Colin-on-Cars – Tight finish in Vryburg off-road race

A scant four seconds separated the top two finishers in the Vryburg 400, penultimate round of the 2021 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) with Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings taking the flag ahead of the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team’s Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk.

“It was a really tight race today,” said Lategan after reaching the Designated Service Point (DSP) outside Vryburg after the race. “At times we managed to extend our lead, but two punctures in the second loop ensure a very tight finish.”

The pair started their weekend by posting the fourth-fastest time on the Friday’s qualifying race. They strategically managed their pace over the 40 km loop, and ended up in a very good road position for the Saturday’s main event.

In the end, the Toyota Gazoo Racing crew reported a clean run, other than the two punctures in the second loop. The Class FIA Toyota Hilux didn’t miss a beat, and Lategan/Cummings are overjoyed to have added to their overall points lead with just one round to go. For Cummings, the result in Vryburg sealed the overall 2021 co-driver’s championship in the Production Category.

At the same time, teammates Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen recorded a strong fifth place finish, after suffering a single puncture during the latter part of the race.

Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy continued the development and testing of the team’s new GR DKR Hilux T1+ prototype during the Vryburg 400. The new car cannot score points in the championship, as the SACCS currently doesn’t make provision for this class of vehicle. Even so, the team received special dispensation to use the race as a test, and the team made the most of the opportunity.

“We have been refining a number of components and settings on the car,” explained De Villiers. “A lot of work is still going into the damper setup, and today’s race gave us some very clear data to work with.”

In the Class T championship, brothers Johan and Werner Horn flew the flag for Toyota, by not only winning the qualifying race, but also the main event. The defending champions found themselves on the back foot after failing to score points during the previous two rounds, but redeemed themselves with a resounding victory in Vryburg. The Malalane Toyota lads may not win the title in 2021, but they’re certainly making themselves count.

The Ford Castrol Ranger crew conquered the demanding and ever-changing conditions without a single puncture, which was a remarkable feat unmatched by their rivals – made all the more challenging due to heavy rain showers on Friday, followed by tricky mud and water sections on Saturday’s first 180 km loop, and mostly dry conditions on the second loop.

The trio of front-runners, who also lead the overall Production Vehicle and FIA-class points tables, kept their teams and the enthusiastic fans on edge as the positions changed regularly on the opening loop. Heading into the 30-minute service, it was Lategan/Cummings ahead of the Ford Castrol Ranger of Woolridge/Vonk by 1 min 23 sec, with the Century crew in third.

On the final loop, the battle intensified even further, and although the positions ultimately remained unchanged at the finish line, the top two crews were separated by just 4 seconds in the end after nearly five hours of racing.

“It was a fantastic race,” Lance said. “The car was faultless, the team did an awesome job and Elvéne was perfect the whole race, but in the end, it was just four seconds that separated us from the win, which is a bit frustrating. However, it was a really enjoyable race, and we had a good time out there.

“The championship is still alive, but it’s going to be a tough last race,” Lance added. “Parys is a rough event with lots of rocks and technical terrain, and we will need to aim for the win to remain in contention. But anything is possible, and we’ll throw everything at it.”

Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (377) just missed out on the podium, scoring their second fourth-place finish in a row. The young pair had the arduous and unenviable task of being drawn first for Friday’s 42 km prologue, which resulted in them opening the road and losing considerable time, ending eight overall.

However, they were on a charge for Saturday’s main race, making the most of the damp conditions and limited dust to fight their way up to an impressive fourth place after the first loop – a position they held through to the finish despite picking up a puncture on the second loop.

In the Class T championship, current points leaders and Vryburg residents Malcolm and Frans Kock (T4) did their title aspirations a world of good by continuing their impressive run of podium finishes with second place at their home event in the V8-powered NWM Ford Ranger, behind winners Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).

They were joined on the podium by another of the local NWM-supported privateers, Christo Rose and Arno Olivier, while the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport Development Team of Bapi Rubuluza and Fanifani Meyiwa (T49) notched up another solid finish in fourth place.

For Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (T41) it was a miserable weekend, as they picked up numerous punctures throughout the race and eventually finished fifth – which dented their challenge for the 2021 Class T championship

It’s all to play for in the overall Production Vehicle, FIA-class and Class T championship titles at the season finale: the Parys 400, on November  20, 2021.

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