The Mastercraft / Ryobi Pajero off-road racing team of Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler is known as one of the most consistent teams in the field today and their consistency is reflected by a possible off-road racing record in South Africa.

There is no official record-keeping system containing full race-results, especially not dating as far back as to the start of off-road racing in South Africa, but according the results of the last few years, Zermatten is the only driver to have finished 16 consecutive national off-road races!

The last time Zermatten did not finish a race was the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in 2003 when the team had to call it a day due to fuel spilling into the Mitsubishi Pajero, which became a safety-hazard.

They are known as the Good Samaritans of off-road racing and are always willing to lend a helping hand to fellow-competitors. They even supplied their Class D opposition, Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, with some bolts at the end of the 2004 season to ensure they finish the last event of the season and win the class championship.

While preparing for the upcoming Toyota 1000 Desert Race, Zermatten was reminded of his first ever desert race in the early 1980’s. Together with his brother-in-law, Zermatten took his 1955 Peugeot 203 and drove through the night, as the car had no windscreen or indicators and was not roadworthy. At the race, they had to sleep under the car at the overnight stop. Unfortunately a broken head gasket prevented them from finishing the race, but he will never forget the experience.

Getting home was another problem and it took them two more days in Gaberone to fix the car before they could drive it back in the dead of night to avoid traffic cops.

For the last three years, Zermatten has been racing the same 1995 Mitsubishi Pajero fitted with a standard engine. No changes have been made to the engine. It has never been opened and it is still going strong since the factory put it together. As a matter of fact, the Mitsubishi Pajero runs the standard drive train and running gear throughout!

According to Zermatten, the fact that the team is using standard equipment is the reason for the durability of the vehicle. “Mitsubishi spends billions to develop bullet-proof vehicles. Who are we to try and improve on it on a Saturday afternoon with a six pack of beers?” is his philosophy.

The only additions are multiple front shocks and heavy-duty springs. This aftermarket option is recommended for all Mitsubishis loaded up for holidays and bush trips and is available from specialists Manrepco in Johannesburg who also look after many of the older Pajeros that are no longer under warranty.

With the support of Mastercraft hand tools, Ryobi power tools, Playstation and Sasol, Zermatten and Schwegler have had a good start to the 2005 Absa Off-road Championship and scored points in each of the first two events.

They finished in a deserving third place in Class D and sixth overall in the Production Vehicle category at the opening round of the season, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. They experienced major trouble during the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape when they got stuck in a riverbed that had been churned-up by another competitor’s service crew who were illegally on the route. Hours later they dug their way out and settled for sixth in Class D and 11th overall to add points to their championship challenge.

Zermatten and Schwegler will go to the Toyota 1000 Desert Race (3 – 5 June 2005) in Botswana as the seventh-placed team in the overall Production Vehicle Championship. They share third place in the Class D standings with the former Class E champions and the runners-up of the 2004 Class D championship, Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the works-Castrol Toyota Hilux 2,7i. Only 10 points separate Zermatten/Schwegler in the seventh overall position from the team in third place overall.

The Mastercraft / Ryobi Pajero team is hoping to improve on their 2004 Toyota 1000 performance when Zermatten was suffering from a virus and finished the three-day race without eating. They still finished seventh in the Production Vehicle category and third in Class D.

A finish at the Toyota 1000 Desert Race will mean 17 consecutive finishes and a (possible) record that just keeps on growing…

Original article from Car