Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers is the 2022 South African Rally-Raid Champion (SARRC), having nicked the position by finishing second behind Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer – who claimed their first overall race win in the EcoBoost V6 powered FIA T1+ Ford Ranger on the rain-drenched Parys 400 event.
The weekend started with a qualifying race held in cold and very wet conditions, over an already saturated route of 12 km. The mud and incessant rain made it tricky for the crews to find a rhythm, but even so, TGRSA’s crews performed well.
Variawa and Stassen set the benchmark time of 8min 1sec, and were followed home by brothers Johan and Werner Horn, driving a privately entered Toyota Hilux T1+, similar to that campaigned by TGRSA. Behind them came the three remaining works crews: De Villiers/Burke; Guy Botterill and co-driver Simon-Vacy-Lyle; and Lategan/Cummings.
Conditions continued to deteriorate as the delayed race start drew near, but when the flag dropped it was flat out racing in Parys. At the end of the first race loop, which was severely curtailed due to the conditions, it was Lategan/Cummings who led, with De Villiers/Burke in second, Variawa/Stassen in third and Botterill/Vacy-Lyle in fourth – a power performance by the works squad.
Shortly before the end of the loop, the organisers announced the second race loop would be cancelled due to the deteriorating condition of the track, which saw numerous competitors fail to reach the Designated Service Park (DSP) at the Parys Airfield. And with that, Round 6 was done.
Round 7 followed on the Saturday of the weekend, again starting with a qualifying race over a 12 km course. Continued rain over the preceding night meant even more treacherous conditions under foot, but the man who went fastest during qualifying the day before, was again best of the TGRSA crews: Variawa/Stassen posted the second-fastest time, with De Villiers/Burke in fifth place.
When racing got under way shortly after, the tough conditions took their toll. Lategan/Cummings moved into the lead mid-way through the opening race loop, but disaster struck around the 70 km mark: An alternator belt was dislodged in deep water, and when the crew attempted to pull off the route, they became severely stuck. Shortly after, Variawa/Stassen fell foul to a similar fate, ending up stuck within sight of their teammates.
Botterill/Vacy-Lyle also lost an alternator belt 6 km from the finish. This belt also drives the power steering pump, and with no assistance, the big-tyred Hilux T1+ becomes nearly impossible to drive. Despite this, Botterill managed to wrestle the car home to finish in fourth place overall.
Ahead of Botterill/Vacy-Lyle, De Villiers/Burke drove a faultless race to finish Loop 1 in second place. As with the previous day, the race organisers were forced to cancel the second race loop, cementing De Villiers/Burke’s second position, as well as De Villiers’ championship. This title capped a fantastic season for the South African-built and developed Toyota Hilux T1+, starting with victory on the Dakar Rally back in January this year.
The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol Team ended its season on a high as Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer claimed their first overall race win.
“We are thrilled with the win, as Boyd and I have been trying to secure our first win for at least 10 years,” Gareth said. “I’m really glad to finally pull it together in the most difficult conditions we’ve ever raced in.
“It has been a difficult year, with some small technical issues that have let us down, despite Boyd and I having one of our cleanest seasons yet,” Gareth added. “We’ve taken big strides forward with our T1+ Ranger, as we proved at the previous event and this weekend in Parys. So for next year, I think we’re in good shape for even bigger and better things.”
Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (#234) led the NWM Ford Castrol team’s charge on Friday, finishing fifth overall. After setting the fourth-fastest time for Saturday’s qualifying loop, just 14 seconds off the lead Ranger, it looked set to be a thrilling battle for the final podium of this year’s championship.
However, they were among several of the top crews who got stuck around halfway through the race loop. Thanks to the assistance of the TeamHilux team of Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar, Lance and Elvéne were able to extricate their stricken Ranger from the quagmire – and were rewarded for their never-say-die attitude by coming home fifth in Class FIA T1+ and 14th overall.
“I didn’t think the conditions could get worse than yesterday, but it was manic out there today,” Lance said. “It was so slippery that we had to start braking from 600 to 700 metres away from a turn and then just tiptoe around the corner.
“We got stuck in a ploughed field where the two Toyotas ahead of us had already gone through, and when I got out the car I sank right down to my knees in the mud,” he added. “Elvéne and I didn’t want to slow the top teams down so we let them all past, then Eben and Leander, who had won their class championship on Friday, stopped and pulled us out, and we had a clean run to the end.”