The race to finalise the 2021 South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) Champion played out in a tightly fought encounter near Parys on the banks of Vaal River at the weekend with Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings sealing their third successive overall production championship when they won the event.
The 2021 SACCS was characterised by a year-long battle between Lategan/Cummings, and Lance Woolridge/Elvene Coetzee (Ford Ranger). The two crews traded blows throughout the year, but a strong finish saw Lategan/Cummings take the crown again. Co-driver Cummings had secured the navigators’ championship with one round to spare.
At the same time, teammates Shameer Variawa and co-driver Danie Stassen, secured third place in the race, despite suffering three punctures during the main event; while both Giniel de Villiers and Nasser Al-Attiyah, fielded their all-new Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+ race cars. While unable to score championship points, or to be classified in the field, the two drivers clearly showed the pace of the new cars, as they put the finishing touches on their Dakar preparations.
The Parys 400 sported a tough route over varied terrain types. This took a toll on many of the competitors and their cars, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews prevailed despite the tricky conditions. With that said, Al-Attiyah/Baumel elected to retire from the race to preserve their car, after encountering a stray piece of barbed wire that tangled around the right front wheel of their Hilux.
Henk Lategan: “This year was a really challenging one for us, especially after missing the opening round. However, the arrival of the new turbo-charged engine from the Land Cruiser 300 breathed new life into our challenge, and we managed to emerge victorious. The Toyota Hilux showed its mettle throughout the year, and we never had any serious mechanical problems.”
In the first season competing with the all-new 3,5-litre EcoBoost V6-powered Ford Ranger, designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), Woolridge and Vonk rounded off the year with a second-place finish at the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Parys 400 in the Free State, cementing their runner-up positions in the title chase for drivers and navigators.
“We knew coming into this race it was going to be a tough task to beat Henk and Brett, and unfortunately on the first loop I just didn’t feel confident in the car’s handling, so this cost us a lot of time,” Lance said. “It’s disappointing to lose out on the title when we’ve been so close, including winning first time out in Dullstroom, followed up by the victory at the 4×4 Mega World race, and then losing out in Vryburg by just four seconds.
“However our non-finish due to a minor technical issue at the Sugarbelt 400 is what cost us the championship,” Lance added. “But I think we’ve had a great season, and the fact that we’ve been able to make it so competitive this year is testament to the great team we have. So let’s see what next year brings with the new T1+ regulations.”
The second FIA-class Ford Ranger pairing of Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (377) saw their frustrating season end in disappointment. They posted fastest stage times on several occasions this year, but luck certainly hasn’t been on their side – and this played out in the season finale too. The talented young crew were within 28 seconds of the leaders at the mid-way point at the Parys race, but they were unfortunately caught out braking from high speed in a tricky sand section that pitched the car sideways, leading to a fairly minor roll.
They were able to continue for a short distance put a damaged oil cooler led to their retirement.
The Neil Woolridge Motorsport-supported privateer teams proved the class of their field this year, competing with the V8-powered Rangers in Class T.
Malcolm and Frans Kock (T4) took the title at the previous round in Vryburg, and weren’t able to make the final race. This left Wors Prinsloo/Andre Vermeulen (T41) and Christo Rose/Arno Olivier (T58) to wrestle over the final podium positions, along with the ever-present threat from the Toyota crew of Johan and Werner Horn.
The race win ultimately went to Prinsloo/Vermeulen as they secured their second victory of the season, which promoted them to second in the final Class T standings for 2021. Rose and Olivier concluded their first season in Class T as runners-up in Parys and third in the championship, with their Toyota rivals retiring with a blown engine.
The Ford NWM Development Team of Bapi Rubuluza and Fanifani Meyiwa (T49) brought their Ford Ranger V8 home fourth in Class T, emulating their results from the previous race.
“The whole team is extremely proud of what Bapi and Fanifani have achieved this year,” Neil said. “We as experienced competitors often don’t realise how difficult it is for a new team to come into the sport and learn how to drive a specially developed, high-performance V8-powered race car in this type of terrain. Yes, the Development Team had its difficulties this year, and they were down in the dumps after crashing out at the Desert Race.
“But they never gave up and were rewarded with a second-place finish at the 4×4 Mega World 400. That podium was a very special moment for all of us,” Neil added. “The crew has learned a lot, they gained a lot of confidence and their pace has improved consistently, giving them two fourth places in a row. The sport desperately needs to be more inclusive and diverse, and to attract wider interest and participation amongst competitors and fans alike. Bapi and Fanifani are great ambassadors for cross country racing.”