Roof of Africa roars into life

Roof of Africa roars into life

MASERU – The 50th Roof of Africa roars into life today with its famed ‘Round the Houses’ stage and the race will run through to Saturday.
The off-road showpiece, now widely recognised as the Mother of Hard Enduro, has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1967 when Bob Phillips – a road engineer working in Lesotho – approached Johannesburg’s Sports Car Club to hold a race on a road he had just finished building through Moteng from Butha-Buthe to ease access to the country’s inner regions.

The first Roof of Africa started in Johannesburg, had an overnight stop in Bethlehem before crossing the Moteng Pass. It cut across the mountain road past Mokhotlong and down Sani Pass as it winded to its final destination – the Durban Beachfront.
When it started the Roof of Africa saw off-road motorcycles competing alongside their automobile counterparts before the event was split into two distinct categories – one for bikes and another for cars – in 1969.

The race grew in popularity through the 70’s and, until 1982, ran across Lesotho with treks into South Africa and overnight stops in either Matatiele or Sani Pass. The Roof’s first major change happened in 1982 when the race route was altered to stay within Lesotho’s borders.
The change, however, didn’t lessen growing interest from overseas competitors who helped raise the Roof’s competition and standards. In 1985, Australia’s Murray Watt became the first winner from outside Africa and, in 1987, Jürgen Mayer of Germany became the first European champion.
2000 saw the Roof’s second major alteration and this one was brought about by changes in off-road car racing which had evolved into a highly-specialised sport with big manufacturer involvement.

With racing vehicles now worth millions, the Roof – with its brutal off-road routes – simply became too destructive for car racers and automobiles were dropped from the event.

Although the change brought with it gloomy forecasts, it instead heralded a second birth for the Roof of Africa with motorcycle entries increasing on a yearly basis since. The showpiece is now so popular it is split into three classes: Gold, Silver and Bronze. The Silver and Bronze sections are for less experienced riders and they take on a less demanding route.

The Gold competition is the main race for elite riders.
Such is the event’s growth, race organisers estimate roughly M80 million is injected into Lesotho’s economy during the Roof of Africa week.
And so, when the Roof of Africa gets underway today at Maseru Club, it will mark a milestone 50th chapter for an event that has not only stood the test of time, but also become a flagship event for Lesotho.

“The race will start with its usual ‘Round the Houses’ at Maseru Club, followed by the second stage on Friday at Lekhalong La Baroa. The final stage will be on Saturday followed by the prize giving ceremony later,” Lesotho Off-Road Association (LORA) public relations officer Keketso Malebo said.
The country has four racers entered in the race — Joseph Motenane in the Silver class and Tobatsi Maseatile, Teboho Moretlo and Basia Maseatile in the Bronze.

The race favourites instead, and as always, come from abroad.
They are Great Britain’s Graham Jarvis – a two-time defending champion – Spain’s Alfredo Gomez, who finished second last year, and South Africa’s Wade Young who became the race’s youngest ever winners in 2012 at the age of 18.
One of the Roof’s main focuses this year is safety.

Luciah Phahla

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