Colin-on-Cars – Heated battle comes to KwaZulu-Natal

The Ford versus Toyota battle continues in Round 2 of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) that gets underway from the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club in Eston, KZN – with the good news Henk Lategan has been declared fit to race.

The Toyota Hilux driver had to undergo surgery after suffering a crash during Stage 5 of this year’s Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, but has now fully recovered from the injury.

“Henk tested the Hilux recently, and proved to be fit and fast – exactly what we need for this weekend’s return to the Sugarbelt,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after Lategan drove the Hilux for the first time since his crash. “Henk certainly seemed right at home, and we are looking forward to an action-packed weekend in KwaZulu-Natal.”

The full team will consist of defending champions Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings; and former champions Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy. Former champion Shameer Variawa will be sitting out the Sugarbelt 400 due to business commitments.

“We’ve made some small tweaks to our Hilux for this race, in preparation for the new rules that will be coming into play shortly,” continued Hall. “We are confident that our cars are fully prepared for the weekend, where we’ll be racing over terrain that hasn’t been part of the SACCS since 2015.”

At the same time, the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team is targeting another strong performance for its new 3,5-litre V6 EcoBoost-powered Ford Ranger  having scored a dream debut for the Ranger at the season-opening Mpumalanga 400 in March.

Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk secured the win, while team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer claimed the final step on the podium – with the Ford Ranger crews currently placed first and third in the FIA-class championship, respectively.

“We couldn’t have asked for much better results for the first race with our brand new FIA-class Rangers and we’re looking forward to returning to Eston for the Sugarbelt 400 for the first time since 2015,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM).

“We’re expecting a formidable challenge from our competitors at this race after several of them encountered mechanical issues in Mpumalanga,” Woolridge adds. “However, it was very encouraging that our new Rangers ran faultlessly first time out, and this is only the start of the development process with the new vehicle.”

A key partner is BOS Suspension in France, which provided the NWM team with its latest- technology dampers for the new FIA-class Ranger. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the team had been unable to travel for the past year to assist NWM with setting up the new dampers – but they finally made it to South Africa at the beginning of May.

Elvene Vonk and Lance Woolridge

“We are the first team in the world to use the new BOS dampers, so it was crucial we got the BOS team here to help finalise the suspension set-up for the new Ranger,” explains Woolridge. “The results from the four days of testing have been very positive, so we’re keen to see how the new settings perform in race conditions.

“Similarly, the turbo-charged petrol engines are still new to the series, so we’ve done a lot of work on engine mapping and performance since the first race, and our cars should be quicker than they were in Dullstroom,” he says.

The Sugarbelt 400 will be based at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club and will provide a wide variety of terrain – from tight sugarcane fields to the forests, hills and valleys that dominate this scenic region of KwaZulu-Natal.

In Class T, the 2021 Sugarbelt 400 will give the armada of NWM-supported privateers another opportunity to challenge for honours. Malcolm and Frans Kock were the top-placed Ford Ranger V8 at the Mpumalanga 400, finishing second ahead of debutants Christo Rose and Arno Olivier.

Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen proved their race-winning pedigree last year, and will be eager to return to the podium in Eston after having a brand new NWM Ford Ranger built for the 2021 season, and finishing fourth in Dullstroom. Similarly, with more seat time in their recently acquired Ranger, Bernard and Minette Johnstone will be keen to improve on their fifth place at round one.

The 50km sprint qualifying race to determine the starting positions for the Sugarbelt 400 commences at 13:00 on Friday, May 21. Saturday will see the crews tackling two 160 km loops, starting at 08:00 and separated by a mandatory 30-minute service interval between the loops.

Due to the prevailing COVID-19 regulations, the Sugarbelt 400 remains closed to spectators. However, fans can follow all the action and track the position of the crews using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.

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