The 2017 South African Cross Country Series is rapidly drawing to a close, with the season-ending Atlas Copco Gold 400 lined up as the final act of an exciting and challenging season on 27 and 28 October in Glenharvie, on Gauteng’s West Rand.
Having scored two outright victories and a consistent run of podium finishes this year, the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Puma Lubricants team will be aiming to end the season on a winning streak in the mighty V8-powered Class T Ford Ranger.
Currently placed second in the championship on 117 points, Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (T34) are the only remaining challengers for the title against the Malalane Toyota crew of Johan and Werner Horn.
Although a formidable 26 points separate the two crews with 30 points available for a race victory, should Woolridge and Huxtable win and the Horn brothers fail to finish, their final positions would be reversed – and the Ford NWM crew will be going all-out to maximise their chances.
Gareth Woolridge and co-driver Boyd Dreyer (T77) were in the mix throughout the year, but a rare drivetrain failure on the recent Sun City 400 put a disappointing end to their title aspirations. The young pair are currently third in the championship on 106 points, but they will be determined to make amends for the disappointment last time out.
For Henk Lategan and Barry White (T17), it has been a steep learning curve on their debut cross country season, starting off with an impressive podium finish on the opening round and a top result on the second leg of the Botswana Desert Race. Despite their impressive pace, two non-finishes have dropped them down the order.
Lategan and White are fifth in the title chase heading into the season finale on 68 points, a mere six points behind outgoing champions Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman (Toyota). A good result at the Atlas Copco Gold 400 could help them leapfrog their rivals, and secure a formidable armada of three Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Rangers in the top four places for 2017.
“We’ve had a very competitive season thus far, finishing on the podium at every race and securing two outright victories from the five events completed,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of NWM. “We would have liked to be leading the championship going into the final round, but with only six races on the calendar this year and a strong line-up of Class T entries, you simply cannot afford any mistakes.
“The 26-point gap to the Horns only gives us the slightest glimmer of hope for this year’s title, but cross country racing is very unpredictable, and we will fight right to the end and grab any opportunities that come our way,” Woolridge states.
“It’s going to be a fast and exciting event, with around 30 percent of the route being completely new, and some of the rocky mountain sections being bypassed,” he adds. “The weather can always throw a spanner in the works by making it very muddy, but it will be the same for everyone.”
The action commences at 14:00 on Friday 27 October with a short 40km qualifying loop to determine starting positions. On Saturday 28 October, the main race sets off at 08:30 on the first 160km lap, followed by the 20-minute compulsory service and regroup. The restart for the second lap begins at 12:00.
Race headquarters, the designated service park and the start/finish are all located at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie, with a multitude of spectator points easily accessible from this central location.
Cross country fans can follow the action live on the RallySafe app for Apple and Android devices. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the relevant app store, and enables enthusiasts to track the cars on a detailed map, download split times and access results.