It will be a new playground for South African off-road racers when the third round of the 2020 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) launches in the Free State of Bothaville for the Total Agri 400.
Best know for hosting the annual NAMPO agricultural show, the town will resonate not to sound of prize cows but high performance racing engines with Toyota going completely Gazoo and putting up three racing crews for the event.
Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings are the defending champions and also winners of the first two rounds of the 2020 season. The Toyota Gazoo Racing pair will be aiming to continue their good form, despite the challenge of an entirely new route.
“Henk and Brett have shown great pace this year, and they certainly deserve their spot at the top of the championship standings,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “As ever we’ve been working on refining our race-proved Class FIA Toyota Hilux for the upcoming event, and we’re hoping that all three crews will benefit from the slight changes we are implementing.”
While fans are still not permitted in the Designated Service Park (DSP), which will be set at the NAMPO showgrounds for the race, Hall has promised that the Hilux’s naturally aspirated V8 engines will sound better than ever in Bothaville, thanks to some under-hood tweaks.
Giniel de Villiers will again partner with stand-in navigator Juan Möhr, who is doing duty with the Dakar legend while Spanish co-driver, Alex Haro, remains unable to travel to South Africa due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. De Villiers currently finds himself 19 points adrift in the championship, and in desperate need of a win if he wants to catch up to teammates Lategan/Cummings.
The third #TeamHilux crew will again consist of Shameer Variawa and Dennis Murphy, who have yet to find the form shown towards the end of the 2019 season. The pair will be hoping for a good result in Bothaville, as they currently have both Chris Visser (Toyota Hilux) and Brian Baragwanath (Century Buggy) ahead of them on the standings.
The Ford Castrol Cross Country Team is eager to claw back some ground to its FIA class rivals and Neil Woolridge, team principal of Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) which builds and runs the cross country racing Ford Rangers, says: “The Bronkhorstspruit 400 last month was a tough event for the team, but we’ve done some further development work and testing on the Rangers after the previous race which has given us more speed, and we hope to be challenging for a podium position once again.”
While the NWM crew continues with the development of the all-new EcoBoost V6-powered FIA class Ford Ranger, it is still targeting overall podium finishes with the 2018 and 2019 Class T championship-winning V8-powered Ranger this season. Compared to last year’s specification, the Ranger V8 has benefitted from little more than upgraded brakes and top-specification BF Goodrich off-road racing tyres, and still uses a solid rear axle where the full FIA-spec rivals are equipped with a fully independent rear suspension.
“Although we’re at a disadvantage to the higher-spec FIA class vehicles, with the Total Agri 400 being a completely new event it should level the playing field a bit,” Woolridge says. “Our podium finish at the season-opening Mpumalanga 400 proved that we can still produce some great results with the current Ranger in tighter and more technical races.”
With their third-place finish at the start of the season, Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (#334) will be leading the charge as the top-ranked Ford Castrol NWM crew. They are currently fourth overall in the Production Vehicle championship and in the premier FIA class, despite finishing seventh at the Bronkhorstspruit race following an unusual front suspension spring failure – the first of its kind since the team began racing the current Ranger in 2013.
They will be joined by Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#377) who finished one position ahead of their Ford Castrol NWM team-mates in Bronkhorstspruit, having returned to the SACCS for the first time in more than a year. Other than getting beached in soft sand at a road crossing, they had a hassle-free first race in the FIA class and will be looking to improve on their current 11th position in the FIA class, and ninth overall in the Production Vehicle category.
Qualifying for the Total Agri 400 takes place on Friday 18 September, with a short and sharp 48 km loop setting off at 13:00 from NAMPO Park, which serves as the designated service park for the event.
The main race on Saturday 19 September comprises two 170 km loops starting off at 08:00, with a mandatory 30-minute service stop splitting the action. The route travels north towards Orkney, then heads along the Vaal River before turning south for the return stint to Bothaville.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no spectators are allowed in the designated service park or at the event. Fans can follow all of the action and track the position of the crews throughout the each of the 2020 races using the RallySafe app, which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.