Home advantage for Ford
Team Toyota eye another win in the second round of the Donaldson Cross Country Champs
FORD Performance is hoping to claim home advantage on the upcoming Sugarbelt 450, second round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, which takes place in KwaZulu-Natal on May 8 and 9.
The race was last run in 2013, and was won on that occasion by Castrol Team Toyota’s Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy — who’ll be aiming for a repeat of that performance when they line up for Round 2 of the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship.
“The Sugarbelt has been a mainstay of South African crosscountry racing,” explained team principal Glyn Hall, before the start of the race.
“It is a race that is steeped in history, and winning in KwaZuluNatal is always sweet, especially as it is a home race for the Ford Performance team.”
The Toyota and Ford teams have had a ding dong battle in the sweet race, with Toyota coming out on top despite firm opposition. But taking on the Fords in their own backyard can be a tricky proposition.
“We’ll just have to push hard during the prologue,” explains Taylor, who is currently third on Round 1. “If we can get a good start for the main race, we stand a good chance of edging the Fords. But it all comes down to Friday’s qualifying stage.”
The racers will be based at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club, around 35 km from the team’s workshop in Pietermaritzburg where the V8-powered Ford Performance Rangers are built.
This is the stomping home round for Pietermaritzburgbased driver Lance Woolridge and navigator Ward Huxtable, who opened their 2015 season with a hard-fought secondplaced finish on the punishing 700 km RFS Endurance at the end of March.
In line with the revised threetier structure of the 2015 championship, the Sugarbelt 450 features a shorter sprint race format, comprising a 100 km qualifying race to determine starting positions followed by two loops of about 160 km each.
According to the organisers, the Sugarbelt will once again dish up a wide variety of terrain, comprising sugarcane fields, timber plantations and open veld sections — all of which will keep the teams on their toes.
“The Sugarbelt has traditionally been a good event for us, and the team is really looking forward to the race,” says Neil Woolridge, team manager for Neil Woolridge Motorsport.
“It is always a tough one on both cars and drivers due to the tight and twisty route, but we expect to do well.”
Despite a month-long break since the RFS race, the Ford Performance crew has been working flat-out to repair the Rangers as they incurred extensive damage from all the mud and water encountered during the treacherous Harrismith round.
Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (T34) are currently second in the premier Class T Production Vehicle championship after a tenacious drive last time out, and will be looking to resume their battle with the factory Toyotas in order to score more valuable points.
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (T28) are hoping for a clear run on the Sugarbelt after a series of electrical issues plagued their previous race where they finished fifth overall.
Qualifying starts at 11.30 am tomorrow from the Beaumont Eston Farmers’ Club.
Racing starts at 8.30 am on Saturday, with the first of the two loops that are separated by a compulsory 20-minute service.
From the start, the route heads north to cross the Stoney Ridge Road towards Tala Valley, crosses the Ingomankulu road to Camperdown and then heads towards Richmond and Hopewell.
This section of the route is described as open veld, and eventually climbs towards the timber plantations at Mount Desire.
Competitors eventually swing south to Mgwahumbe Nature Reserve, having to negotiate numerous river crossings before making their way towards Eston and Mid Illovo through a variety of cane fields, plantations and open veld on their way back to the finish at the Beaumont Eston Farmers’ Club. — Supplied.
Chirs Visser and Japie Badenhorst plan to use their home turf ground advantage to, ahem, ford the drift to take Toyota’s title.