Dullstroom, Friday – Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer gave the Ford NWM Ranger team a dream start to the season today when they won the Production Vehicle qualifying race for the Mpumalanga 400, the opening round of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), here this afternoon.
To make matters a little sweeter for Woolridge and Dreyer, competing in Class T, they led home the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA pair of Giniel de Villiers and Rob Howie by 10 seconds. South African champion de Villiers and Howie were out in a Dakar Rally spec vehicle competing in the FIA Class on the 45 kilometre dash to determine grid positions.
Third place went to Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer (Century Racing CR5) who sprang something of a surprise by rounding out the top three in their first outing in another Dakar Rally spec car. The CR5 was previously campaigned by the late Colin Matthews on the Dakar Rally two years ago.
A puncture suffered by the Toyota crew was probably the difference between Woolridge/Dreyer and de Villiers/Howie, but it was a highly impressive performance from the young Ford crew. “Awesome” and “a lot of fun” was Woolridge’s reaction after a hectic qualifying dash that saw the first 10 cars separated by just over three minutes.
It was a day to remember for the Ford NWM team when Woolridge’s elder brother Lance and Ward Huxtable, in another Ranger, finished fourth. The top five were rounded out by reigning Class T champions Johan and Werner Horn, in the Malalane Toyota Hilux, reviving visions of another season long battle between the Woolridge and Horn families in Class T.
There was a welcome return to action for Gary Bertholdt, accompanied by experienced Geoff Minnitt, who was making his first appearance since the Atlas Copco VW Amarok caught fire and was destroyed on last year’s Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Bertholdt. “Geoff and I settled in nicely, the car is great, and the route offered a good mixture.”
Mark Corbett and Rodney Burke were next up in another Century Racing CR5 and completed the FIA Class podium. After a limited campaign by Corbett it was another “good to be back” story with the pair coming in a head of Class T newcomers Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne, in the ex Dana Vos BMW X3.
Fresh from a win in last week’s opening round of the national rally championship, Leeke and Kohne had a somewhat adventurous Class T debut. The pair hit a tree at speed, wrong slotted and ended up in a hole.
“It wasn’t the best way to start out in Class T,” said Leeke. “The car handles well, and we will be back in the morning.”
Two more FIA crews completed the top 10. Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault Duster) came in 14 second ahead of Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen in the Red-Lined Nissan Navara with the team back on home soil after competing last weekend in the United Arab Emirates.
A two car Class S battle went to Archie Rutherford and Charl Ackerman in a Toyota Hilux. They came home comfortably ahead of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte, in the Nissan Navara, with the two crews set to lock horns again tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s race will be run over a 170 kilometre loop that will be repeated twice, with a compulsory 20 minute service break and regroup after the first lap. The second lap will start at 12.45.