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The Makgadikgadi. It Couldn't Keep The King of Downforce Down...

Updated: May 1


We had been on the road for a week. A dream adventure motorcycle tour from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Cape Town in South Africa. We had 19 clients that had signed up for their bucket list motorcycle tour lead by Charley Boorman and a misfit team of support crew of which I was one.


Our clients had come from all around the globe to join the African adventure, dusty off-road sections, wildlife encounters and some of the most stunning scenery in the world. One of the clients on the tour was Adrian Newey. Adrian is renowned to be the best designer in the Formula One world. Designing championship winning cars for the likes of Williams, McLaren and currently for Red Bull Racing. His designs have earned him the title "The king of downforce".


We were in Botswana and on this particular day we had to ride across the Makgadikgadi salt pans to get to our lodge, which was in a small village called Gweta on the northern side of the pans, a journey of about 95kms. We were also going to stop about half way across to visit the beautiful Kubu Island. It's a rocky outcrop rising above the pans filled with ancient baobab trees, it's truly a magical place.


We started out at about 8am, entering the pans from the South. At first the tracks were smooth and it was easy going but being winter it was dry and the tracks became very sandy about 10kms in. Now for those of you that don't know, riding a 270kg BMW GS adventure bike in sand is like trying to wrestle with an elephant, it takes skill and technique. Boorman at this point had sped off with the quicker riders in the direction of Kubu Island, leaving me as the sweeper to help the weaker riders along.


Adrian about to hit the sandy stuff


Adrian's new way of parking his bike

Adrian was battling and was right at the back of the group. It was tough going and by midday we had covered about 50kms. Adrian had dropped his bike about 20 times at this point and I could see that he and the group were getting tired and dehydrated. We stopped for a break, Adrian finding a new way to park his bike. On its side in the middle of the track! I was driving the Land Rover support truck and had a supply of ice-cold water in the fridge. Bottles were handed out and in no time they were finished!


We carried on deeper into the bush and Adrian started to really battle. He was dropping his bike in the deep sandy tracks every hundred meters. Each time I would stop the Land Rover, run over to him to help him pick the bike up. Every time he would stop me from helping him, arguing that this was a feat he had to complete on his own!


Sometime during the afternoon the group stopped for another drinks break and Adrian came over to me. He told me he was battling to reach his rear brake peddle with his foot. This is a common problem while standing up on the bike but I had a trick up my sleeve to fix it. All you have to do is duct tape a stone onto the top of the peddle and it makes it slightly higher and easier to reach with your foot. When Adrian saw this amazing mechanical trick he immediately offered me a position in the Red Bull Racing team as head of development.


Adrian pointing out my rear brake peddle fix

We carried on riding late into the afternoon, Adrian still putting his bike down regularly.

The day dragged on and night fell, we were about 5kms from the lodge in Gweta. Boorman phoned me and told me that everyone was at the lodge already sitting round the pool sipping ice cold drinks and asked if I could please hurry up! It was just me and Adrian now.


The last few kilometres were tough. Thick sand all the way through the back roads of the village. Adrian was riding in the lights of the Land Rover, throwing plumes of sand into the air from the motorcycles back tyre trying to keep his momentum up. At one point the bike got completely bogged down in the sand and a group of children came running out of a hut to push the bike out of the sand as Adrian rode off.


Twenty minutes later the lights of the lodge came into site and we had made it. Parking up in the car park Adrian, who was covered in sweat from head to toe and looked pretty tired came over to me and gave me a big hug exclaiming "we made it, we made it". The rest of the group congratulated Adrian for bringing it home in a fashion that would put any Formula 1 podium celebration to shame. Charley Boorman came over to me and said "what have you been doing? I've been here for 4 hours already!" Well Charley, not everyone is as good a rider as you!


I met the most determined man that day. He never gave up even when he could have easily done so. I think we sometimes forget that when we really put our minds to something, anything is possible.
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