Brian Joss –
Race of attrition with only 20 of 37 starters completing the marathon 1 000km event.
The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race lived up to its reputation this weekend as the longest and toughest event on the Donaldson Cross Country Championship with just 20 of the original 37 starters completing the full 973km race distance.
The event, which was based in Jwaneng for the second year, certainly took its toll on the teams over the three days of action – although it initially started well for the Ford Performance team of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (T34).
During Friday’s 111km qualifying session, the Ford pair set themselves up for a strong start by ending third fastest, just 61 sec behind leaders Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (Toyota) and 45 sec adrift of second-placed Taylor/Murphy.
The second Ford Performance crew of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (T28) qualified 10th in the Production Vehicle category after taking a gamble with their suspension settings for the prologue.
The first of the two race heats commenced on Saturday with the crews having to complete two loops of 227km each in extremely windy and dusty conditions. Woolridge and Huxtable finished the first loop without incident and started the second lap confident of being able to hang onto third position.
Unfortunately the plan went awry when a rear driveshaft broke around 20 km into the loop, forcing them to stop and remove the damaged shaft. They returned to the race with just front-wheel drive, only to have the right-front driveshaft break as well. A lengthy swap with the left-rear unit got them back on track, but they had to complete the remaining 200km with drive just being delivered to the front – resulting in them getting stuck in the soft sand, and they were pulled out by team-mates Visser and Badenhorst.
Lady luck didn’t go the way of the second Ford either, as their Ranger suffered a broken rear wheel hub on the second loop. The team had to make temporary repairs and limped 80km back to the pits with just a just single bolt holding the hub on.
Both Ford Performance Rangers ultimately ended the day around two hours adrift of the leaders, and the team worked hard to get the cars repaired for the second heat on Sunday.
Not all was lost for the Ford supporters, however, as the Atlas Copco Ford Ranger – which, as with the factory cars, was built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) – ended Saturday third in Class T.
Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, in their debut season in Production Vehicles, brought their NWM-branded Ranger home fourth in Class T and fifth overall.
Sunday dawned bright and clear for Heat 2, and the two Ford Performance Rangers were set for an epic fight from the back of the field on the first of the 204km loops. Woolridge and Huxtable managed to pass around 10 cars in the opening stint before picking up a puncture. A broken jacking point delayed them by a further 20 min as they replaced the wheel.
They completed the loop and set out on the second lap, but a problem with the gearbox transfer case sadly saw them retiring early on.
Visser and Badenhorst were going well on the first loop until they broke a sideshaft and were forced to replace the damaged unit. They soldiered on and eventually managed a hard-earned finish with 9th position in Class T.
There was plenty to cheer at the front of the field, though, as Bertholdt and Rousseau ended the punishing race an impressive second overall in their Ranger behind eventual winners Taylor and Murphy. They gained a place when race leaders Poulter/Howie encountered brake problems at the start of the first lap, and the Toyota crew was relegated to third overall at the end.
Woolridge and Dreyer enjoyed a clean run to end the day’s 408km of racing – and the total 973km for the weekend – without incident to score their best result yet in the Production Vehicle championship.
“The Desert Race is always a tough event, but it’s disappointing to have had such a difficult weekend without achieving the results we expected, especially after the team put so much effort into the cars before the race,” said team principal Neil Woolridge.
“At least we had two of our Fords in the top four, and we’re delighted for Gary and Siegfried, and particularly for Gareth and Boyd who did a brilliant job to maintain a consistent pace and bring their Ranger home fourth.”