kept breaking the front main leaf spring. This was one of the reasons we transitioned to the Discovery chassis and coil springs. We have since replaced the drum brakes with disc brake callipers powered by and Rover 110 master cylinder and booster. This is a vast improvement, and at the same time we increased the wheel offset for better stability. We retained the original Volvo C303 steering rod and linked this up to a Land Rover 110 power steering box. We needed to add a hydraulic assister plumbed into the steering box powered by the original 110 power steering pump.
‘Our gearbox is a reconditioned R380 from Ashcroft Transmissions. The R380s for tropical use include provision for connecting an oil cooler which we fitted on the chassis behind the transfer box, which is a standard LT230. The only modifications to the transmission are an underdrive from Ashcroft that bolts to the back of the transfer box. We also added a disk transmission brake. This car can literally crawl over anything.’
The Rhino Charge is a feat of physical endurance for all team members, as the accompanying runners are expected to scout routes on foot and help their vehicle haul itself across almost any terrain. ‘Whereas I drove 25 km in 10 hours, each team member ran close to 35km through the dense bush and rocky terrain,’ says Sean. ‘And there is free roaming wildlife in this area, including elephant, so it is always interesting.’