Toyota Gazoo Racing SA (TGRSA) achieved a clean sweep of podium positions for both rounds of the penultimate event in the 2022 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC), with Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings winning twice in a row.
“This was an astounding weekend for the team,” said an ecstatic TGRSA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the race. “Everything went according to plan for us, and Henk really showed his class by winning twice – once from tenth on the road, and once from the front.”
For Lategan, a good result was desperately needed in his quest to defend his crown as defending SARRC champion, as he found himself trailing teammate Giniel de Villiers in the overall standings, after three rounds of the season. But two consecutive victories put Lategan right back in the mix, with just two rounds (another double-header event) to go in the 2022 championship.
While Lategan and co-driver Cummings undoubtedly made the most of the weekend, each of their teammates found their own times to shine, ensuring stunning results for the entire team over the course of the weekend.
During Round 4, which took place on Friday, September 30, it was Guy Botterill and co-driver Simon Vacy-Lyle who went second-fastest, trailing Lategan/Cummings to the end by just shy of two minutes. De Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy recorded a third-place finish for the round, ensuring that they stayed in touch with the lead in the championship fight.
Round 5 saw De Villiers/Murphy improve on their finish from the day before, moving into second place for the round. They finished 1min 42sec behind the flying Lategan/Cummings. Shameer Variawa and co-driver Danie Stassen went third-fastest, completing the second all-TGRSA podium for the weekend.
“Overall, we’re not only pleased with the results, but also with the progress we’ve made with the testing and development of the new parts and setups that we ran this weekend,” continued Hall. “We are always hunting for more performance in our quest to continuously improve our Dakar-winning GR DKR Hilux T1+, and this weekend served as confirmation that our latest developments are working as expected.”
The NWM Ford Castrol Team has made significant strides in the development of its mighty Class FIA T1+ Ranger since it debuted at the start of the 2022 season, and its race-winning potential was clearly shown at the action-packed fourth and fifth rounds SARRC Series at NAMPO Park near Bothaville in the Free State in extremely hot and dusty conditions – an ideal proving ground for the Dakar Rally-specification.
Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (234) were among the top competitors during the short 8,9 km qualifying races for both days. In round four on Friday, they were tied for second place with Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota), just 7,1 sec off the leading Toyota of Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings.
The second NWM Ford Castrol crew of Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (277) were also right in the mix, but they overshot a corner near the end and stalled the car, losing about 16 seconds which dropped them down to fifth in T1+ and eighth overall. The top 10 qualifiers draw their starting positions in reverse order, which saw Gareth and Boyd starting first, with Lance and Elvéne second on the road.
In the main race, which comprised two loops of 171 km each, Lance and Elvéne were unfortunately hampered 15 km into the opening stint by a hole that developed in a turbo-charger actuator pipe, and they lost significant time to the front-runners due to the lack of boost. The pipe was replaced during the mandatory 30-minute service stop, and they fought back on the second loop to finish seventh in T1+ after posting some of the fastest times of the section.
Opening the road cost Gareth and Boyd significant time, and they had to contend with intermittent power loss issues during the opening loop, but this was remedied for the second stint, and they had a clean run to finish fourth overall.
The NWM Ford Castrol Team headed into round five on Saturday with determination and confidence, and it certainly paid off as Lance and Elvéne set the fastest qualifying time, with Gareth and Boyd finishing second, just 1,2 seconds off their team-mates.
However, the saying “If you didn’t have bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck” certainly rung true for Lance and Elvéne yet again, as the team found a small crack in a turbo-charger oil cooler pipe after qualifying. Without a replacement item on hand emergency repairs were made, and the team went out on the first loop. Sadly it all came to nothing as the leak re-emerged 20 km into the stage, and they were ultimately forced to retire.
“We did a lot of work on the car after the last event, and all of the changes made have really shown that we are now capable of running at the front of the field,” Lance said. “Our good qualifying performance on both days and the pace we have shown during the race is fantastic and very encouraging for the team. Our final results are disappointing, but we will regroup and focus on the small things that have let us down this weekend, and I’m sure we’ll have a good race next time.”
With their team-mates out of action Gareth and Boyd soon took over the lead, and a thrilling tussle ensued between the NWM Ford Ranger crew and the Toyota of Lategan/Cummings. Just four seconds separated the teams after 168 km of racing as they headed into the pits, and an all-out battle was expected for the top step of the podium on loop two.
Ultimately it was not to be, as an electronic gremlin linked to the power distribution module caused the car to cut out several times. As a result, they lost around five minutes to the leaders but fought on to cross the finish line in fourth place overall once again.
The NWM Ford Ranger V8 scored a pair of podium finishes in Class T. Regional competitors Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis (T16) made their national championship debut at the NAMPO event, and finished an impressive third in both races, ahead of Christo Rose and Arno Olivier (T58) in fourth.
The final event of the season will be another double-header in Parys, on 11 and 12 November 2022.