UPINGTON, South Africa, 26 June 2022 – The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol Team endured a tough Desert Race in Upington this weekend, with tenacity and a never-say-die attitude producing a determined drive to fifth place in Class FIA T1+ and 10th overall for Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (277)*.
Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (234) were unfortunately forced to retire after encountering engine trouble on Saturday morning.
The team had hoped for a strong showing at the Toyota Gazoo Racing 1000 Desert Race, round two of the 2022 South African Cross Country Series (SARRC). As a marathon three-day event covering almost 1 000km, and with 1.5-times the normal points haul up for grabs, it’s an important race for the championship.
Friday’s action seemed on track to deliver an exciting battle for the podium, as Lance and Elvéne set the third-fastest time in the 43km qualifying loop in their EcoBoost-powered NWM Castrol Ford Ranger, just 7 seconds off the Toyotas of Giniel de Villers/Dennis Murphy and Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle who posted identical times.
Intensifying the battle at the front, Gareth and Boyd were a mere 2 seconds off their team-mates in the second NWM Ranger in qualifying – but their progress was halted as an oil cooler split just 10km into the opening race loop. The young pair used their mechanical know-how to bypass the cooler and soldiered on at a cautious pace, having already lost 1 hour and 16 minutes which pushed them to the back of the field.
In contrast, Lance and Elvéne were flying and were running in second place for much of the 171km opening loop. However, they were caught out by some tricky navigation at the end of the stage which cost them around four minutes, dropping them to fourth place in the overnight standings.
The competitors repeated the same 171km loop twice on Saturday. Unfortunately, Lance and Elvéne’s hopes of recovering from a non-finish at the opening round in Dullstroom in March came to nothing as they were brought to a halt halfway through the day’s first loop with engine trouble, forcing them to retire from the race.
“It was extremely disappointing for us, as we were going really well and definitely had the pace to challenge for a podium finish,” Lance said. “It’s also a heavy blow for us in the championship, but we will come back fighting at the next race.”
Meanwhile, Gareth and Boyd threw caution to the wind on Saturday and had impressively worked their way from 32nd place to 17th overall and 5th in T1+ when the day’s racing drew to a close. Their objective going into Sunday’s two new loops of 170km each were for a top 10 finish – and they achieved their goal with a determined and faultless drive. They had clawed back four places by the end of the first loop, and secured the top result in the final stint, ultimately finishing 10th overall and securing fifth in class.
“This was certainly not the result we had hoped for coming into the Desert Race, but having started at the back of the field on Saturday it’s the best we could have hoped for considering our bad luck on Friday and the time we lost,” Gareth said. “Fifth place in T1+ gives us some crucial points for the championship, so it was worth pushing hard right through to the finish.”
Team principal Neil Woolridge added: “It was a challenging weekend for the team. Both crews drove really well, and it’s unfortunate that they encountered trouble. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that Lance and Elvéne were very close to the pace of the leaders throughout Friday, and Gareth and Boyd did an exceptional job fighting their way through the field on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re still working on finding some additional pace for our cars to ensure we are competitive for the remainder of the season,” Neil said. “We are going straight into a three-day test here in Upington this week with our new partners M-Sport. With this intensive test session I’m confident that we will make significant progress with the setup of our Rangers, giving us a strong platform to challenge for the second half of the season.”
In Class T, NWM Ranger V8 privateers Christo Rose and Arno Olivier (T58) battled through a challenging weekend to finish third, despite losing two hours in Saturday’s afternoon loop untangling wire that had wrapped around the propshaft, and dealing with a radiator issue on Sunday. Reward came in achieving their second consecutive podium finish of the season.