Rally newcomer Leandro Fernandez wins the Africa Trophy with BILSTEIN

Rookies in Morocco

Leandro Fernandez came to motorsport like a virgin to a child. During a – supposedly – leisurely family tour through Morocco, Leandro got infected with the off-road virus. That was in December 2018 and just two months later the Spaniard returned to the deserts of Morocco as part of a guided tour. “I used every gap in the schedule to test my car and its limits away from the group, looking for higher speeds and enjoying it more than anything else,” Leandro enthuses.

A little later the desire to take part in a real rally sprouted in Leandro. “I have scrutinised many amateur rallies and semi-professional events and decided in favour of the Africa Trophy,” says Leandro. The rally, which is well-known in the off-road scene, has been held in Morocco for ten years now. The Africa Trophy requires good navigation skills, high speeds and driving ability – and puts the driver, co-driver and vehicle to a tough test.

Leandro found active and competent support in the off-road and suspension experts from BILSTEIN’s partner 4x4proyect in Zaragoza. The optimisations turned out to be manageable: New sports seats and a new chassis found their way into the Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited. “We fitted modified BILSTEIN shock absorbers with 60 millimetre working pistons. In order to fully exploit the potential of the shock absorbers, we also optimised the axle geometry of the Jeep Wrangler,” explains Nico Garcia Vogel of 4x4proyect.

“4x4proyect owner Miguel has carefully supervised the development of my car and helped me with every question to find the right components to develop the performance according to my needs. For me they are great professionals”, Leandro has only good things to say about the cooperation with the off-road pros from Zaragoza.

But the optimism of Leandro and his co-driver José quickly gave way to a rather queasy feeling. “Shortly before the rally we arrived at the ferry port of Almeria and, to be honest, we did not expect more than a handful of members with their vehicles and as many participant vehicles as ours”, reports Leandro. But far from it: “I was really surprised: On the part of the rally management, there were countless members, photographers and lots of vehicles on site. The situation was similar among the participants. There were very professionally constructed competition vehicles in the race.” While many teams had their own service trucks and mechanics with them, the technical support of Leandro and José was limited to a box of tools that fit into the jeep. “Our options to achieve anything had just evaporated,” Leandro noted with disillusion.

But things turned out a little differently. Despite negligible navigation experiences, the rookies found themselves in the leading group in their class from the very beginning. Leandro: “The first stage was a success for us. We weren’t really used to driving according to the roadbook and still managed to get second place. The mood was euphoric and we noticed that we had a realistic chance of a good result.”

When the leading team was hit by a technical problem in the fourth stage, the way was clear. The underdogs from Spain drove consistently fast and avoided major mistakes – and actually took first place in their class. “Crossing the finish line first, without technical problems and in front of teams with disproportionately more resources, made me incredibly proud,” says Leandro, who can rule out that his first rally was also his last.

According to Leandro, the suspension played an absolutely key role in the Africa Trophy. “We needed a setup that would work efficiently on any terrain, from fast tracks to washed out and stony mountain trails to sand dunes, and all without adjusting or changing anything during the test. The latter was of fundamental importance because we had neither experience in this area nor the luxury of being supported by a service team. The suspension has really adapted itself optimally to every terrain.” And by the way, it can be driven without major problems in road traffic. “Many off-road suspensions lose their seals in road traffic,” smiles Nico. “This is definitely not the case with our BILSTEIN solution”.

When Leandro is asked what kind of suspension he would recommend to other Jeep Wrangler drivers, the answer is pretty clear. As in this case, when he was looking for a good off-road prerunner suspension on a Spanish off-road forum. Leandro’s disarming answer: “I don’t know exactly what’s good and what’s bad, but I’ve just won my first rally with my BILSTEIN suspension.”