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GS Trophy 2016: South Africa wins!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Wes Fleming

The fifth BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy, the 2016 Southeast Asia edition, came to a close after seven hard days of riding with a spectacular finale on Saturday, March 5. With the competition still in the balance right up to the final special test, it was a tense finish – decided in favor of Team South Africa, who kept their nerve to secure their nation’s first victory in the event after twice placing runner-up.

The fifth edition brought together 19 teams (comprising 57 riders plus 19 embedded journalists) representing 25 nations for a seven-day, over-1300 kilometer trek through the forests, jungles and mountains of northern Thailand. The riding was possibly the most technical yet, as the riders guided their BMW R 1200 GS bikes along single-track trails more suited to enduro racing than adventure competition. Temperatures matched those of the South African edition in 2010 – running into the high 30ºC range – and with high humidity, it was one of the hotter, sweatier GS Trophies.

The start came at the Rim Doi Resort, in Chiang Dao at 8.00 am on the morning of February 28. While unseasonal heavy rain washed out the planned course for day one, the riders were still treated to some excellent off-road trails before hitting the first – and possibly physically the toughest – special test, "Broken Bridge." Such themes are by now familiar, long days in the saddle with challenging riding combined with special tests that stress teamwork, problem solving skills, strength and riding skills.

The 2016 edition saw the event grow from the previous year, with 114 motorcycles on the tour and an entourage of close to 200 people (riders, marshals, medics, caterers, organizers and more). The motorcycles – BMW R 1200 GS and GSA – were up to the task; occasional puncture repairs on the trail tested the practical skills of the riders while crash damage gave the BMW Motorrad mechanics a few hours' work each evening. The engines and chassis never gave up, though. Competitors praised the latest GS bikes for their ease of use, great rider aids and sheer ruggedness. As before, the competitors were won over by the bike’s character as much as the sheer capability of these iconic machines.

Team South Africa wins
Team South Africa has been one of the strongest teams in every edition of the GS Trophy since their debut in 2010. They missed out on the win that year by just one point and came close again in 2014, so they especially savored their win this year. Thorough preparation meant the team were always in contention, and they were in fact the team to beat. John Harris, Charl Moolman and Byron Coetsee were winners on every level, winning as many friends as points.

Team UK and Team Germany were their nearest competitors and the unrelenting efforts of the two teams kept the outcome of the event in question right up to the very last test. While the strength of Team South Africa could not be denied, it was fitting that the runner-up position should be shared by these two great teams. (Team UK won in 2010, Team Germany in 2012)

Three new teams took part in 2016. Team China made an impact right from the start, having given up their international air flights and instead choosing to ride to the event on their own GSes! Four days in the saddle saw them - along with some 60, mostly BMW-mounted supporters - ride up to the Shang-ri La Hotel in Chiang Mai for the official opening. They made quite probably the most impressive entrance to the event yet. Team China proved a competitive team, too, strong and well-practiced as they took an impressive seventh place.

Team Southeast Asia might have been less successful, but nonetheless brought much color and good humor to the event; they found they enjoyed their "home" course as much as the visitors.

The third new team were the International Female Team. Easily the most popular team in the event, Stéphanie Bouisson (France), Morag Campbell (South Africa) and Amy Harburg (Australia) showed bike-handling skills equal to the men - and in fact sometimes superior. They would have finished higher if they hadn’t been so punished by the strength-based tests, but as Amy reported, they were never defeated – not even in lifting the 238 kg (525 lb) GS over a 1.5-meter (5 feet) thick tree trunk – it just took a little more time for them than for the men. The team was much welcomed by the men and cheered on all the way, but again as the girls explained, this was the same for all teams – every team supports everyone. It’s truly a band of brothers – and sisters.

At the finish, Team South Africa’s Byron Coetsee spoke for his teammates about their win: “Relief is the first emotion, then happiness. With South Africa’s record in the event – we’ve come second twice, even losing by just one point – then to finish like this is like the weight of the world has been lifted from our shoulders. We share this moment with Roger, Gerber, Warren and all the previous team members from South Africa!”

The BMW R 1200 GS - competition proven
The BMW R 1200 GS proved more than up to the challenge of seven days on the trails in Northern Thailand. The 2016 R 1200 GSes featured the latest engine revisions, including a new heavier crank that makes for smoother running, and Shift Assist Pro, which allows clutchless shifting (both up and down). The riders had the code plug that enables the Enduro Pro mode to modify the rider-assist systems to suit sporty off-road riding. With just the lightest level of crash protection, including the aluminum enduro engine guard and steel crash bars – plus the rugged Metzeler Karoo 2 tires – the GSes were totally trail-ready.

Feedback from the riders was uniformly positive, most expressing delight in the ease of handling the bikes, their tough resistance to extreme riding, and engaging character. Here’s what a few of the riders thought of the bikes:

  • Morag Campbell: “I loved the bike, the torque, the instant reaction, the maneuverability, especially the attitude! And so fast! I rode mine in Enduro Pro without traction control and ABS – and still it was so easy to ride. I love it, for all of us, every time and everyday it’s the best bike!”
  • Francesco Catanese: “The BMW is a surprise, because in my imagination it was a big bad bike, but on enduro tracks, in the sand and the dust, the bike was completely perfect, no odd sounds, no mechanical problem, for me it was a surprise. Much power, perfect bike!”
  • Anton Vlasov: “I have ridden this bike several times, but I should say that this bike is great, I found out so many things about the handling, the engine, everything. This event shows us everything about this bike, it’ll ride highway, then single-track trail in the mountains, then you can ride relaxed with your friends. The event showed this perfectly!”

BMW Motorrad Int'l GS Trophy 2016, Final results

  1. South Africa, 299 pts.
  2. Germany, 268 pts.
  3. UK, 268 pts.
  4. Central Europe in the EU (CEEU), 254 pts.
  5. Latin America, 244 pts.
  6. Brazil, 242 pts.
  7. China, 234 pts.
  8. USA, 229 pts.
  9. France, 208 pts.
  10. Italy, 200 pts.
  11. Argentina, 188 pts.
  12. Mexico, 181 pts.
  13. Russia, 180 pts.
  14. Canada, 176 pts.
  15. South Korea, 146 pts.
  16. Japan, 138 pts.
  17. South East Asia, 138 pts.
  18. Alps, 117 pts.
  19. International Female Team, 116 pts.

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