Ford NWM open season with wet win in Dullstroom
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.
Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable making, as the say in Afrikaans, gatskoon in Dullstroom.