The extremely competitive 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) is positioned on a knife’s edge, and Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#277) gained the upper hand with a maximum points haul at the Renergen 400 in Welkom on 6 and 7 October 2023 – the penultimate race of the season.
The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol crew delivered a faultless performance throughout the extremely hot and dusty two days of action, with round six of the championship based at the Phakisa Freeway race circuit in Welkom. Gareth and Boyd powered their EcoBoost-powered Ranger to their second win of the season, extending their lead in the overall Production Vehicle championship and promoting them to the top position in class T1+.
“It’s been a brilliant weekend, and all the cards fell into place for us,” Gareth said. “We had a faultless race today, our car didn’t skip a beat and it is nice to bring home our second win of the season. This is great for our championship hopes, but we will still need to be on our toes at the final race and I have no doubt that the Toyota guys will push us right to the end.”
It was already clear from the short 15km prologue and the opening 58km race loop on Friday that the two NWM Ford Castrol entries were on a charge, as team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) ended the day second overall, just 36 seconds behind overnight leaders and championship contenders Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings (Toyota). Gareth and Boyd were a mere 42 seconds further back, giving them a perfect starting position for Saturday – and positioning them ahead of a trio of other factory Toyota entries.
With the pressure on all of the top teams for the two arduous 164km race loops, Lance and Kenny started chasing down the leading Toyota from the start. Unfortunately, their superb run ended abruptly 106km into the loop when they hit a deep ditch on the race route while following in the dust of the leading Toyota. The resulting suspension damage forced them to retire on the spot.
“We went well on Friday with third place in qualifying and ended the day second overall,” Lance said. “In the first race loop on Saturday we were making up time on Henk, then landed up in his dust after he had to stop for a puncture. We hit a horrible triple caution really hard that broke the upper chassis mounts for the shock absorber clean off, and we couldn’t continue. Considering the other competitors that rolled in the same place, we were probably really lucky, but it was a disappointing end to what looked set to be a very good race for us.”
Although their team-mates were out of action, Gareth and Boyd had managed to claw back significant time over Lategan/Cummings on the opening loop, and entered the 30-minute service stop with a lead of 1 min 6 sec. The battle continued between the two leading championship contenders on the second loop until Lategan was caught out by the same ditch that sidelined Lance – but with more severe consequences as they rolled out of the race, and the Toyota driver suffered a shoulder injury.
Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy also incurred suspension damage and finished the race 16th in the Production Vehicle category and 11th in T1+ – thus hampering their championship challenge, and giving the NWM Ford Castrol crew additional breathing space in the points table.
Gareth and Boyd didn’t put a foot wrong and were in a class of their own as they wrapped up the extremely fast and challenging race in perfect style. They finished 02:58 ahead of Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota) and four minutes ahead of the third-placed Toyota crew of Saood Variawa and Danie Stassen.
This peerless performance earned them the upper hand in both the overall Production Vehicle and class T1+ championships going into the final race – the Waterberg 400 in November.
There were lots of positives to take from a tough but rewarding couple of days of racing, according to team principal Neil Woolridge: “It has been a great weekend for the team. The cars were perfect, and both of our crews were on fire right from the word go. We did a couple of upgrades to the cars after the last race, and clearly the changes worked well based on the results.
“What happened to Lance and Kenny was a great pity, otherwise I think we could have had a one-two finish. But it’s a fantastic result for Gareth and Boyd, especially with all their hard work and physical training they have been doing,” Neil said. “Our team of mechanics and technicians also deserves credit for the huge effort they have put into the car this year, and it’s great to see it paying off.
“This win is good for the championship, both for us as a team and also to keep the battle going right to the end of the season. Our opposition didn’t have a good event, and I sincerely hope that Henk’s injury isn’t too serious and that he has a speedy recovery,” Neil added.
The NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) racked up another solid finish, crossing the line ninth overall, and eighth in T1+.
The final race of the season is the Waterberg 400 in Limpopo on 10 and 11 November 2023.
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.
The purpose-built, race-ready Ford Ranger 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.
The Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Castrol Rally-Raid Team is proud to be supported by the following sponsors and partners: Ford Credit, Mastercraft, Würth, Brembo, Motorcraft, Sparco, Tiger Wheel & Tyre, Ironman 4×4, Shatterprufe and Tracking Africa.
Follow the team’s updates and progress on the following social media channels:
Published by: Colin Mileman
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