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Next-Generation Ford Ranger ‘Ultimate’ Kicks Off SARRC Title Defence for NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team
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Next-Generation Ford Ranger ‘Ultimate’ Kicks Off SARRC Title Defence for NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team

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  • Latest evolution of Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger features aggressive new styling based on the current Ranger pickup, along with improved aerodynamics, cooling, off-road clearances and visibility
  • Shell joins NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team as the team’s primary partner for the 2024 season in South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC)
  • Reigning SARRC champions Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#200) aiming to defend their title, with valuable experience gained at tough 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia where they ended with a top 7 position on the final stage
  • Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) start their second season together having shown impressive pace last year, including finishing second overall at final round of 2023
  • The two NWM Ford Rangers joined by NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen, all competing in new ‘Ultimate’ class which replaces T1+
  • Season commences on 19 and 20 April 2024 at Nkomazi 400 in Malalane, Mpumalanga, total of seven rounds includes three-day Marathon Race in Thabazimbi Region of Limpopo

The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Rally-Raid Team is embarking on an exciting new era in the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) with the launch of a new car, a new major sponsor and the goal of defending the Overall Production Vehicle and class titles it won last year.

Headlining the team’s 2024 SARRC campaign – in what is considered one of the most competitive domestic rally-raid championships in the world – is a comprehensively redesigned and redeveloped NWM Ford Ranger, featuring bolder and even more muscular styling that is now based on the latest-generation Ford Ranger pickup. The bodywork looks aggressive but is highly functional too, introducing a wide range of aerodynamic, cooling and packaging enhancements to this title-winning platform.

The bold new design is complemented by under-the-skin improvements on the suspension and throughout the drivetrain to maximise performance and reliability in the toughest off-road racing conditions, while also making the vehicles easier to work on during service.

The race vehicles are designed, manufactured and run by NWM, which is based in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. The company boasts nearly three decades of top-tier rally-raid experience, the last 23 of which have been under the Ford banner.

“Heading into the SA Rally-Raid Championship as the defending champions, it is exciting to be launching the 2024 race program with Neil Woolridge Motorsport featuring a redesigned Ford Ranger that amplifies the bold styling of our latest model,” says Doreen Mashinini, General Manager for Marketing at Ford South Africa.

“As South Africa’s top-selling Double Cab, the locally manufactured Ranger pickup is the cornerstone of our line-up. Our continued partnership with NWM reinforces the ‘Built Ford Tough’ heritage of the Ranger, and is the ultimate expression of our ‘Live the Ranger Life’ marketing campaign that embodies the adventurous lifestyle that is made possible with this exceptionally capable Ranger,” Mashinini says.

In addition to revealing the powerful new design of the Ranger, the NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team welcomes Shell as the primary partner for 2024. The dynamic new livery of the race vehicle features the distinctive Shell logos and colours.

“As Shell Downstream South Africa, we are honoured to be a partner to the iconic global Ford brand that has been present in South Africa for over 100 years, and which also mirrors our longstanding Shell presence in South Africa. Our partnership contributes to innovation, social and economic development of South Africa. Through this partnership we are looking forward to unlocking greater opportunities for the country,” says Nazareth Tekeste, General Manager Lubricants for Shell Downstream South Africa.

Other new sponsors for 2024 comprise bearing and CV joint manufacturer NTN Corporation, along with Veldskoen as the team’s proudly South African official footwear partner. They join valued existing sponsors comprising Ford Credit, Mastercraft and Würth as the team’s secondary partners, along with Brembo, Motorcraft, Ironman 4x4, Shatterprufe and Tiger Wheel & Tyre as technical partners. Sapphire is the official licensed clothing and merchandise supplier to Ford and partner to the NWM team.

“We are eagerly looking forward to the start of the 2024 season as we debut our new car that we are confident raises the bar once again,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of the NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team. “All of the testing, development and racing experience gained at the highest level throughout the 2023 SARRC season, followed by our competitive showing at the 2024 Dakar Rally with top 10 stage results, has been built into our next-generation NWM Ford Ranger.

“Competing at this level is only possible through the long-standing support of Ford South Africa and the Ford dealer network which remain our main sponsors,” Woolridge adds. “We are delighted to welcome Shell to the team this year, and we hope this is the start of a rewarding long-term partnership. It’s fantastic to have NTN and Veldskoen joining our much-valued partners that play an important role in the success of our team.”

