The much-anticipated new Ford Ranger will make its racing debut at the opening round of the South Africa offroad racing season – now running under revised regulations and as the South Africa Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) to cater for the Dakar-built specification vehicles.
The first race of the 2022 season is the Mpumalanga 400 on March 25/26, which takes place in the scenic Dullstroom area that is renowned for its wide range of terrain, from tight and technical forest sections to rocky trails and vast rolling hills.
The team will once again be fielding two highly competitive entries, headlined by the extensively upgraded T1+ EcoBoost-powered Ford Ranger designed and manufactured by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) in Pietermaritzburg.
Up to 300 mm wider than last year’s T1 Ranger, and featuring long-travel suspension up to 350 mm matched to large 37-inch tyres, the latest T1+ Ranger is a formidable machine – and is set to continue the team’s impressive race-winning pace.
“We have done a lot of design and manufacturing work to upgrade our vehicles to the new T1+ specification, and spent the whole of last week testing the new car in conjunction with the team from BOS Suspension in France,” says NWM team principal, Neil Woolridge. “The new FIA T1+ Ranger is a significant change from last year’s T1 Ranger, and is able to tackle rough conditions at much higher speeds thanks to its completely new suspension, wider track and much larger tyres.
“Although there is still some work to do as we fine-tune the setup, we have been impressed with the vehicle’s performance so far and look forward to seeing it in action in Dullstroom,” Neil adds. “While our opposition has had the advantage of running its T1+ car during the second half of last year and at several international events this year, I am confident that we have a great package and will be in contention throughout the season.”
Lance Woolridge and co-driver Elvéne Vonk led the charge for the team in 2021 with a historic debut win for the new EcoBoost V6-powered T1 Ranger at the season-opening Mpumalanga 400, then notching up a second victory at the Nampo 400. This ensured that the championship battle went down to the wire. Although they narrowly missed out on the title, it was an exceptional performance that sets the scene for a thrilling title fight in 2022.
Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer are eager to turn their fortunes around this year. The young pair were the fastest competitors in the field on several occasions during the 2021 season, but misfortune robbed them of top results and they had to settle with two podium finishes and fourth place in the championship.
Class T is the entry point into the national championship and will once again feature last year’s runners-up in the NWM Ford Ranger V8, Wors Prinsloo and co-driver Andre Vermeulen. Christo Rose and Arno Olivier were the surprise of the field in their debut season with the NWM Ranger, finishing third overall with a string of solid results – so they can’t be discounted. Bernard and Minette Johnstone will also be back in the mix and aiming for consistency.
Reigning Class T champion Malcolm Kock sold his vehicle and will not be competing this year. However, his son Frans, who navigated the team to the 2021 title, will be sitting alongside a new entrant to the Production Vehicle championship. Lance Trethewey, the 2019 and 2021 Special Vehicle champion from Pietermaritzburg, is set to join the fray in a newly purchased NWM Ranger V8 this year.
Trethewey and Kock will be competing in the revised Class FIA T1, which will accommodate the competitors not making the switch to the new T1+ class for the much wider, long-travel suspension cars equipped with 37-inch tyres. The narrower T1 cars rely on the same 32-inch tyres and 280mm wheel travel limit previously used in the premier category.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA squad, fresh from its recent victory at the Dakar Rally will field four factory-entered cars this season, with former rally champions, Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle, joining the squad for the year.
The team will be fielding its Dakar-Winning GR DKR Hilux T1+, and the opening round of the championship, the Mpumalanga 400, will see a mix of old and new cars from the team, though they all share identical specifications.
“We’ve had to scramble a bit to get everything in place for this first race,” says TGRSA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “One of the cars only arrived back from Saudi Arabia last week, and we’re still waiting for several shipping containers to return to South Africa.”
Defending champions Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings will be back in action for the team, alongside Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy. Shameer Variawa will again do duty with Danie Stassen reading the notes; with Botterill/Vacy-Lyle completing the line-up.
With the truncated preparation period, the team has had to shoe-horn a lot of work into a short period of time. Despite this, they have also benefitted from a test conducted by Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel during the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which focussed on the further development of the Toyota DKR Hilux T1+ suspension system.
Fans who are unable to attend the event can follow the action online, using the Rallysafe App, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.
2022 SARRC calendar
|1||25-26 March||Mpumalanga 400||Dullstroom, Mpumalanga|
|2||29-30 April||Sugarbelt 400||Eston, KwaZulu-Natal|
|3||24-26 June||Toyota 1000 Desert Race||Upington, Northern Cape|
|4||19-20 August||Bronkhorstspruit 400||Bronkhorstspruit Gauteng|
|5 & 6||30 Sept – 1 Oct||Nampo 400||Bothaville, Free State|
|7||12 November||Parys 400||Parys, Free State|