Boxcar buddies in race for podium spot

Christan Barnard and Keelan Nieuwstadt, members of a four-man crew called Brasse Vannie Kaap, finetune a few details of their box cart ahead of this weekends Red Bull Box Cart Race finals, in Sandton, Johannesburg. Team members not present when this picture was taken are Conal Brown and Tuyali Ikemefuna.

Picture: Fuad Esack

They’ve built a vehicle that resembles a mini-van taxi, complete with sliding door and customary operator, commonly known as the gaartjie on taxi routes across the city. Well, not the operator, just the van, just so we’re clear…

Not to be confused with a popular Cape Town hip-hop band with the same name, these Brasse are one of 72 teams from across the country and the only Cape Town crew that have made it to the finals.

The event, considered one of the most bodacious of all downhill street races, takes place on Sandton Drive, on Sunday September 16, in line with similar races in Rome Italy, Sofia Bulgaria, Cincinnati Ohio and Lisbon Portugal.

The same rules apply everywhere. Teams are judged on speed, creativity and showmanship. No engines, batteries, electricity or catapults are allowed.

What is allowed is unbridled imagination, charisma and showmanship.

It’s not enough that it actually moves or crosses the finish line first. The judges are looking for the outrageous, the preposterous, the ostentatious. Anything but the ordinary.

The race is exclusively for human-powered box carts with a maximum width of two metres, a height of 2.5m and a length of 6m, with a total weight of 80kg (excluding the driver).

The race is for over-16s and all drivers must be older than 18. Returning to Joburg after eight years, following on Soweto in 2010, this year’s Red Bull Box Cart Race is the fifth SA edition. It’s a race for hand-made, non-motorised machines fuelled by nothing but sheer courage, the force of gravity. Experienced racers and amateurs are challenged to design and build dazzling box cart dream machines to compete against the clock in a downhill race.

For Nieuwstadt and his crew, entering the competition was a no-brainer as he’d always had a thing for tinkering with stuff. Of course it helps that his father, André, is an engineer and that two of his teammates are studying engineering.

“We’re basically a group of friends, from Cape Town – hence the name – and we named our cart Boeta die Bult Slayer,” he said.

“There were a few challenges we had to overcome to make sure we meet all requirements. We had to make sure we come in under weight because we’re building our cart out of steel and plastic and had trouble finding wheels but eventually we found oversized wheelbarrow wheels.

“We also had to get the steering and suspension manufactured. That took a bit of time but eventually we got it together,” he said.