It is all about points gained, points lost and points being sacrificed going into the sharp end of the South African Cross Country Series with a double-header event in the home of the Nampo Show, Bothaville this weekend.
The double-header will see crews complete a qualifying session and full race on Friday; with a new route, qualifying session and race following on Saturday.
“This is a big race for us,” says Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We have many interesting factors that will play a role this weekend, but we still have our eyes firmly on the championship, despite also using the opportunity to further prepare for January’s Dakar Rally.”
The team narrowly lost out on victory at the Toyota 1 000 Desert Race, which took place near Upington in June this year. However, Giniel de Villiers still tops the standings in the Production Vehicle category, while navigator Dennis Murphy finds himself in second place in the standings.
“Despite leading the title chase, Giniel has decided to focus on the development of our new GR DKR Hilux T1+, which we’ll be running at Dakar,” continues Hall. “This means he will not be able to score points with the new car, as it will be racing under special permission from the organisers, rather than a regular entry.”
As such, the focus for the title chase shifts to Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, who will again be fielding a turbo-charged V6-powered version of the team’s Class FIA Toyota Hilux, as he did at the Desert Race. The team has built a new car for the 4×4 Mega World 400, and though it is capable of running the new T1+ specifications, it will be set up to conform to the SACCS’ Class FIA regulations in order to allow Lategan/Cummings to score championship points.
“Henk is only four points behind Giniel in the overall standings, and a single point behind Ford’s Lance Woolridge, so he is very much in touch with the title chase,” says Hall.
The team’s third Toyota Hilux, running the V8 engine, will be in the hands of Shameer Variawa and navigator Danie Stassen, who will also be competing together at Dakar 2022. The pair showed good pace at the Desert Race, and will be aiming to cement their relationship in the car, and build experience together in preparation for the Dakar Rally.
Class T will see brothers Johan and Werner Horn attempt to close the gap to class leader Malcolm Kock (Ford), after the Malalane Toyota crew failed to score meaningful points in Upington. The brothers started the season with two victories on the trot, and even though they now find themselves in third place in the standings, more than half of the season remains, with four scoring opportunities in hand.
“This weekend is a big, tough race for all the crews,” concludes Hall. “We are recently back from a very tough Dakar test session in Namibia, but despite the hectic schedule, the lads are ready for the weekend, and we are hoping to not only make progress with our Dakar preparations, but also score maximum points in the championship fight.”
Following his win in the opening round of the championship at the Mpumalanga 400, Lance Woolridge (334) is the team’s top-placed driver in the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) prepared Ford Ranger, and is currently second in the overall Production Vehicle championship on 61 points, just three points behind Giniel de Villiers (Toyota).
However, it’s a close-run affair, as Henk Lategan Toyota) and Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) are tied in third place just a single point adrift. Woolridge’s co-driver, Elvéne Vonk, is placed third overall for navigators.
In the fight for the FIA-class title, Lance is third on 76 points behind Baragwanath (78) and De Villiers (81), while Elvéne holds third place for the FIA-class navigators.
Gareth Woolridge (377), in the second Ford Castrol NWM Ranger, is currently ninth in the overall Production Vehicle championship and eighth in the FIA-class, with co-driver Boyd Dreyer ranked seventh and sixth respectively.
“It has been a long three months since we last raced in Upington, and the team is very keen to get out there again,” says Ford Castrol NWM team principal, Neil Woolridge. “We have used the time productively to do extensive testing and development work on our new EcoBoost-powered Ford Rangers, focusing on refining its performance, cooling and suspension setup to ensure we are even more competitive for the second half of the championship.
“The 4×4 Mega World 400 will be an exciting challenge, as it comprises two full races over the two days and will cover almost 800 km in total,” Woolridge adds. “With the opportunity to score double points, this event will play a pivotal role in deciding this year’s championships, so it’s essential that we do well and score maximum points.”
The 4×4 Mega World 400 will be the third outing for the Ford NWM Development Team of Bapi Rubuluza and co-driver Fanifani Meyiwa in the V8-powered Class T Ford Ranger (T49).
Following a solid first race together at the Sugarbelt 400 in May, the pair unfortunately crashed out of the Desert Race in June, and are looking forward to a confidence-building performance in the Free State.
“Bapi and Fanifani were looking really good for a decent result in Upington, but they were caught out by the challenging terrain,” says Woolridge. “They are very keen to get back on the horse and gain more experience in the Class T Ranger. With two full-length races packaged into one weekend, it will be the perfect opportunity for them to get back into the groove. The priority will simply be for them to finish both races and get more seat time in the vehicle, and in the heat of cross country racing.”
It will also be an important race for the other NWM-supported Ford Ranger crews. Malcolm and Frans Kock (T4) currently lead the Class T drivers and navigators standings on 106 points, with Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (T41) placed second in an identical Ranger V8 on 79 points – the latter four points ahead of the Toyota of Johan and Werner Horn. Christo Rose (T58) is fourth with 69 points on his debut season in Class T, with Bernard Johnstone (T22) fifth in another Ford Ranger.
The event will be based at Nampo Park, just outside Bothaville. The opening race on Friday will comprise a short 15 km sprint, starting at 07:30, followed by the first of two loops of a 180 km route to the east of Nampo Park. According to SACCS, the route will include fast open sections and a mix of technical areas around an old pan, an unused coal power station and old mine dumps now covered in grass, with the final section featuring bushy terrain along the Vaal River.
Saturday’s race follows the same format with a 15 km qualifying sprint, along with two 180 km loops of a different route that encompasses tight and technical terrain, a Super Special set in a field of irrigation pivots, along with soft sandy sections.
Although the event remains closed to spectators due to the COVID-19 restrictions, 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. Also, be sure to follow the Ford Performance SA social media channels, listed below, for regular race updates.