All eyes will be on the Class T category of the 2016 Donaldson Cross Country Championship when the fifth round of the season kicks into gear at the Nkomazi 450 in Malalane on 26 and 27 August.
Brian Joss – For the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Performance team, it’s a crucial opportunity to fight back for the championship lead relinquished at the previous race in Lichtenburg during July.
Despite suffering a huge fire that gutted parts of its workshop and destroyed its two race cars a mere week before the race, the team made it to the event with a loan NWM-built Ford Ranger, which Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable used to great effect by setting a potentially race-winning pace during qualifying.
Unfortunately for Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, their hopes of scoring solid points in the second NWM Ford Performance Ranger went up in flames too, as their car was badly damaged in the fire. Accordingly, it’s unclear if the young duo will be able to stage a comeback this season.
Although Visser and Huxtable looked set for a dream outing in the face of adversity, technical issues and several punctures hampered their challenge in Lichtenburg, which saw them finish fifth in Class T. This dropped the pair to second in the championship, 17 points behind Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman (Toyota Hilux).
With a 35-point margin to third-placed Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Nissan Navara), it’s all to play for at the top of the points table with three events remaining, and there’s no doubt that the top teams will be going all-out for victory at the Nkomazi 450.
“We saw in Lichtenburg that our older NWM-built Ranger is still very competitive, and the work done on the car leading up to Malalane has definitely made it better,” said team principal Neil Woolridge.
“Unfortunately it’s not our car so we can’t do any radical alterations, but we’ve changed the gear ratios, sorted out the mapping and done some work on the suspension.”
The competitors will encounter yet another new route this season, comprising mainly sugar cane fields and natural bushveld through this scenic part of Mpumalanga.
“I expect the race to be fast and technical with exciting rally-type roads,” Woolridge added. “We’re not doing the tricky mountain section that saw the demise of lots of cars in previous years, but as always dust and punctures are the two main factors that will play a huge role in the final results. It’s important that we get a good qualifying position, and have a clean run.”
As before, the race is based at the Riverview Preparatory School, with plenty of spectator points near or alongside the N4 highway.
According to the organisers, around 60% of the route will traverse new sponsor RCL Foods’ property, along with 40% virgin territory.
From the start at Riverview the route travels under the N4 and traverses Radley and Malalane Estates to Jeppes Reef. The competitors then take on the area around Malalane Brick and the rocky outcrop to Kaalrug before crossing into the hills in the Stentor and Lebuyle regions.
After navigating through the sugar cane fields towards Kaapsehoop, a zigag route takes the crews back towards Malalane and the finish at the school.
The qualifying action starts at 11:30 on Friday 26 August, with Saturday’s main race setting off at 08:30.