When it comes to ‘bundu-bashing’ South Africans can build bakkies that can tame any terrain and, naturally, they want to race them as well, the bragging rights in off-road racing now worth a considerable amount.
For 2020 the premier Production Vehicle Class in the South Africa Cross Country Series (SACCS) gains a new player with a FIA-class Ford Ranger from the Neil Woolridge (NWM) stable due to debut at the second event with more to follow during the season.
It will also be the first the world’s first cross country turbo-petrol racer following changes to the FIA rules made at the end of last season.
As the Class T champions in 2018 and 2019, the Ford Castrol NWM squad has dominated this segment of the SACCS Production Vehicle championship. But it is now taking aim at the top-tier cross country category which caters for the latest and most sophisticated vehicles, as raced in the Dakar Rally and the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
“Having enjoyed great success in Class T over the last two years, it’s time for us to take on a new challenge in the FIA-class which has grown rapidly to become the most popular and competitive field in the South African championship, and in international cross country racing,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of NWM. “This has given us the opportunity to design and develop an all-new Ranger to compete with the best in the world.”
The current Ford Ranger has been raced successfully in South Africa and internationally since 2013, with a total of 24 full race-spec vehicles having been produced at the NWM facility in Pietermaritzburg. However, for the new FIA-class challenge, the team started out last year with a clean-sheet design for a completely new vehicle to suit the new 2020 regulations introduced by the FIA, the governing body for international motorsport.
In place of the tried and trusted naturally aspirated 5,0-litre V8 derived from the Ford Mustang, which has powered the team to consecutive cross country titles in South Africa and Brazil over the past two years, the latest-generation Ranger will feature the 3,5-litre V6 EcoBoost twin-turbocharged engine used in the Ford F-150 Raptor high-performance off-road pickup and the Ford GT supercar.
“The introduction of turbo petrol engines by the FIA represents an exciting new era for the sport, and for Ford and NWM to be at the forefront of this development is a great accolade,” Woolridge adds. “We are proud to be pioneering the development of this technology and setting an entirely new benchmark for the global cross country racing fraternity to follow. It also reinforces the great relationship between Ford and NWM spanning 23 years, and reaffirms South Africa as a leader in designing and manufacturing world-class cross country racing vehicles.”
Although the NWM team is under no illusions it has a steep mountain to climb with an all-new vehicle and engine package – and doesn’t expect to be on the podium straight away – it is confident that developing a ground-breaking new vehicle in line with the latest regulations is the way to go.
“We will have the advantage of developing the new car throughout this year, so that we are perfectly placed to challenge for the FIA-class title in 2021,” Woolridge states. “For our international customers, it means that they will soon also have access to the state-of-the-art design, technology and performance that new Ranger will offer.”
Compared to the existing layout, the compact yet powerful V6 engine will be located further back in the chassis in a mid-mounted position for optimal weight distribution. It uses a twin air filter and dual intercooler design that is compact and mounted close to the engine for maximum efficiency, and relies on MOTEC electronic management for the advanced electronics and fuelling. A purpose-built fuel cell produced by Aerotec Laboratories in the UK is capable of carrying up to 480 litres for long cross country events, while offering the most advanced levels of safety.
Power is transmitted to all four wheels via the latest-generation SADEV SC924 Evo gearbox that is far more compact and 10 kg lighter than the current unit. Lighter front and rear differentials are matched to symmetrical driveshafts and propshafts that reduce the complexity and time required to replace units during the race or at the scheduled service stops. SADEV also supplies the specialised steering rack developed for the rigours of off-road racing.
The all-new cross country Ranger looks more muscular and purposeful than ever with its redesigned bodywork that is more aerodynamic and notably wider than the outgoing model. It features an entirely new chassis design that allows for a larger cockpit and significantly improved space and ergonomics for the driver and co-driver, and is optimised to make the vehicle easier to work on for the team’s technicians.
Under the skin, the new wider chassis design enhances the Ranger’s capabilities in the most punishing racing conditions. It employs the latest damper technology from BOS Suspension, with dual high-performance BOS dampers on all four corners delivering an impressive 280 mm wheel travel for the fully independent front and rear suspension – the latter replacing the solid rear axle configuration used in Class T.
