Following a week of intense testing of its T1+ Ford Ranger in Morocco, Neil Woolridge Motors and the Ford Team are geared up for a good result on the Sugarbelt 400, the second round of the 2023 South African Rally Raid Championship (SARRC).
For the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol Team, the second round will be a crucial opportunity to make the most of the significant upgrades it has introduced on its class FIA T1+ EcoBoost V6-powered Ford Ranger, which is built at NWM’s facility just north of the race venue, in Pietermaritzburg.
Leading up to the Sugarbelt 400, NWM embarked on week-long in-depth testing and development program on the T1+ Ranger in Morocco with its global rally-raid partner, M-Sport.
“Our intensified testing program in conjunction with M-Sport started straight after the Desert Race last year, and has allowed us to accelerate the development of our T1+ Ranger well beyond what we could achieve on our own in South Africa,” says NWM team principal Neil Woolridge.
“At this stage we don’t have a large customer base of T1+ vehicles competing around the world as do some of our rivals do, so all of the information gleaned from these tests is invaluable in ramping up our development of the vehicle to ensure we extract the best possible performance and durability,” Woolridge says. “It was clear at this year’s opening SARRC race that we have the package to challenge for top results, and we are looking forward to making the most of all the hard work put into our T1+ Ranger at Eston, and for the rest of the season.”
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#277) are the top-placed NWM Ford Castrol crew after finishing second at the Nkomazi 400. The dynamic young team scored their first overall championship win at the final round of 2022, and they are eager to add more silverware to the trophy collection.
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer
Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) had their first outing together at the 2023 season-opener in the second NWM T1+ Ranger. They posted the second-fastest time during the qualifying sprint – despite it being motorcycle racer Gilbert’s first time in the navigator’s seat.
Unfortunately, a damaged hydraulic clutch pipe halted their progress on the first race loop and forced them to retire, so their objective for the Sugarbelt 400 will be to secure maximum points to kickstart their 2023 championship challenge.
On the privateer front, the NWM-supported crew of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) surprised many of the top competitors by finishing ninth overall in the T1+ category, and seventh amongst the four-wheel drive cars in their first national race with the T1+ NWM Ford Ranger.
Having raced the Class T NWM Ranger V8 previously, the team is on a fast learning curve getting to grips with the exceptional performance of their new T1+ Ranger, and learning just how hard they can push it in the roughest terrain – and they are sure to be a regular feature in the top 10 results.
The Sugarbelt 400 is well known for its spectacular scenery, set in the mountains and lush green sugarcane plantations surrounding Eston. The event is based at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club which serves as the race headquarters, designated service park and start-finish.
The action commences on Friday 12 May at 12:30 with the short 52km Pirelli Qualifying Race, which determines the starting order for the main race on Saturday. Adding some strategic thinking to the mix, the top 10 teams will draw their starting positions from slowest to fastest, which always adds a dash of intrigue.
On Saturday, the crews will complete two loops of 160km each, starting at 08:00 and separated by a compulsory 30-minute service stop. Spectators have access to numerous viewing points located along the route to see the cars in action, along with free entry to the service park.
Fans can also follow all the action and track the position of the crews throughout each of the 2023 season’s seven races using the RallySafe app, which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices from the relevant app stores.