The small Free State of Parys, situated on the banks on the Vaal River, will be rocking to the sound of high performance engines this weekend as the 2022 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) comes to a climax with a double-header and very much a Toyota versus Ford shootout.
For Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings, the weekend offers the opportunity to seal their fourth SARRC title, as they hold a three-point lead over teammates Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy in the overall Production Category.
De Villiers, however, is a fierce competitor and is sure to make Lategan work hard for the points he needs to clinch the championship. To make matters more interesting, however, Murphy will be unable to compete in Parys due to a broken arm. Seasoned co-driver Rodney Burke will be strapping into his seat for the weekend, adding pressure to De Villiers in his quest to regain the SARRC crown.
For the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol Team it will be a crucial opportunity to maximise its points and move up the standings.
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (277) are currently fifth in the premier FIA T1+ category in their EcoBoost V6-powered NWM Ford Ranger, with just eight points separating them from third-placed Shameer Variawa/Danie Stassen (Toyota).
This sets the scene for an intense battle that will be played out on the dusty tracks of this farming region near the Vaal River, just more than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.
Gareth and Boyd proved that they have the pace to run at the front of the field after leading most of Round 5 at NAMPO Park in Bothaville. A minor electrical gremlin tripped up their charge to victory, but the young pair are intent on ending the season on a high.
Behind the two hard-charging Class T1+ Toyota Hilux crews come two more crews from the same squad, driving identical cars. Shameer Variawa and co-driver Danie Stassen are 30 points adrift of De Villiers/Murphy, and only three points ahead of Guy Botterill and co-driver Simon Vacy-Lyle with two rounds to go.
While it is unlikely either Variawa or Botterill will overtake the crews ahead of them, anything can still happen, and with a maximum of 60 points on offer between the final two rounds, neither of the two chasing crews will be holding anything in reserve this weekend.
“This has been a stunning season for us,” says TGRSA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “Our Class T1+ Hilux has dominated all year, clearly showing why this machine is tough enough to not only compete at the Dakar Rally, but also to have won it twice now.”
With this in mind, the team will be using the weekend’s Parys 400, as the double-header is known, to test a number of final engine upgrades and other components, as they prepare for the upcoming Dakar Rally in January, 2023.
An identical Hilux, in the hands of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel won the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) this year, and the mileage recorded during that championship, as well as the SARRC, may well prove to be invaluable in the development of the latest iteration of the GR DKR Hilux T1+ as the car is also known.
This weekend’s race is likely to take place in wet and muddy conditions, though no heavy rains are predicted over the weekend itself. Even so, the muddy tracks around the town of Parys has proven tough in the past, and the TGRSA crews will have their work cut out for them, with two full races taking place in just two days. This includes a prologue, to determine the starting orders for the main race, on both mornings – followed by two long race loops that brings the total daily race distance close to the 400 km mark.
The 2022 season has been extremely challenging for team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (234) in the second NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger. They have also shown race-winning potential on several occasions this year, and are aiming to repeat the impressive form they had at the NAMPO event to shake things up – with Lady Luck hopefully on their side for a change as they continue durability testing of key components.
“We have been hard at work testing and sorting out the little niggles that have hampered our performance this year. We are looking forward to returning to Parys which has very similar terrain to the last event, and this seems to suit our car,” says team principal Neil Woolridge.
“It was encouraging and a real morale booster for the entire team to see the Rangers dominating qualifying and having Gareth and Boyd leading for most of the previous round. Now we just need a clean run without any hassles to show what we are capable of as we give Gareth and Boyd the best chance to fight for the final podium position in the 2022 championship,” Neil says.
The action gets under way at 07:30 on Friday morning, when the crews take on a 12 km-long qualifying race.
This will be followed by two loops of 155 km each, starting at 9:30. The crews will then have to repair and recuperate, as they’ll be doing it all again the next day, making for a tough finish to a long season. Fans can visit the race and its HQ at the Parys Airfield free of charge, or follow the action on the Rally Safe application, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.
This race is renowned for its spectator-friendly route and easily accessible viewing points, and access to the route and DSP is free.