Braking performance is even more critical in the faster FIA-class, so the new Ranger boasts top-spec air-cooled Brembo six-piston callipers up front and water-cooled six-pot callipers at the rear. The move to the premier class will also see the team relying on Dakar Rally-winning BF Goodrich KDR2+ tyres that are used by the top teams in cross country racing around the world.
“As the new regulations were still being finalised at the beginning of this year, we will only debut our first all-new EcoBoost-powered Ranger at the second or third race of the 2020 SACCS season,” Woolridge explains. “We are planning to have a full line-up with three new vehicles ready by mid-year, in time for the Botswana Desert Race at the end of June.”
Gareth Woolridge will be responsible for the testing and development of the new FIA-class Ranger on its first competitive outings while the other two vehicles are being built at NWM’s Pietermaritzburg facility. He will once again be joined by Boyd Dreyer in the co-driver’s seat.
As the older of the Woolridge brothers, two-time Class T champion Lance will initially be driving an upgraded version of the current V8-powered Ranger, starting off at the season-opening Mpumalanga 400 in Dullstroom, on February 28.
The vehicle has benefitted from the fitment of the FIA-spec air and water-cooled Brembo six-piston braking system, BF Goodrich racing tyres and revised gearing which will narrow the gap to the full FIA entries in the class. Lance will be bolstered by the added confidence of having won the second heat of the 2019 Botswana Desert Race, where he beat the faster rivals despite competing in a lower-spec Class T Ranger.
For the 2020 season, Lance will be partnered with experienced navigator Elvéne Vonk, who has three South African rally co-driver titles to her credit and has been competing in the SACCS since 2015. She takes over from Lance’s long-time co-driver, Ward Huxtable, who has notched up four cross country championships with the NWM Ford team.
The Brazilian duo of Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea will join the starting line-up once again in the second Castrol NWM Ford Ranger. As the reigning two-time Brazilian cross country champions and 2019 South American title holders, Baumgart and Cincea proved their mettle with victory at the final round of the SACCS last year. They are also eager to resume their campaign, now in the FIA-class for 2020.
As with team-mates Woolridge and Vonk, their season will begin in the upgraded version of the current Ranger V8 before making the switch to the exciting all-new 3.5 EcoBoost-powered model later this year.
With Neil Woolridge Motorsport new focusing on the premier FIA-class in the highly competitive SA Cross Country Series, the team will ensure the current V8-powered Ford Ranger remains a force to be reckoned with in the Class T Production Vehicle championship, which it has won for the past two consecutive years.
As the only fully accredited Ford Performance centre that builds the cross country racing Ford Ranger globally, Neil Woolridge Motorsport is expanding its ongoing support for three privateer teams which will continue flying the flag for NWM and Ford in the series, comprising Jacques van Tonder, Wors Prinsloo and Malcom Kock. All three vehicles will feature identical branding, further enhancing the association with the NWM team and Ford.
“Privateers are a crucial part of cross country racing in South Africa, and it is essential that we look after them to ensure the future of this sport,” says NWM team principal, Neil Woolridge. “Accordingly, this year we decided to increase our level of support for all three teams that will be competing in our Ford Rangers, and representing us in the Class T championship.
“This effort will ensure that we are able to maintain a strong challenge for the Class T title. It will also contribute to Ford’s standings in the Manufacturers Championship, and give us more opportunities to fight for the Manufacturers Award at each race,” Woolridge adds. Last year, Ford earned the Manufacturers Award on three occasions from six events.
2020 SACCS calendar
|1||28-29 February||Mpumalanga 400||Dullstroom, Mpumalanga|
|2||3-4 April||Sugarbelt 400||Eston, KwaZulu-Natal|
|3||22-23 May||Clarens 400||Clarens, Free State|
|4||26-28 June||Toyota 1000 Desert Race||Selebi Phikwe, Botswana|
|5||14-15 August||Bronkhorstspruit 400||Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng|
|6||18-19 September||Nampo 400||Bothaville, Free State|
|7||23-24 October||Parys 400||Parys, Free State|