The longest and toughest race on the South African Rally-Raid calendar, the Toyota Gazoo Racing 1000 Desert Race, is much more than just a round of the series because, within the chase for championship points, is the race for entry to the Dakar.
The event kicks off in the Northern Cape town of Upington on June 24 and the ‘race to Dakar’ is open to all privateers who have not previously taken part in the Dakar Rally. The winning competitor can choose to enter the next Dakar or the following one, effectively giving the team a maximum of 18 months to prepare for the race.
This means crews who have previously won the Dakar Challenge or Road to Dakar, but have not been able to take up their prize, are eligible to win again in 2022.
In order to further level the playing field for competitors, the organisers of the Dakar Rally have set a rule that both the driver and navigator must be Dakar rookies, neither having taken part in the Dakar Rally before.
The 2022 Road to Dakar will include not only free entry to the Dakar Rally, but also a cash prize of 8 000 euros, which will assist the winning team in their preparations for the mammoth race. The total value of the prize is near R700 000, essentially paving the way for rookie privateers to realise their Dakar dreams.
“Toyota South Africa has a long and proud history in the world of cross-country racing, both locally and on the International stage,” says Toyota SA Motors Vice-President for Marketing, Glenn Crompton. “Our Dakar-winning Hilux is proof of our commitment, and we are excited to be able to support the Road to Dakar again this year, opening the door for rookie privateers to compete in the Dakar Rally, through the flagship event on the SARRC calendar, the TGRSA 1,000 Desert Race.”
However, championship status is what the NWM Ford Castrol team will be looking for in what is the second round of the series with the Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal postponed as a result of the recent devastating floods.
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (277) are the leading NWM Ford Castrol Team contenders, having finished on the podium in third place at the wet and muddy opening round – the Mpumalanga 400 held in Dullstroom in March – and are currently placed third in the championship. They are eagerly in the hunt for their first victory in the premier FIA category in the EcoBoost-powered Ford Ranger, having come tantalisingly close on several occasions but lucked out at the final hurdle.
Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (234) are determined to make it to the finish and score valuable points after a disappointing non-finish in Dullstroom. The crew were leading the Mpumalanga 400 on day two but slid off the track in the slippery conditions and hit a tree which damaged their vehicle’s chassis, forcing them to retire.
“Our race-leading pace and podium finish at the Mpumalanga 400 bodes well for this year’s Desert Race, which poses the unique challenge of a three-day marathon race format covering almost 1 000 km. This makes it the longest and toughest event of the year, but a crucial one in the championship fight,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of NWM. “We have done further testing and development of our T1+ Ranger since Dullstroom, and I’m confident that we will be even more competitive at the upcoming event.”
The T1 EcoBoost Rangers were very quick at last year’s Desert Race in Upington, with Lance and Elvéne finishing third after an exciting battle with their major title rivals. Gareth and Boyd were also on a charge, having set the fastest times in qualifying and on Sunday’s opening loop in the 2021 event. Unfortunately, they picked up several punctures on Saturday and had a drive belt failure within sight of the finish line on Sunday which set them back.
“Gareth and Boyd are more determined than ever to turn their impressive pace into a race victory, and it will be exciting to watch our two T1+ NWM Rangers in action,” Woolridge says.
The Desert Race kicks off with a 75 km Pirelli Qualifying race, starting at 12:00 on Friday June 24 at the race headquarters and designated service park (DSP), located at the Upington Expo Centre.
The action resumes on Saturday at 08:00 and comprises two identical loops of 200 km each, separated by a 30-minute mandatory service stop. According to the organisers, the route will be similar to last year with a mix of sandy tracks, mini dunes and gravel and rocky sections.
On Sunday the competitors will set off at 08:00 and tackle two loops of a different 200 km route comprising small dunes and sandy sections, once again split by the scheduled 30-minute service stop.
The NWM Ranger V8 remains the leading contender in Class T for lower-specification solid-axle vehicles. Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (T41) opened their 2022 campaign in Dullstroom with victory and an impressive ninth place in the overall results. However, Prinsloo subsequently sold his Ranger to X Rally Team, NWM’s long-standing customer team in Brazil, and will be focusing his efforts on the 2023 SARRC season.
This leaves second-place finishers at the Mpumalanga 400, Bernard and Minette Johnstone (T22), and Christo Rose/Arno Olivier (T58) who claimed the final step on the podium, to fight for the Desert Race win and overall Class T title this year.
Access to the DSP is free and unrestricted, and the competitors can be viewed at numerous easily accessible spectator points along the race route.
Follow all the action and track the position of the crews throughout each of the 2022 season’s races using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.