Victory for Century Racing - Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Words: Sarah Kobal & Martin Hermida | Photos: Meghan McCabe & Century Racing

Century Racing made a dramatic debut at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, held in April 2014, when it claimed victory in the 2wd class, with its 2wd race buggy prototype, the CR5.

Photos: Meghan McCabe & Century Racing

Century Racing team was one of 48 entrants that participated in this demanding five-day desert rally, in the dunes just outside of Abu Dhabi. This event attracts the best rally raid competitors from around the world, and this year's rally was no different. Amongst those at the start were last year's Dakar winner Nani Roma and all the big teams, the likes of X-raid Mini and Overdrive Toyota Hilux. Against this tough competition, the CR5 was able to claim a class win on its first outing – a spectacular achievement. As a small South African manufacturer, to come first in class in a debut race for a prototype car is an achievement and we are delighted with the result.

The rally was the perfect event to put our prototype through its paces. Driving around 400 km of dunes every day in that kind of heat and soft sand is simply not possible in South Africa, and what better way to conduct a test than in race conditions. The CR5 is a culmination of years of experience and trial and error to build the ultimate off-road racing car. It's powered by a 7.0L LS7 V8 sourced from a Corvette. The body is constructed entirely from carbon fibre and designed and constructed in-house at our factory in Kyalami, Johannesburg. The car weighs in at 1,400 kg and has the ability to go over or through anything you can throw at it.

Piloted by Mark Corbett and navigator Juan Mohr, who have been racing in the South African race series for around 10 years now and completed a Dakar, the team and car made quite an entrance when they arrived at the event. Our car looks like nothing else out there, so it even turned the heads of some the biggest teams in the world. It also drew a large, inquisitive crowd at the scrutineering, which was held on the first day.

The race

Starting at the world-famous Yas Marina F1 race track in Abu Dhabi, the route headed south through the desert (280 km) to the oasis of Liwa, where a bivouac camp was set up in the foothills of the prestigious Qasr Al Sarab Hotel. From there, all the stages did loops on average of about 400 km per day, returning to the bivouac on the last day, where it was a race back home to Yas Marina.

Drivers were placed into two main categories, namely cars and bikes. The rally kicked off with a preliminary 'show' in Abu Dhabi for spectators, a competition that doubled as a qualifying round for the official start. The order of the entrants worked off the international seeding list, so we started last. This put us at a serious disadvantage, as the dirt track got more and more churned up with every car and we ended up with an extremely rough and rutted track. Despite this, we positioned a respectable 13th overall and 1st in the 2wd class.

Day 1

On the cards for day one was 408 km of racing. As the CR5 was only finished the day it left South Africa, we were all a bit nervous as to how the car would perform and cope. The car got off to a great start, rocketing past five competitors in the first 100 km, but then the problems started. The first was the plumbing, which caused an overheating problem. Mark managed to fix it, but they lost around 20 minutes. Then later in the stage, while stuck in a dune, the reverse gear broke in the gearbox. The car made it to the end, but the team was now in 26th place. Overnight, we replaced the gearbox and the car was ready to race again.

Day 2

Day two consisted of 487 km of racing in the dunes, with the temperature averaging 40 degrees centigrade. Although the car had a few small issues in the dunes and Mark got stuck a few times, it was a better day overall, finishing 8th on the stage.

Day 3

After sorting out all the small issues from the day before, the car was ready to tackle the 372 km of racing. Unfortunately, there were issues with the second gearbox, so instead of continuing to the end of the stage and possibly destroying the gearbox, the team chose to retire early from the stage. In international off-road racing you are allowed to retire from a stage and take a penalty, and then continue the next day. However, a misunderstanding in the protocol about this resulted in the team getting a massive 100-hour penalty, which put them way, way back in the field. After taking apart the second gearbox, we managed to make a third gearbox using the best parts left from the first and second 'boxes. We had to work until 3 a.m., but this is what it takes in off-road racing.

Day 4

Day four's stage was 378 km, and although we knew that a good result was completely off the cards, we were gaining invaluable experience.

Frustrated because of the penalty, Mark roared off, passing cars and clawing his way up to 6th place on this stage. Then bad luck struck again. While flying over a dune, Mark found himself in the air with a Racing Toyota Hilux on the other side of the dune. The cars collided side on, but luckily no serious damage was done. The cars ended up wedged against each other in the dune and while trying to free them, the reverse popped again. Mark managed to make it out and finish the stage in 10th.

Day 5

Overnight, we once again took the gearbox out to repair it. We managed to get it all together again, but were left with one problem. We had no reverse gear. It was the final stage and Mark was left with only one option; don’t get stuck. A daunting task when you have 360 km of racing in soft sand ahead. Thankfully, there were no further problems and we finished the stage in 12th position.

Overall, we finished far down due to our 100-hour penalty, without which we would have had a solid top-10 finish. However, as this is endurance racing, one must first finish to finish first. As a result, we ended up taking the top podium spot in the 2wd class, as our class competitors had a tougher time than we did. Considering this was the first time the car was ever driven, it was an extremely promising result.

The car has proved that it is able to keep up with the best in the world, even on terrain that Mark is not that experienced on.Now, our plan is to take part in 2015 Dakar Rally, get a top-10 finish and win our class. The Dakar is regarded as the toughest race in the world, so you need to be properly prepared just to finish the race, never mind do well. And we plan to do just that!

For more information on:
• The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, visit
• Century Racing, visit