Tough outing for Atlas Copco Ford Racing in Malalane Nkomazi 450 – Race
Stage distance: Qualifying: 96 km, Loop 1: 163 km, Loop 2: 163 km, Total: 422 km
MALALANE, SOUTH AFRICA, 17 May 2014 – It was a tough weekend for Atlas Copco Ford Racing in Malalane for the Nkomazi 450, round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship.
Coming into the event as championship leaders and winners of the previous race in KwaZulu-Natal, the team was confident of a good result. However the combination of a fuel problem during for Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau (T4) and the low qualifying starting position for Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst (T2) as a result of Schroder’s current seeding put the team at a distinct disadvantage.
Allied to this, the ever-present dust and narrow route through the mountains and sugarcane fields made catching and passing other vehicles virtually impossible throughout the event.
Despite winning last time out, Schroder and Badenhorst were flagged off on Friday’s prologue in 29th position, which severely hampered their pace. The intense dust on the qualifying loop saw them back off regularly while chasing the vehicles ahead. As a result they were simply never able to attack the route at pace. It also contributed towards a puncture that lost the duo a further 6 minutes.
Eventually Schroder/Badenhorst qualified 21st overall and 12th in the Production Vehicle category.
Team-mates Bertholdt/Rousseau were plagued by a fuel pressure problem during the prologue that left them stranded on the stage. Their race car was towed back to the service park and repaired, but they lined up 43rd overall for Saturday’s race.
Race day dawned slightly cooler than Friday, but it did little to improve the conditions for the Ford drivers.
Throughout the two 163 km loops they were constantly battling through the dust of slower vehicles. Furthermore, the mountain and forest sections of the route were exceptionally tight and narrow, eliminating any passing opportunities. The tricky route through the vast sugarcane plantations also presented lots of mud, which didn’t help with visibility and kept the drivers on their toes.
Other than a puncture right at the end of the final loop for Bertholdt/Rousseau, both Atlas Copco Ford Rangers crossed the finish line without incident. However the crews were extremely frustrated at not being able to challenge the front runners for pace or position.
After a tenacious drive, Schroder and Badenhorst ultimately finished sixth overall in the Production Vehicle category and fifth in Class T. They are now tied in the championship on 50 points with the winners of the Nkomazi 450, Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy (Toyota).
Bertholdt and Rousseau adopted a never-say-die attitude and fought their way from the back of field, eventually coming home 13th overall. They are now 6th in the Production Vehicle championship with 26 points.
Neil Woolridge (Team Manager – Atlas Copco Ford Racing):
“This was a very difficult weekend for the team, especially after coming off the high of winning in Mooi River.
“Aside from the fuel pressure issue with Gary’s car, the vehicles and the crews didn’t put a foot wrong. But it was simply down to the conditions that made it impossible for us to compete with the front-runners.
“It was very tough out there, but the most important thing is that everyone did a good job to bring the cars home in one piece and score crucial championship points.”
Manfred Schroder (T2):
“This was a tough race, and we seemed to be on the back foot right from the beginning – but it had nothing to do with our potential pace. Setting off so far back meant that we were stuck in dust for most of the race. At times we had to stop completely because we couldn’t see a thing.
“Our proximity device that warns vehicles ahead when we are close enough to pass wasn’t working on the qualifying loop which probably hurt us a bit. But even with it working during the race we just couldn’t get close enough in the dust or on the narrow sections through the mountains to get ahead.”
Gary Bertholdt (T4):
“It was disappointing for us to have the fuel issue in qualifying as we were going so well. Starting at the back of the field in the race was exceptionally difficult, and other than vehicles that had broken down or stopped for a puncture it was virtually impossible to pass anyone.
“The car ran perfectly in the race, and I know that we could have been competitive if we started closer to the front. But we did the best we could under the conditions and at least we finished and scored a couple of championship points.”