By: T’soloane Mohlomi
South African rider Wade Young who represents team Sherco (Powered by Motul) successfully clinched his record 8th Roof of Africa Rally title in a difficult and highly contested edition of the much revered race held in Lesotho this year.
The 2023 Roof of Africa Rally also known as “The Mother of Hard Enduro was held and set against the stunning backdrop of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, which provides an adventurous rugged terrain. The race this year was held from the 27th November to 2nd December and this latest edition saw the race enter in its 54th rendition since inception.
The race saw 465 riders battle it out in different rider categories and as it has been the case in the seven last editions Wade Young again emerged victorious to successfully defending his title.
In an interview with local media the 27 year old rider said he was looking forward to racing again in next year’s edition to defend his title. He said being a South African the rally felt more like home race for him and said he felt the urge and courage of competing with some of the best in the world in this enthralling race.
“It was really hard this year we did long hours on the bike, but I’m happy to get my 8th win it was definitely one of the toughest Roof of Africa we’ve done. I am definitely planning on coming back next year as this is my home race and it’s a very big race for me,” he said.
“I do encourage a lot of young riders to partake in the Roof of Africa Rally because it’s a really good challenge and the roof is a really good race to see the level of international riders as a lot of international riders come to participate and race in.
Among his other accolades Young won Hell’s Gate in 2016 in Italy, King Of The Hill in 2017, the Extreme XL Lagares in 2017 in Portugal and the Red bull Romaniacs in 2018 held in Romania.
The Roof of Africa Rally 2023 provided one of the most challenging races in recent memory due to the scorching heat and dry conditions experienced across all three days. Unlike the torrential rain of last year’s event, this edition presented a new test for riders, with dehydration and heat exhaustion taking its toll across the entire field.
It seems Wade Young (Sherco – Powered by Motul) is unfazed by weather and he reaffirmed his mastery over the event this weekend by starting with a win on Thursday in the Round the Houses race and a sensible 5th place position in the tricky Time Trial. The first full day of racing (Day 1) saw him steadily work his way to the front, establishing a commanding 25-minute lead over Matt Green (KTM) and Brett Swanepoel on his Motul backed Trademore Sherco. Swanepoel’s performance on the day was particularly impressive because it included losing over 20 minutes at the start due to a mechanical glitch, a big crash which resulted in broken toes and later, a head-on collision with an Adventure bike to round out an eventful day.
The second day of the race evolved into a tactical back-and-forth amongst a small group of riders, with lead positions changing multiple times. While 17-year-old sensation James Moore (RIDE KTM Durban) ended up setting the fastest time of Day 2, Young remained in firm contention throughout the day on his Sherco 300 SEF Factory edition, eventually securing a hard-earned victory with a margin of just under 20 minutes from Green, followed by Swanepoel who trailed Green by a mere 3 minutes in the overall standings.
“The last climb on Day 1 broke most of the riders and that helped me build the lead that I worked hard to maintain to the end. I didn’t have the best day today, but I still pushed as hard as I could and I’m happy it was enough to get the win. I have to say I have never been this tired at the end of a race in my entire career, the days were just so long and the heat only made it worse,” said a relieved Young at the finish.
The extremity of the conditions led to multiple retirements across all classes, with incidents like Will Slater (Brother Leadertread KTM) needing to be airlifted out of contention due to heat exhaustion on Day 1. Travis Teasdale (Husqvarna), another pre-race favorite, also battled with the heat on Day 1 and despite starting out on Day 2, did not make it to the finish.
Sherco celebrated several exceptional performances in the challenging conditions over the weekend with podium finishes in Gold with Young (1st) and Swanepoel (3rd) and a commendable 6th position for American star Cody Webb, who was participating in his first Roof and was astounded by just how tough the conditions were. In the Bronze class, Louis-Bresler Knipe delivered a dominant performance on board his Sherco 500 SEF 4-stroke, securing overall victory with an 18-minute lead over the biggest field in the race.
Sherco also won the Manufacturers title this year and very nearly achieved a triumphant hat-trick across the top 3 classes, but after a fierce battle with Tate Stroh (Yamaha), Daniel Peckham (Trademore Sherco), had to settle for 2nd place in the Silver class, followed by Grant Burton-Durham (Vamos Racing Gas Gas). The top finishing Lady at this year’s event was Terri-Lynn Hodge (Trademore Sherco) after Kirsten Landman (ASP Rope Access KTM) retired with mechanical problems early on Day 1.
Mercia Jansen, General Manager South and East Africa for Motul shared her experience of the event this year, “The Kingdom of Lesotho once again delivered some extreme weather conditions, this was the first completely dry and hot Roof since 2016 and it pushed the riders and their machines to the absolute limit! The Roof really is the ultimate test for our products and that’s why we love it. We also love seeing the industry gather at the event, it’s like a big reunion and we all love being here to give back to the racing community.”