Tarlton, Saturday – Ford Racing could not have wished for a better debut for their new Ranger when Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable and former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst produced a fairytale one/two result in the Production Vehicle category on the RFS 400, opening round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, which ended here today.
It was a case of history repeating itself with the two crews giving Ford a similar result last year. On that occasion, however, it was Visser and Badenhorst who came in comfortably ahead of young Woolridge and the experienced Huxtable.
It was a maiden national win for a delighted Woolridge (21) who is the son of Ford Racing team principal and former South African champion Neil Woolridge, and also rewrote the record books. The win saw Woolridge become the youngest driver to win a national championship Cross Country race.
A win on the Friday prologue to determine race start positions and a win in the race itself provided the Pietermaritzburg youngster with the perfect weekend. Huxtable is a former Class E national champion but this was also his first taste of overall victory in the premier SP Class.
The Ford party was, ironically, almost spoilt by Visser’s cousin Malcolm Kock and Johan Burger, in the Kock and Son Toyota Hilux. At the finish the factory Ford pair had a scant five second advantage over the North West crew who missed the latter part of last season.
Woolridge and Huxtable fought a running battle with Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS BMW X3) over the first of the two 160 kilometre loops that made up the race. Du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren led the Ford by four seconds at the compulsory 15 minute stop at the halfway mark.
The battle ended on lap two when du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren hit a rock and damaged the BMW’s rear suspension. When reigning SA champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, had a puncture and then broke a sideshaft it put Woolridge and Huxtable comfortably in the clear.
Fourth place went to Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau after an impressive run in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux and they finished just over half a minute behind Kock and Burger. Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, in the second Team Castrol Toyota also provided fireworks as they scythed their way from 16th on the road among the Production Vehicles to complete the top five.
Another fine drive saw North West youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann finish sixth overall and win Class D in the Trysome Toyota Hilux. Second in Class D, a long way back, were former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen who eked out another finish in the LMC Land Rover.
Behind Venter and van Allemann the Free State pair of Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling finished seventh first time out in one of the ex factory Ford Rangers, and Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) completed the top eight in the first Production Vehicle race.
Former champions Jannie Visser, brother of Chris, and Joks le Roux took ninth in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux just ahead of the unfortunate Vos and Howie. After a character building day Vos and Howie finished 13 seconds adrift of the North West crew.
There was also another workmanlike performance from former South African Champion Archie Rutherford who was paired with former Idols winner Heinz Winckler in the Imperial Automotive Nissan Navara run under the Regent Racing team banner. The pair finished 13th with Winckler just missing out on a top ten finish.
Reigning Class E champions Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens won seven out of eight races last season in a Toyota Hilux. They were back to winning ways this weekend – but this time in a Ford Ranger and were the only finishers in the category.
The next round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship will be the Nkomazi 400, a new race on the calendar, in Malalane on April 12 and 13.