A dust and punc­tures race

Mar­itzburg rac­ers in the fight­back of their ca­reers at Male­lane, where the least stops will win

The Witness - Wheels - - RACING - CHAR­MAINE FOR­TUNE

ALL eyes will be on the Class T cat­e­gory of the 2016 Don­ald­son Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onship when the fifth round of the sea­son kicks into gear at the Nko­mazi 450 in Malalane to­mor­row.

For Pi­eter­mar­itzburg’s Neil Wool­ridge Mo­tor­sport (NWM) Ford Per­for­mance team, it’s a cru­cial op­por­tu­nity to fight back for the cham­pi­onship lead re­lin­quished at the pre­vi­ous race in Licht­en­burg dur­ing July.

De­spite suf­fer­ing a huge fire that gut­ted parts of its work­shop and de­stroyed its two race cars a mere week be­fore the race, the team made it to the event with a loaned NWM-built Ford Ranger, which Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable used to great ef­fect by set­ting a po­ten­tially race-win­ning pace dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately for Gareth Wool­ridge and Boyd Dreyer, their hopes of scor­ing solid points in the sec­ond NWM Ford Per­for­mance Ranger went up in flames too, as their car was badly dam­aged in the fire. Ac­cord­ingly, it’s un­clear if the young duo will be able to stage a come­back this sea­son.

Al­though Visser and Huxtable looked set for a dream out­ing in the face of ad­ver­sity, tech­ni­cal is­sues and sev­eral punc­tures ham­pered their chal­lenge in Licht­en­burg, which saw them fin­ish fifth in Class T. This dropped the pair to sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship, 17 points be­hind Ja­son Ven­ter and Vince van Alle­man (Toy­ota Hilux).

With a 35-point mar­gin to third­placed Jo­han van Staden/Mike Lawren­son (Nis­san Navara), it’s all to play for at the top of the points ta­ble with three events re­main­ing, and there’s no doubt that the top teams will be go­ing all-out for vic­tory at the Nko­mazi 450.

“We saw in Licht­en­burg that our older NWM-built Ranger is still very com­pet­i­tive, and the work done on the car lead­ing up to Malalane has def­i­nitely made it bet­ter,” said team prin­ci­pal Neil Wool­ridge.

“Un­for­tu­nately it’s not our car so we can’t do any rad­i­cal al­ter­ations, but we’ve changed the gear ra­tios, sorted out the map­ping and done some work on the sus­pen­sion.”

The com­peti­tors will en­counter yet an­other new route this sea­son, com­pris­ing mainly su­gar­cane fields and nat­u­ral bushveld through this scenic part of Mpumalanga.

“I ex­pect the race to be fast and tech­ni­cal with ex­cit­ing rally-type roads,” Wool­ridge added.

“We’re not do­ing the tricky moun­tain sec­tion that saw the demise of lots of cars in pre­vi­ous years, but as al­ways dust and punc­tures are the two main fac­tors that will play a huge role in the fi­nal re­sults. It’s im­por­tant that we get a good qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tion, and have a clean run.”

As be­fore, the race is based at the Riverview Prepara­tory School, with plenty of spec­ta­tor points near or along­side the N4 high­way.

Ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­is­ers, around 60% of the route will tra­verse new spon­sor RCL Foods’ prop­erty, along with 40% vir­gin ter­ri­tory.

From the start at Riverview the route trav­els un­der the N4 and tra­verses Radley and Malalane Es­tates to Jeppes Reef.

The com­peti­tors then take on the area around Malalane Brick and the rocky out­crop to Kaal­rug be­fore cross­ing into the hills in the Sten­tor and Le­buyle re­gions.

Af­ter nav­i­gat­ing through the su­gar­cane fields to­wards Kaapse­hoop, a zi­gag route takes the crews back to­wards Malalane and the fin­ish at the school.

The qual­i­fy­ing ac­tion starts at 11.30 am to­mor­row, with Satur­day’s main race set­ting off at 8.30 am.

‘We saw in Licht­en­burg that our older NWM-built Ranger is still very com­pet­i­tive, and the work done on the car lead­ing up to Malalane has def­i­nitely made it bet­ter’ — team prin­ci­pal Neil Wool­ridge

PHOTO: QUICKPIC

Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable will be mak­ing up for lost time and fire dam­age in a bor­rowed Ford Per­for­mance Ranger at the Nko­mazi 450 in Malalane to­mor­row and Satur­day.

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