Class T kid­ney shaker

Toy­ota hard-pressed by Ford and Nis­san to keep ti­tle in Botswana desert race

The Witness - Wheels - - RACING - COLIN MILEMAN

PI­ETER­MAR­ITZBURG’S Neil Wool­ridge Mo­tor­sport Ford Per­for­mance team of Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable gave their Class T cham­pi­onship ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions a sig­nif­i­cant boost this week­end by claim­ing sec­ond place in the Toy­ota Botswana 1000 Desert Race — round three of the Don­ald­son Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onship.

Ac­knowl­edged as one of the tough­est and rough­est desert races in re­cent mem­ory, the pun­ish­ing 979 km marathon route was spread over three ac­tion­packed days of rac­ing and cer­tainly took its toll on the com­peti­tors and ve­hi­cles alike, with only 15 of the orig­i­nal 42 starters cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line.

Head­ing into this year’s event, based in the di­a­mond min­ing town of Jwa­neng around 180 km from Gaborone, Visser and co­driver Huxtable had the ben­e­fit of lead­ing the Class T cham­pi­onship fol­low­ing their vic­tory last time out at the Vre­de­fort Su­per Sprint, along with the third­placed fin­ish at the Vry­burg sea­son-opener.

To make up for the tough con­di­tions, driv­ers in the Satur­day and Sun­day races get dou­ble points, and tough it cer­tainly was, with the ex­pe­ri­enced Visser and Huxtable and team-mates Gareth Wool­ridge and Boyd Dreyer in the sec­ond NWM Ford Per­for­mance Ranger suf­fer­ing from flip­ping over to snap a drive­shaft to bro­ken brake lines and the usual punc­tures, all on Fri­day and Satur­day.

With nearly 400 km of rac­ing still to go on Sun­day, the Desert Race al­ways has a twist, and so it turned out as the run­ning or­der at the sharp end of the field changed re­peat­edly — with a large num­ber of com­peti­tors drop­ping out dur­ing the day with me­chan­i­cal woes.

In the third T-Class home, the Red-Lined Nis­san Navara of Luke Botha and An­dre Ver­meulen, Botha de­scribed the day’s route as a “kid­ney shaker” but the Nis­san Navara crew came home with around 80 sec­onds to spare on Gareth Wool­ridge and Boyd Dreyer, in the sec­ond NWM/Ford Per­for­mance Ranger, who made a good re­cov­ery after rolling the Ford in the qual­i­fy­ing race for heat one.

Visser and Huxtable had their fair share of drama, pick­ing up a punc­ture 65 km into the first 196 km loop, with the soft sand mak­ing the wheel-chang­ing ex­er­cise a fraught and lengthy af­fair that cost them around nine min­utes. Un­for­tu­nately, they picked up an­other punc­ture to­wards the end of the stint after try­ing to pass a slower com­peti­tor, once again los­ing pre­cious time.

Wool­ridge and Dreyer were go­ing well in the first loop un­til they also broke a drive­shaft, leav­ing them with rear wheel-drive for half the lap. The Ranger was re­paired dur­ing the pit stop and they com­pleted the re­main­ing loop with­out any prob­lems to earn a solid fourth place be­hind Luke Botha and An­dre Ver­meulen (Nis­san Navara).

Neil Wool­ridge (Team Prin­ci­pal)

“This was a very tough week­end, and by all ac­counts is the rough­est Desert Race we’ve had. It’s largely be­cause this re­gion is so dry at the mo­ment, but also due to the fact that we used ex­actly the same route as last year, just run the other way round. It’s ex­tremely rough out there, and is more like a mo­tocross track than a cross coun­try route. You can see the driv­ers and nav­i­ga­tors are ex­hausted after three very hard and phys­i­cal days of rac­ing. The cars also took a lot of strain, but to see both Ford Rangers make it to the end is fan­tas­tic.

“We ob­vi­ously wanted the win, but sec­ond place is good. It’s all about the cham­pi­onship at the end of the year, and these points have strength­ened our lead.

“Although Gareth rolled in the pro­logue, he did ex­cep­tion­ally well to fight his way up to fourth place after a re­ally ma­ture drive over the past two days.

“Over­all it was a good re­sult for the team, as this was a very im­por­tant race with dou­ble points up for grabs.”

Chris Visser (T8):

“It wasn’t an easy week­end, and we had a cou­ple of is­sues yes­ter­day with the drive­shafts, and to­day with the punc­tures.

“The soft sand made it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to change the tyres, as the ve­hi­cle kept on slip­ping off the jack. We also left the jack­ing plate be­hind after chang­ing the first tyre, and we lost a lot of time try­ing to sta­bilise the jack the sec­ond time.

“It could have been a dif­fer­ent re­sult and I was re­ally hop­ing for a sec­ond win in a row, but I think we did well to fin­ish sec­ond, and it’s good for the cham­pi­onship and for the team.”

Gareth Wool­ridge (T7):

“It was a very long and hard race. The track was ex­tremely rough, and prob­a­bly caused a lot more dam­age to the cars than I think is nec­es­sary for a race week­end, and that’s for ev­ery­body.

“We clearly didn’t do our­selves any favours with the in­ci­dent dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing, but for the rest we had a good week­end, and it’s a de­cent over­all re­sult for the team.”

The next race is the Win­ter­ton 450 sprint race in KwaZulu-Natal, on July 29 and 30.

PHOTO: QUICKPIC

Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable on their way to claim­ing sec­ond place in the kid­ney-shak­ing Toy­ota Botswana 1000 Desert Race held last week­end.

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