Two Team BMW Husqvarna Motorsport riders are celebrating great results in this year’s infamously grueling Roof of Africa hard enduro event (see previous post). The 42nd annual race, through the bone-jarring terrain of the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, saw Andreas ‘Letti’ Lettenbichler take a podium place on a WR300 Husqvarna machine, while Husky riding team-mate Simo Kirssi had been running as high as fifth, before running out of fuel just two kilometers from the end. The talented Finn eventually finished in 12th place, while veteran rider Gerhard Forster — the oldest competitor in the event at 43 — finished in 23rd on a BMW G450X.
More than 300 international riders lined up at the start of the three-day Roof of Africa event on November 25. For Letti, in particular, failure was not an option after a punctured engine casing forced him to retire early following a great start in the 2009 event. However, it seemed disaster might be about to strike twice when he took a wrong turn on day two and spent more than 30 wasted minutes getting back on course. But he used all his skill and energy and, despite being totally exhausted by the time he crossed the finish line, managed to claw his way back into third. “I wanted too much and lost concentration for a moment,” Letti explained. “But it was still a happy outcome.”
Kirssi meanwhile was riding in the Roof of Africa for the first time, making his 12th place success even more remarkable. Despite modestly saying before the enduro event that he was “not a favorite,” the Finn left many more seasoned competitors in his wake. At the end of the first day he was in seventh place, and, by day three was ready to take fifth place, when bad luck struck. Kirssi ran out of gas just two kilometers from the final fuel stop and was forced to wait until a fair-minded rival stopped to help. The delay cost him dearly, resulting in him taking 12th place overall. And while many would have been delighted just to have finished the Roof, the current German and European Cross Country Champion was clearly disappointed, saying: “What can you do, that’s racing.”
The tough event not only tested the endurance of competitors, but their mental fitness too and only 22 riders managed to score gold when they completed the full race distance within the prescribed time over three days.
Forster, the sole BMW-rider in the competition, also performed extremely well throughout the notorious endurance tests. He was sitting in 16th at the end of day one, pushed up to 12th by the close of day two, but then problems with his chain and chain-guide on the final day meant that he couldn’t finish within the designated time. He ended in 23rd position after 20 hours of riding, and collected a Silver medal for his considerable efforts.
“I didn’t quite make it across the finish line because I had a few problems on the final pass, called the ‘Please Push Me’ pass, where my chain snapped. It was a bit frustrating because I had been going reasonably well up to that point. The best bit of the race was the second day, when everything went really well. I think, had rocks not damaged the chain guide, I would have got the same time as the winner. I had no problems at all with the BMW bike, apart from the chain jumping off because of the broken guide — otherwise, it was superb. After the race, I immediately thought ‘no, I’m not going to do this again next year,’ but now, I’m already reconsidering!”
The race encompasses some of the most challenging conditions in the world and heavy rain had made the route even more treacherous. Altitudes ranged from 1,500 to 3,500 meters (5,000 to 11,500 ft) and riders had to battle sheer climbs, running river beds, and donkey trails. Skill, ability and the endurance capabilities of the machines themselves were all pushed to the absolute limit and the achievements of Letti, Kirssi and Forster are testament to their significant talents as well as the reliability of their motorcycles.