The NWM Ford Rally-Raid Team will once again field two entries to compete in the SARRC Production Vehicle championship, comprising reigning champions Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in the #200 Ranger, along with team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert in the #234 Ranger.

The SARRC has aligned its competitive classes with the changes implemented in the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) for 2024, starting at the opening round at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. The top-tier T1+ Production Vehicle category has been renamed ‘Ultimate’, with the other classes following suit and now called ‘Adventurer’, ‘Challenger’ and ‘SSV’ for side-by-side vehicles.

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Next-Generation NWM Ford Ranger ‘Ultimate’

Incorporating the lessons learnt throughout NWM’s nearly three decades of designing, manufacturing and racing top-tier rally-raid vehicles locally and internationally, the latest-generation NWM Ford Ranger is a formidable machine that is set to build on the success of last year’s championship-winning package.

While the 2024 Ford Ranger ‘Ultimate’ has been completely redesigned to mirror the bold styling of the new standard production Ranger, it also gave the team the opportunity to redevelop and optimise the aerodynamics, cooling and off-road capabilities of the vehicle based on its vast experience in the local rally-raid series, and at the 2024 Dakar Rally.

“The aggressive design with the larger frontal area allowed us to improve airflow to the front cooling package, which we have now been able to reduce in size. This freed up space in the engine bay, creating better access for our technicians,” Woolridge says. “We also widened the wheelarches which makes the car look meaner and more purposeful than ever, but the main innovation is that it channels more air to the front and rear dampers to enhance cooling while contributing to better airflow and heat extraction throughout the car.”

Taking advantage of the new FIA rules for 2024, the approach and departure angles for the vehicle have been improved, making it even more capable in challenging terrain. The bonnet height has also been lowered, resulting in better visibility for the drivers and co-drivers.

The team has retained its proven suspension set-up, which relies on bespoke dampers and springs. One hefty 76mm diameter damper does duty on each corner, featuring an impressive 350mm of wheel travel to soak up the roughest terrain and gravity-defying jumps. There have been small tweaks to improve handling, but the biggest upgrade comes from the enhanced damper cooling that will ensure more consistent performance throughout a race.

Performance from the twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine is largely unchanged, delivering peak power of 265kW based on the strict FIA regulations. However, the team has fine-tuned the engine control software for minor improvements all round, along with better control of the permitted 170km/h maximum speed and the intermediate speed restrictions that may be used within a competitive stage or on the liaison between racing sections. This will minimise time loss during speed transitions, where every second counts.

Work was also done on the differentials in the interests of consistency and reliability. “The differentials on Gareth’s car completed the entire Dakar Rally without being serviced or changed, which is a testament to how tough they are,” Woolridge says. “We strengthened the front and rear diff guard assemblies to provide additional protection in rough terrain, and implemented a new modular bashplate design to make the car easier and faster to work on during service.

“Finally, we focused on shaving off unnecessary weight to ensure that the car is within the minimum weight specification of 2 010kg, as this ensures we can achieve the very best performance from the car,” Woolridge says.

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2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship

The pair of new NWM Ford Rangers will make their debut at the opening round of the championship, the Nkomazi 400, which takes place in Malalane, Mpumalanga on 19 and 20 April.

They will be joined by the NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241) who will start the season with the same specification Ranger they raced last year.

The season comprises a total of six events with seven races. Following the Mpumalanga event, the SARRC moves on to the Vryheid 400 in KwaZulu-Natal on 24 and 25 May, followed by the three-day TGRSA Marathon Race from 21 to 23 June to be held in the Thabazimbi/Waterberg region of the Limpopo province which hosted the 2023 season finale. This is a candidate event for potentially hosting a round of the World Rally-Raid Championship in South Africa in 2025.

For the second half of the season there will be a double-header for rounds four and five at the Parys 400 on 16 and 17 August, leading to round six, the Free State 400, which be based at the Phakisa Raceway race track near Welkom for the second year.

The final round is scheduled for 8 and 9 November in the Rayton/Bronkhorstspruit area, near the border of the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces.

Fans can follow all the action and track the position of the crews throughout each of the races using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded for iOS and Android devices from the relevant app stores.

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