Brian Joss –
Ford Performance is hoping to claim home advantage on the upcoming Sugarbelt 450, the second round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, which takes place in KwaZulu-Natal on May 8 and 9.
The race is based in the small farming town of Eston, about 35 km from the team’s workshop in Pietermaritzburg where the V8-powered Ford Performance Rangers are built.
It is also the home round for Pietermaritzburg-based driver Lance Woolridge and navigator Ward Huxtable, who opened their 2015 season with a hard-fought second-placed finish on the punishing 700 km RFS Endurance at the end of March.
In line with the revised three-tier structure of the 2015 championship, the Sugarbelt 450 features a shorter sprint race format, comprising a 100 km qualifying race to determine starting positions followed by two loops of approximately 160 km each.
According to the organisers, the Sugarbelt will once again dish up a wide variety of terrain, comprising sugarcane fields, timber plantations and open veld sections – all of which will keep the teams on their toes.
“The Sugarbelt has traditionally been a good event for us, and the team is really looking forward to the race,” says Neil Woolridge, team manager for Neil Woolridge Motorsport. “It is always a tough one on both cars and drivers due to the tight and twisty route, but we expect to do well.”
Despite a month-long break since the RFS race, the Ford Performance crew has been working flat-out to repair the Rangers as they incurred extensive damage from all the mud and water encountered during the treacherous Harrismith round.
“It’s been an extremely busy couple of weeks, but we have used the time effectively rebuild both Rangers, and introduce quite a few changes that should improve our performance,” Woolridge says.
Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (T34) are currently second in the premier Class T Production Vehicle championship after a tenacious drive last time out, and will be looking to resume their battle with the factory Toyotas in order to score more valuable points.
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (T28) are hoping for a clear run on the Sugarbelt after a series of electrical issues plagued their previous race where they finished fifth overall.
Qualifying starts at 11.30am on Friday (May 8) from the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club, which serves as race headquarters and the designated service park. The race commences at 8.30am on Saturday with the first of the two loops which are separated by a compulsory 20 minute service.
From the start the route heads north to cross the Stoney Ridge road towards Tala Valley, crosses the Ingomankulu road to Camperdown and then heads towards Richmond and Hopewell. This section of the route is described as open veld, and eventually climbs towards the timber plantations at Mount Desire.
Competitors eventually swing south to Mgwahumbe Nature Reserve, having to negotiate numerous river crossings before making their way towards Eston and Mid Illovo through a variety of cane fields, plantations and open veld on their way back to the finish at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club.