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The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Rally-Raid Team overcame a tough and unforgiving outing at the TGRSA Safari 1000, Round 3 of the South African Rally-Raid Championship, by bringing their EcoBoost V6-powered and Shell-backed Ford Rangers home second and fourth overall.

Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) earned their first podium of the season by claiming the runner-up position after a lengthy battle with the Toyota crew of eventual race winners Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings. NWM Ford team-mates and reigning champions Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#200) did an impressive job of powering their way to fourth overall, having overcome a driveshaft failure and electronic sensor issues on Saturday that cost the pair significant time.

The three-day 1 000km marathon event, from 21 to 23 June, was the longest of the 2024 calendar. The punishing route around the farming community of Koedoeskop, near Thabazimbi in Limpopo Province, comprised fast and flowing farmlands, along with tight sections through game farms and rough mountain roads that tested the crews and the cars to the absolute limit.

“Scoring second and fourth is a good result, although after our one-two finishes both at the Desert Race and at this venue for the Waterberg 400 last year, we were hoping for the win,” said Neil Woolridge, NWM Ford team principal. “We had a couple of issues with Gareth’s car on Saturday which the team sorted out overnight, and he and Boyd showed the exceptional pace we all know they are capable of during both loops on Sunday.

“Second place is a fantastic result for Lance and Kenny, and if it wasn’t for a puncture on Friday and a tyre coming off the rim on Sunday during a heavy landing, they would have been even better placed to challenge for the race win,” Neil said.

The action commenced on Friday with a 14km qualifying sprint where little separated the top teams over the short distance. Lance and Kenny completed the session 11th overall, while Gareth and Boyd were running second until a puncture 4km from the end of the loop forced them to stop and change the tyre – dropping to 27th overall.

The ensuing 100km first race loop in the afternoon saw Gareth and Boyd surge back into contention to third overall, while Lance and Kenny slotted into fourth after picking up a puncture 12km from the end.

Day two comprised two loops of 200km each, with Lance and Kenny confidently moving into second overall by the end of the day. Unfortunately, Gareth and Boyd saw their progress halted as they pulled off from the start line when a rear driveshaft snapped. They replaced the driveshaft but lost a lot of time as a result, and then had to contend with a couple of electronic gremlins that further slowed their progress. Despite these challenges, the reigning champions fought on tenaciously, wrapping up the day 11th overall and ninth in the premier Ultimate class (formerly T1+).

The third and final day was made up of two new loops of 209km each, with 148km of competitive stage and 61km of liaison between the racing sections. Lance and Kenny were pushing hard to catch Lategan/Cummings and were right in their dust early in the opening section of the loop. They then had a scary moment after hitting an unmarked jump at high speed which launched the car into the air, then landed heavily on the left front wheel which resulted in the tyre coming off the rim. They promptly changed the wheel and got back in the hunt for their rivals.

By the time they came in for the 30-minute service stop, the leading NWM Ford crew had shaved a minute off the leader’s time. Lance and Kenny pushed hard for the final lap and had a clean run to the finish, scoring a superb second-place overall.

“It was a really good race for us, and we are delighted with our first podium of the season,” Lance said. “We lost a bit of time on Friday in the prologue and then on the first loop with the puncture, which probably cost us the win. We had a clean run on Saturday, and today we pushed hard and caught up to Henk and Brett early on the first loop, but we just couldn’t pass them in the dust, so we ultimately had to settle for second place. It was an enjoyable race, and the car was faultless.”

Going into the final day Gareth and Boyd had a huge mountain to climb in clawing their way up the leaderboard but they gave it everything. With the electronic niggles sorted overnight, and a tenacious never-say-die attitude, they pushed hard to fight through the dust of the cars ahead, setting the fastest time on Sunday’s morning loop and going second-quickest in the afternoon. This earned them a truly commendable fourth place overall.

“It was a challenging weekend for us, starting with the puncture in qualifying which dropped us almost to the back of the field,” Gareth said. “Friday’s afternoon loop was good which moved us up to 11th, then we had the driveshaft failure and two completely different sensor issues on Saturday. Today the car was perfect, and this showed in our times for both loops which allowed us to fight back up to fourth place after being as far down as 27th on Friday. So, as much as the first two days were frustrating, today’s pace was fantastic, and it was rewarding to eventually end the race in fourth place.”

The NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) had a fantastic outing in their newly upgraded NWM Ranger Ultimate, finishing this arduous event seventh in the Ultimate class and eighth overall.

Wors and Andre were also the top-placed team in the Road to Dakar Challenge, thereby winning a guaranteed and free entry to the world’s longest, toughest and most prestigious rally-raid event.

The next event takes place in Parys in the Free State on 16 and 17 August 2024. This will be two separate back-to-back races over the two days.

The NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team is proud to be supported by the following partners: Shell, Ford Credit, Mastercraft, Würth, NTN, Brembo, Veldskoen, Motorcraft, Ironman 4×4, Sapphire, Shatterprufe and Tiger Wheel & Tyre.

Follow the team’s updates and progress on the following social media channels:

Published by: Colin Mileman

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