The Vredefort Super Sprint, round two of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, proved a happy hunting ground for the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Performance team, with Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable (T8) winning Class T for Production Vehicles.
Brian Joss – Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (T7) were also on the podium in third place.
The super sprint introduced a new race format to the series, with a single day of racing taking place around the farming town of Vredefort, near Parys in the Free State.
Instead of the usual two days of cross country racing, which includes a qualifying race to determine starting positions, the all-new super sprint format saw the field contest just two 100km loops, for a much faster-paced event.
Without the benefit of a qualifying section, this left the field blind as to the terrain that lay ahead, and they were forced to burst into action right out of the starting gate with 2-minute intervals separating the cars.
The NWM Ford Performance Rangers set the pace for the rest of the field from the outset, with Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable recording the fastest time of all on the first 100km loop to claim the lead going into the 20-minute service.
Commendably, they finished a full 21 sec ahead of reigning champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie in the faster FIA-specification Toyota Hilux, as used on the Dakar Rally.
Woolridge and Dreyer entered the service park second in Class T, a scant 19 sec adrift of Poulter/Howie.
Loop two was another dash from start to finish for the national cross country field, with a second run through the same 100km course.
Visser and Huxtable once again pushed hard and enjoyed an incident-free race, slashing more than 2 minutes off their time from the first lap, despite running on standard production 4×4 tyres for the first time, as dictated by the new Class T regulations.
This impressive performance earned the crew a well-deserved Class T victory, crossing the line 22 sec ahead of second-placed Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren (VW Amarok).
The young but fast combination of Woolridge and Dreyer also had reason to celebrate, completing the Class T podium with third place. They improved their time by over 3 min in the second loop, and finished a mere 3 sec behind the VW Amarok.
Neil Woolridge (Team Principal), said, “This has been an exciting race, with drivers and navigators working hard out there and coming back sweating. It has been really good and the crowds have come out to support us.
“For us the event has been great with some excellent results, finishing first and third overall in the first loop and leading the Class T field. We’re extremely happy with Chris taking a well-deserved class victory, with Gareth ending third.
“This weekend was even more of a race than we were expecting, but it was a fantastic result for the team on this short 200km race. You never really know what lies in wait when it comes to cross country racing, and that’s one of the beauties of the sport.
“After the first event we did some serious work on the NWM Ford Performance Rangers and that showed.There’s clear promise for excellent pace going forward.”
Chris Visser (T8), said that under the circumstances, their first sprint event, “We did really well”. “In that first loop we posted the quickest time overall, even beating the FIA-spec Toyotas, and it’s great to end the day with the Class T win.
“It was good for us and for the NWM Ford Performance Ranger team to lead that first loop. To get that result from our class specification was very good. For a change, it was really nice to start at the front and not have to worry about dust, which has been so problematic in previous races.
“The route wasn’t very rocky and we didn’t have any problems with punctures. The new standard 4×4 tyres we are using aren’t as rugged as the racing tyres we used previously, but they handle well and in future I hope we will continue to run problem-free with this combination.”
Gareth Woolridge (T7), said they had a very good first loop, and although they were much faster second time around, they lost a bit of time to the Amarok, but third is a good result.
“I like the format of this super sprint. It was good working with the dust gaps and not being stuck behind someone in their dust, playing follow the leader all day. I don’t think a prologue is so important if you are racing on time. You won’t easily get caught in another vehicle’s dust.
“This race was very short though, and there is not much room for error for anybody. The main challenge here is to hold the pace the whole time and in the second loop the route opened up so much everyone was running at full pace.
“We did catch up to a couple of competitors during the second loop and sat in their dust for a bit, but we managed to pass them without losing too much time.
“It was interesting changing from the racing tyres to the standard Goodyear 4×4 tyre, which anyone can buy over the counter. It performed well today, but we still have to see how it holds up in the rocks and tough terrain.”
The next race is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana, from June 24 to June 26.