Ford NWM open sea­son with wet win in Dull­stroom

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN MILEMAN

DULL­STROOM — The Ford Neil Wool­ridge Mo­tor­sport (NWM) team got its 2018 South African Cross Coun­try Se­ries off to a win­ning start with a sea­son-open­ing win in the Mpumalanga 400 race held in Dull­stroom last week­end.

In treach­er­ous muddy con­di­tions, Lance Wool­ridge and Ward Huxtable pow­ered their Class T Ford Ranger to the top step of the Class T podium.

As the run­ners-up in last year’s fi­nal stand­ings, the Pi­eter­mar­itzburg-based crew got one up on reign­ing cham­pi­ons Jo­han and Werner Horn (Toy­ota) who fin­ished sec­ond — thus sig­nalling the start of yet an­other thrilling bat­tle for this year’s ti­tle.

They were joined on the podium by Brazil­ian Ford NWM team-mates Mar­cos Baum­gart and Kle­ber Cincea, who brought their X Rally Team-backed Ranger home in an im­pres­sive third place, which is a fan­tas­tic start to their sea­son-long cam­paign in the 2018 South African cham­pi­onship. Gareth Wool­ridge and Boyd Dreyer ap­peared to have the mea­sure of the field by dom­i­nat­ing Fri­day’s qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion over­all. How­ever, their run came to a end on the sec­ond of the two race loops af­ter dam­ag­ing the sus­pen­sion on their ve­hi­cle in a deep pud­dle.

The change in weather con­di­tions be­tween the 48 km Fri­day qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion and the two planned loops of 170 km each on Satur­day couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent.

A bone-chill­ing drop in tem­per­a­ture, ac­com­pa­nied by thick mist and in­ter­mit­tent rain, greeted the teams on race day.

The an­tic­i­pated flat-out charge for glory be­come a far more ten­ta­tive drive for sur­vival in the tricky con­di­tions, with the teams hav­ing to ne­go­ti­ate ex­tremely slip­pery mud through the for­est trails and find their way through long stretches of stand­ing water.

This made the gen­er­ally un­for­giv­ing ter­rain even more chal­leng­ing, with fron­trun­ners Gareth and Boyd un­for­tu­nately be­com­ing among the first to en­counter trou­ble while open­ing the road for the rest of the field.

They clipped a tree around 43 km in the first loop, which dam­aged a brake pipe, and they then hit a huge rock at 120 km/h ap­prox­i­mately 30 km fur­ther on, re­sult­ing in a flat tyre.

Their trou­bles en­abled Lance and Ward to surge ahead, but the atro­cious weather wasn’t do­ing them any favours ei­ther. Their in­ter­com sys­tem was a ca­su­alty of one of the many water splashes, and they were forced to com­plete the last 60km with­out com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween driver and nav­i­ga­tor.

A dam­aged wind­screen wiper blade also se­verely re­stricted vis­i­bil­ity when it was needed most.

Nev­er­the­less, they came into the des­ig­nated ser­vice park in the lead of Class T, nearly four min­utes ahead of Gary Bertholdt and Ge­off Min­nitt (Toy­ota), with Gareth and Boyd man­ag­ing to hold onto third place, a fur­ther 1 min 09 sec adrift.

The Ford NWM team were also re­warded with the prized Man­u­fac­turer’s Award.

• The next event on the SACCS cal­en­dar is the Bat­tle­fields 400 in Dundee on May 4 and 5.

PHOTO: QUICKPICK

Lance Wool­ridge and Ward Huxtable mak­ing, as the say in Afrikaans, gatskoon in Dull­stroom.

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