Class T kidney shaker
Toyota hard-pressed by Ford and Nissan to keep title in Botswana desert race
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.
Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable on their way to claiming second place in the kidney-shaking Toyota Botswana 1000 Desert Race held last weekend.