Brian Joss –
The Ford Performance team is ready for the exciting first round of the 2015 Donaldson Cross Country championship, which takes place in the Free State town of Harrismith on March 27 and 28.
The new-look series features just six events, two less than last year, but with an interesting new formula comprising a mix of shorter sprint races, longer endurance events and the marathon race in Botswana.
Starting with the RFS Endurance race, competitors will be tackling an almost entirely new route run over a total race distance of 698 km. The action commences with a 196 km qualifying race on the Friday to determine starting positions, followed by two laps of the 251 km main race route on Saturday.
According to the organisers, only 50 km of the route is carried over from last year’s 450 km event, promising a level playing field and action galore from the outset. The route is described as very scenic, yet technical and challenging with long grass typical of this time of year.
For Ford Performance, the cross country team has finally returned to full strength with its regular crews flying the flag once again in the two mighty V8-powered Ford Rangers that compete in the premier Class T category of the Production Vehicle championship.
Former Production Vehicle champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst will be hoping to continue the impressive form shown at the end of the 2014 season, which saw Visser recovering from injury and returning more determined than ever. He won the Vryburg event on his first outing for the year, and came desperately close to winning the subsequent season finale, only to be stopped by an electrical glitch 5 km from the end of the race.
Proven race winners Lance Woolridge and co-driver Ward Huxtable are also back in the fray. Woolridge spent last year recuperating from a back injury, and is equally focused on securing top results on his return to the championship.
“It’s great to finally have our team back to full strength, and this will be a crucial season as we fight for race wins and challenge for the overall title,” says Neil Woolridge, team manager for Neil Woolridge Motorsport which runs the Ford Performance campaign in the cross country championship.
“We gained lots of experience last year, and have incorporated several new developments and improvements in the Ranger that will ensure that the team is more competitive than ever. The greater emphasis on longer endurance-type events adds an exciting new dimension to the racing that we believe will suit the Ranger well.”
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be located at the La La Nathi resort on the outskirts of Harrismith. The qualifying race will take crews from the start towards Waltons using sections of last year’s route, before crossing a mountain ridge on the way back towards Harrismith.
The route then follows the old Qwa Qwa road towards the Sterkfontein Dam. Crews skirt the dam on the Qwa Qwa road towards Bethlehem, before heading back to La La Nathi.
The opening sections of the race loops are a carbon copy of the qualifying route before veering around the Sterkfontein Dam in a clockwise direction towards Qwa Qwa. Crews then join sections of the qualifying route on the way back to the start/finish.