2008 Roof of Africa built on a solid history
In 1967, fourty-two years ago, the Roof of Africa was contested for the first time. In November 2008, this famous event will see its 41st start, an achievement not easily equaled in international motorsport.
After Lesotho received some international funding in the early 1960's, Bob Phillips was involved in building a road up the Moteng track from Butha Buthe to ease access to the inner regions of Lesotho. As the road neared completion, Bob told his friend Louis Duffet of the RAC that he had built the world's worst road. Duffet took it to the Sports Car Club where John Buttress was tasked to organize a Rally crossing Duffets Moteng mountain pass. The rally started in Johannesburg, had an overnight stop in Bethlehem before crossing the Moteng Pass, cutting across the mountain road past Mokhotlong and down Sani Pass on route to the Durban Beachfront.
In 1967 the idea of a rally was scrapped, and off-road racing was born in Southern Africa. Mike Reid organised the Roof which took the form of a race in the opposite direction to the previous event from Sani Pass Hotel across the Roof to a finish in the Centre of Maseru. Apart from the necessity of providing help from 4-wheel drive vehicles to get the cars up Sani pass, it rained, leaving very few finishers, other than the leading trio of Hettema, Tucker and Van Bergen. This Roof established the tradition that there should be no intermediate time controls, but rather a race from start to finish. Jan Hettema, famous rally driver and Total Economy Run organiser, was victorious, driving a Volvo.
In 1968 John Salters took over the race organisation and established the Star Roof of Africa Challenge with sponsorship and great media exposure. John's biggest dream was to make the route so difficult that he would have to drive back on the route, from the finish, after final cut-off time, and award the competitor that broke down closest to the finish with the winners trophy. After all these years it has not happened once, but many a times only a handful of competitors finished the event.
Motorcycles started competing in the Roof of Africa in 1969 and it was Barry Broady who grasped the first two winner's trophies in 1969 and 1970.
Only four international riders have beaten the South Africans in Lesotho in the past - the American, Malcolm Smith (1975); Elio Andreoletti from Italy (1978 and 1981); the Australian, Murray Watt (1985) and German rider, Jurgen Mayer in 1987. One Lesotho biker, Patrick Andrews, won on home soil in 1992.
Alfie Cox won the race nine times, with another Dakar contender and well- known Ladybrand competitor Elmer Symons winning it twice, equaling the achievement of Barry Broady, Roy Lindley, Duncan Barson, Elio Andreoletti, and Daryl Curtis. Other well known off-road bikers that conquered the top step of the winners podium are Neil Woolridge, Willie Ireland, Clayton Enslin, Jade Gutzeit, to name but a few.
Lourens Mahoney, fast becoming a legend, has dominated the Roof over the last few years, and became only the second person to achieve three wins in a row. Having won the South African off-road and enduro championships in his relatively young career, one cannot help but wonder if he will one-day equal Alfie Cox's exceptional achievements.
Today, the Baboons Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa is still considered one of the most grueling events for motorcycles in the world, with international sponsorship, KTM and BMW factory supported racers and European entrants competing in the event. Racing at altitudes of up to 3000 meters above sea- level, through some of the most awesome landscapes and deadly tiring rocky mountain tracks, this endurance event remains one to be feared and never to be forgotten.