For the third year in a row, the Class T Production Vehicle Championship will go down to the wire at the season finale in Gauteng, and the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) crew of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable are leading the fight for the prized title.
As the sixth and final round of the thrilling 2018 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), it will be nail-biting affair when the teams descend on Glenharvie, Westonaria on Gauteng’s gold mining belt as they battle it out on the aptly named Gold 400 which takes place on November 2 and 3.
Having won the two opening races this season, along with the first leg of the Botswana Desert Race, Woolridge and Huxtable lead the current standings on 120 points, with a nine-point margin over reigning Class T champions, Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, in the second NWM Ford Ranger, have clawed their way back into the fight after winning last time out in Harrismith. They are currently 14 points adrift of their team-mates, and three points ahead of Gary Bertholdt and Geoff Minnitt in another Toyota. With 30 points up for grabs for a race win, 23 for the runners-up and 18 for third place, it’s all to play for in the thrilling duel that will decide who reigns supreme for 2018.
“Once again, the championship fight will continue right to the end, although for the first time in three years we have the advantage of leading the standings going into the final race,” says Neil Woolridge, NWM team principal. “It has been extremely frustrating losing the title by the narrowest of margins twice in a row, so we’re doing everything possible in preparation for the Gold 400 to make sure the Class T trophy comes home with us.
“Our NWM Ford Rangers have been fast and reliable all year, and victory in Harrismith last month has given the team added confidence. It’s going to be a tense race, but we’re hoping that it’s third time lucky for us this time around,” Woolridge adds.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s two drivers, Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan, are locked in a tight battle for the 2018 South African Cross-Country Series title, going into the final round of the season.
With just 10 points separating the two drivers at the top of the Production Category standings, and 30 points on offer for a win, either one of the two Toyota Hilux drivers can walk away as champion in Glen Harvie this coming weekend.
To make matters even more interesting, Atlas Copco’s Chris Visser, also driving a Class FIA Toyota Hilux, still has a mathematical chance to win the title – if both factory crews fail to finish, and Visser wins the race.
“It is an interesting situation,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We’re fortunate that any of three Toyota crews can win the championship this weekend, but it is by no means clear who’ll emerge as the winner.”
In the navigators’ championship, things are even tighter. Due to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Rob Howie withdrawing from the series after a serious back injury sustained during the Qatar Cross-Country Rally earlier this year, Dennis Murphy paired up with De Villiers for the remainder of the season.
This saw Barry White take up the vacant seat next to Lategan, and the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA navigators are now tied on 93 points.
Chris Visser’s navigator, Philip Herselman, is just seven points behind the factory navigators; with Ford’s Ward Huxtable, who navigates for Lance Woolridge, a further five points adrift. Both Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) and Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are also in with a mathematical shout, though victory for either of them would take all four crews ahead of them to not finish the race – a long shot at best.
For De Villiers and Lategan, the race is certainly on in Glen Harvie, and Hall made it very clear that there are no team orders for the race: “I’ve told the lads to go out and do the necessary to ensure that we win the title. I’d like to see both cars finish the race, of course, but in the end, we don’t mind if it is Henk or Giniel who brings home the silverware for us.”
Only eight points separate the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA drivers, with Lategan having taken over the lead in the title chase after De Villiers failed to complete the penultimate round, the Harrismith 400.
The team will be incorporating some of the advances made during the recent Rally of Morocco, which Nasser al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won in their Toyota Hilux. As much as there is a title chase taking place in Glen Harvie, it also offers Toyota Gazoo Racing SA an opportunity to test and further develop the Toyota Hilux for Dakar 2019.
“We’re in the final testing phase at the moment,” concludes Hall. “Dakar is around the corner, as we have to ship everything by early December. So, we have to use every possible opportunity to make sure that we’re ready for that – and the final race of the season certainly gives us the chance to further hone the latest Hilux.”
But the overall championship isn’t the only one that will be decided in Glen Harvie this weekend. The fight for Class T honours rages on, as the Malalane Toyota Hilux crew of Johan and Werner Horn find themselves just nine points behind Ford’s Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. The Horn brothers are the defending Class T champions, but have endured a torrid season, winning only one race so far.
A win in Glen Harvie, however, might not be enough to get them over the line in their title chase, as second place will be enough for Woolridge/Huxtable to seal victory, even if the Horn brothers win. To make matters even more entertaining, Ford’s Gareth Woolridge and Atlas Copco’s Gary Bertholdt each won one of the two previous rounds, and if the two crews ahead trip each other up, could still walk away with the title.
The X-Rally Team of Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea will return to the SACCS for the final round after missing the Harrismith 400 due to international racing commitments. With two podium finishes already in the bag this year, the Brazilians are keen to round off the season with another solid finish.
For the legions of motorsport fans in Gauteng, the action-packed Gold 400 will be located within easy reach of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and staged once again from the Kloof Recreation Club in Glenharvie.
The organisers have promised an exciting route that combines some of the familiar sections from recent events, along with new terrain that will spice up the action – all of which is easily accessible for spectators. Initially, the race route travels south around the mining operations of Sibanye Stilwater to the farming community of Kalbasfontein, before heading north through Jachtfontein and Waterpan back to Glenharvie.
Friday’s short qualifying race starts at 14:00 from the Kloof Recreation Club, while the main action commences at 08:00 on Saturday, featuring two loops of the race route separated by a 30-minute service interval and an autograph signing session.
Fans and spectators can follow the action and track the position of the crews during the race by using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.