Ford Performance Ranger ends 2015 Cross Country Season on a High
Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst earn hard-fought second place
Three Ford Rangers in top 5 after punishing 430km of racing
Qualifying: 106km, Loop 1: 162km, Loop 2: 162km, Total: 430km
GLENHARVIE, South Africa – The Ford Performance cross country racing team ended a tough and challenging 2015 season by claiming second place in the Production Vehicle category on the Atlas Copco Gold 450, the final round of this year’s championship.
After the heart-break of leading last year’s event until an electrical fault stopped their charge almost within sight of the finish line, former Production Vehicle champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst powered their Ford Ranger to the runner-up position following a punishing 430km route staged in the gold mining belt on Gauteng’s West Rand. The race was won by Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie.
This was always going to be a race of attrition due to the extremely rocky terrain and dry, dusty conditions, and punctures played a pivotal role throughout qualifying and the main race. Only 17 of the original 33 starters finished the race.
The qualifying saw Visser and Badenhorst leading the Ford Performance charge, ending third fastest behind Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) and Poulter/Howie.
All of the front-runners picked up a puncture on this opening stint, but Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in the NWM Ford Ranger had a clean run and posted the fourth-fastest time, 38 sec ahead of brother Lance Woolridge and co-driver Ward Huxtable in the second factory Ford who were also hampered by a flat tyre.
The action started bright and early at 7am on Saturday for the main race, featuring the two tough, dry and extremely rocky 162km loops, which were split by a 20-minute service.
The top crews, including the two Ford Performance Rangers, suffered punctures on the first lap and Taylor encountered power steering problems after hitting an obstacle. These incidents shook up the running order and enabled Poulter/Howie to surge into the lead by the end of lap one. Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer slotted into an impressive second place to lead the Ford assault.
Having recovered from their early puncture, Visser and Badenhorst entered the pits third overall, with Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable following right on the tail of the recovering Taylor/Murphy.
Heading out onto the second lap it seemed as though the younger Woolridge would score his best-ever result in his first season in the Class T Ford Ranger, but the dream slipped away when he picked up his only puncture of the race, dropping him from second to fourth place.
This allowed Visser and Badenhorst through into second, ahead of Taylor/Murphy. Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer recovered from the puncture to push the Toyota crew right to the finish line but the exceptionally dusty conditions saw the running order remain unchanged to the end. Woolridge and Dreyer did however earn the award for the highest-ranked privateers.
Remarkably, just 34 sec separated second through to fourth place as the teams blasted through the final timing point of the 2015 championship, having produced the most exciting and closely fought race of year.
Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable wrapped up a solid weekend for the Ford Performance team in fifth place, resulting in three Rangers finishing in the top five overall Production Vehicle results.
It was a good race for the Fords in general, with the ex-factory Ranger of Australians John Purshouse and Murray Hynes earning a commendable 10th place overall.
Neil Woolridge (Team Principal): “This was a great way to end what has been a difficult season for us. We set out firstly to finish the race and secondly to secure a podium result, and we achieved both of these objectives.
“What was really encouraging is that all of our cars were on the pace throughout the race, and the entire event was dictated by the exceptionally tough terrain. There simply wasn’t any room to make a mistake, and just a single puncture could put you out of the running completely.
“I’m delighted that Chris and Japie ended the season with second place, although it would have been great to have another Ford or two on the podium. Gareth and Lance drove extremely well, and it’s a credit to the entire Ford Performance team, including all the mechanics, that we were able to finish with all three Rangers in the top five.
“Thanks to Ford, as well our sponsors and fans for supporting and encouraging us throughout the year.”
Chris Visser (T28): “It was an extremely tough race, with lots of hazards all over the place, but I’m extremely happy to have made it to the end and ensured that we finish on the podium. This is a great way to end the year.
“We lost time on the prologue with a puncture and a jack that failed, and then had another puncture on the first lap today. I probably took the second lap a bit too cautiously, but we couldn’t risk damaging another tyre and dropping out of contention.”
Lance Woolridge (T34): “This wasn’t an easy race at all. It was extremely hot, dusty and rough for most of the route, and our tyres were heavily worn by the end of the race.
“We were definitely in contention for some good results, but the punctures impacted heavily on the final results. Accordingly, we had to just keep it clean and bring the Ranger home, and it’s a good overall result for the team after what has been a very challenging year.”