Brian Joss –
The Ford Performance team of Lance Woolridge and co-driver Ward Huxtable earned a hard-fought second place on the punishing RFS Endurance race that finished in Harrismith at the weekend.
Extremely wet and muddy conditions turned this 692 km event into a race of attrition, with only 18 of the 41 vehicles that started the race making it across the finish line.
After qualifying thirdy, a mere 3 sec behind the Toyota of Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie, Woolridge and Huxtable put on a determined charge from the outset and kept their rivals in sight for most of the first loop, eventually passing the Toyota when both crews wrong-slotted only to have the positions reversed shortly afterwards.
With reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy seeing their qualifying advantage of nearly 4 minutes vanish due to a series of problems, it became a tightly-fought race mid-way through the loop with the top three covered by less than 5 seconds.
The 20-minute service at the La La Nathi resort passed without incident, but unfortunately the V8-powered Class T Ranger picked up a misfire that became progressively worse on the second loop, which saw Poulter/Howie pulling out a comfortable margin.
Woolridge and Huxtable lost further time when they attempted to recover Taylor/Murphy and Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer in another Ford Ranger, after both crews got stuck in the mud. They fortunately picked up a position in the process. At the prize giving the Woolridge brothers earned a special sportsmanship award for assisting reigning champions Taylor and Murphy.
With the misfire worsening on the Woolridge/Huxtable Ranger as the race came to a close – and impacting heavily on their fuel consumption – the Ford Performance crew managed to cross the finish line just as they ran out of fuel, making it a nail-biting yet well-earned second overall for the crew that had been out of the hot seat for nearly a year and a half.
It proved an extremely frustrating weekend for team-mates Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the second Ford Performance Ranger, although they picked up some valuable championship points with fifth place in the Production Vehicle category.
Have struggled during qualifying with poor visibility, they set off fourth at the start of the race but soon encountered problems with the vehicle electronics. Despite their best attempts to resolve the issue the problem persisted, and saw them having to stop on numerous occasions.
Neil Woolridge (Team Manager), said it was an extremely difficult weekend.
Having a 700 km race is tough enough, but the conditions out there were atrocious, and a large number of competitors got stuck and dropped out.
“We’re delighted for Lance and Ward with their well-earned second place.
They worked hard to maintain a decent pace despite their difficulties, and produced some great racing with the Toyotas during the first loop. These are valuable championship points, and even more memorable considering they haven’t raced since the second-last event of the 2013 season. Lance injured his back while working as part of the support crew on the Dakar Rally last year, and he has worked really hard to get fit and ready for this season, so it is well deserved.Unfortunately it was a weekend that Chris and Japie would prefer to forget, but they stuck it out and managed to bring the Ranger home in fifth place, so not all was lost,” Woolridge said.