Punc­tures have the fi­nal say in Class T ti­tle

The Witness - Wheels - - RACING - COLIN MILEMAN

GLENHARVIE — It was a case of so tan­ta­lis­ingly close yet just a stretch too far for Pi­eter­mar­itzburg’s Neil Wool­ridge Mo­tor­sport Ford Per­for­mance, as the team’s Class T ti­tle chal­lenge ended to­day by a los­ing mar­gin of just 68 sec­onds af­ter the hard­fought sea­son was wrapped up at the At­las Copco Gold 450 race on Gaut­eng’s West Rand.

Head­ing into the fi­nal round of the 2016 Don­ald­son Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onship, Chris Visser and co-driver Ward Huxtable were tied for the lead of the Class T Pro­duc­tion Ve­hi­cle cat­e­gory along with Ja­son Ven­ter and Vince van Alle­man (Toy­ota), re­sult­ing in a win­ner-takes-all showdown.

This was a truly com­mend­able ef­fort con­sid­er­ing the team suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing fire at its Pi­eter­mar­itzburg work­shop in July. Ac­cord­ingly, the scene was set for a thrilling sea­son fi­nale, and so it proved on an ex­tremely hot and dusty week­end in Gaut­eng’s gold min­ing re­gion.

With tyres and punc­tures hav­ing played a sig­nif­i­cant role in this year’s cham­pi­onship, the team adopted a con­ser­va­tive ap­proach for the 101 km qual­i­fy­ing loop on Fri­day, but any cau­tion Visser and Huxtable had shown dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing was thrown out the window on race day.

In­deed, they were in fly­ing form and set the fastest times through eight of the 10 tim­ing seg­ments, only los­ing out to Wool­ridge/Dreyer, who snatched two fastest sec­tors be­fore pick­ing up their first punc­ture.

As pre­dicted, the rocky con­di­tions ul­ti­mately threw a span­ner in the works, with all three top crews suf­fer­ing punc­tures on the sec­ond loop as the pace heated up to match the sear­ing 34°C am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture.

Sadly, Visser and Huxtable’s sin­gle punc­ture cost them dearly, tak­ing longer than an­tic­i­pated to fit a spare wheel.

This handed the ad­van­tage back to Ven­ter and Van Alle­man in the clos­ing stage of the race.

With the cham­pi­onship poised on a knife edge, it was ul­ti­mately de­cided in the Toy­ota crew’s favour by a des­per­ately nar­row win­ning mar­gin of 68sec over third-placed Visser/Huxtable. This gave the ex­pe­ri­enced NWM Ford Per­for­mance crew a hard-earned sec­ond place in the sea­son-long Class T ti­tle battle.

Wool­ridge and Dreyer notched up their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive run­ner-up fin­ish 47 sec­onds be­hind the win­ners.

This was enough to se­cure fourth in the cham­pi­onship, de­spite miss­ing a race when their race car was ex­ten­sively dam­aged by the fire.

Team prin­ci­pal Neil Wool­ridge said of what could only be called a crazy sea­son: “We’ve had a great fight with Ja­son Ven­ter the whole year, and were lead­ing the cham­pi­onship af­ter the Botswana Desert Race, which was great for the team.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the fire was a ma­jor set­back, and we com­peted at the Licht­en­burg race just a week later with a bor­rowed and hastily pre­pared car for Chris. It’s been a battle to claw back points through the re­main­der of the cham­pi­onship, and it’s a tes­ta­ment to the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion of the team that we ar­rived at the fi­nal race of the year tied for the lead.

“I’ve said the whole year that this cham­pi­onship will be de­cided by punc­tures, and so it proved on this event. We set out to com­plete the race with­out mak­ing mis­takes, but were clearly too cau­tious dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing.”

Wool­ridge said the team did re­ally well and the rac­ing Rangers cars have been bril­liant with a 100% fin­ish­ing record this sea­son. “I’m very proud of what we achieved. As a team, we truly ap­pre­ci­ate the sup­port and en­cour­age­ment re­ceived from all our spon­sors and sup­port­ers through­out the year.”

PHOTO: QUICKPIC

Chris Visser and co-driver Ward Huxtable in ac­tion in the At­las Copco Gold 450.

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