Knowing the deal is done for Pietermaritzburg’s Neil Woolridge Motors to be the builders of the official Ford foray into the Dakar Rally makes its efforts at the upcoming Toyota Gazoo Botswana Desert 1000 even more significant than usual.
Over the past three years, the Desert Race has taken place in Upington in the Northern Cape as a result of travel and logistics restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For 2023, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race (TGR 1000) heads back to the diamond mining town of Jwaneng, which hosted the event for several years before it was moved to Selebi-Phikwe in 2019.
Its unique status as a three-day marathon event sees the action commence on Friday with a short 61 km qualifying loop to determine the starting order for the main race. The top 10 competitors then draw their starting positions, with the strategy regarding road position for the opening loop being a key consideration.
On Saturday the competitors will complete two 220 km loops to the east of Jwaneng, separated by a mandatory 30-minute service stop at the designated service park (DSP), located at the Jwaneng Sports Complex which also serves as the race headquarters.
Sunday sees the teams tackle two runs through a 214 km race loop west of Jwaneng, with a 30-minute service stop in between. The overall times for the weekend will determine the final results.
“The Desert Race is extremely popular in Botswana. We have a loyal and enthusiastic following in the country, and we know the fans are eager to see the SARRC return this year,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of the NWM Ford Castrol squad.
“We have enjoyed good results at the Desert Race, and our team has been buoyed by last week’s announcement that we will be competing at the 2024 Dakar Rally with our T1+ Ranger, along with Ford Performance and M-Sport. Over the past year, we have conducted a series of in-depth tests with M-Sport to further develop our T1+ Ranger for the Dakar Rally, and our results in the opening rounds of the 2023 season have shown that all of this hard work is paying off,” Woolridge says.
Gareth Woolridge and co-driver Boyd Dreyer are the leading NWM Ford Castrol contenders in their #277 T1+ EcoBoost V6-powered Ranger, having scored back-to-back podium finishes at the season-opening Nkomazi 400 in Malalane and the Sugarbelt 400 in Eston.
Accordingly, they are currently tied for second place in the Production Vehicle championship, along with the Toyota crew of Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy.
“Gareth and Boyd are busy with another test session in Morocco currently and will arrive in Botswana on Thursday, having had the benefit of thousands of kilometres of testing over the past couple of months. So they will be very well prepared to go for it the moment the flag drops in Jwaneng,” Woolridge says.
Lance Woolridge and co-driver Kenny Gilbert (#234) have had a tough start to their first season together, but have shown impressive pace on several occasions. They are currently eighth overall in the championship and are aiming to maximize their points haul at this crucial event – especially with the prospect of 45 points up for grabs for the class win, in place of the normal 30 points for the shorter events.
The NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) is eager to get back in the action in their T1+ Ranger after missing the previous round. They are currently 13th overall in the standings, having finished an impressive seventh at the opening round of the season.
Fans can 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.
2024 Dakar Rally
Ford Performance is set to expand its global motorsports effort by competing in the legendary Dakar Rally, one of the toughest off-road competitions on Earth.
A purpose-built, race-ready Ford Ranger T1+ will compete in the 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in the Rally Raid T1+ class. Ford Performance is collaborating in a comprehensive test and development program with M-Sport and Neil Woolridge Motorsport to prepare for what is expected to be an extremely tough challenge come January 2024.