Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer claim their first overall SA Rally-Raid Championship win at rain-soaked Round 7 in Parys, following sixth-place finish at Round 6 the day before
Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk ended fifth overall in Friday’s race, and were among several top crews to get stuck during Saturday’s race, eventually coming home fifth in Class FIA T1+
The 2022 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) drew to a close in dramatic fashion this weekend in extremely difficult conditions, but the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol Team ended its season on a high as Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#277) claimed their first overall race win in the mighty EcoBoost V6 powered FIA T1+ Ford Ranger.
Heavy rain leading up to and throughout the race weekend resulted in treacherously muddy conditions over the entire planned race route around the Free State town of Parys. The competitors were scheduled to complete 700km over the two separate race events on Friday and Saturday, but the organisers had to significantly shorten the route on both days as the conditions deteriorated, resulting in a mere 180km of competitive action being completed.
Gareth and Boyd navigated through the slippery and unpredictable farm roads to finish sixth overall on Friday. They went on to make the Saturday race all their own, dominating the short 12km qualifying sprint and producing a flawless drive to record their first overall premier class victory.
“We are thrilled with the win, as Boyd and I have been trying to secure our first win for at least 10 years,” Gareth said. “I’m really glad to finally pull it together in the most difficult conditions we’ve ever raced in.
“It has been a difficult year, with some small technical issues that have let us down, despite Boyd and I having one of our cleanest seasons yet,” Gareth added. “We’ve taken big strides forward with our T1+ Ranger, as we proved at the previous event and this weekend in Parys. So for next year, I think we’re in good shape for even bigger and better things.”
Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (#234) led the NWM Ford Castrol team’s charge on Friday, finishing fifth overall. After setting the fourth-fastest time for Saturday’s qualifying loop, just 14 seconds off the lead Ranger, it looked set to be a thrilling battle for the final podium of this year’s championship.
However, they were among several of the top crews who got stuck around halfway through the race loop. Thanks to the assistance of the #TeamHilux team of Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar, Lance and Elvéne were able to extricate their stricken Ranger from the quagmire – and were rewarded for their never-say-die attitude by coming home fifth in Class FIA T1+ and 14th overall.
“I didn’t think the conditions could get worse than yesterday, but it was manic out there today,” Lance said. “It was so slippery that we had to start braking from 600 to 700 metres away from a turn and then just tiptoe around the corner. We got stuck in a ploughed field where the two Toyotas ahead of us had already gone through, and when I got out the car I sank right down to my knees in the mud,” he added. “Elvéne and I didn’t want to slow the top teams down so we let them all past, then Eben and Leander, who had won their class championship on Friday, stopped and pulled us out, and we had a clean run to the end.”
Although they endured a tough season with several non-finishes, Lance is upbeat about the NWM Ranger’s development and progress. “We’ve worked really hard throughout the year and have had massive performance gains thanks to the extensive development we’ve done with our new T1+ Ranger. The results in the past two events and Gareth’s win today show that it has all worked, and I am exceptionally proud of the team,” he said. “Based on where we ended this season, I hope we can pick it up from here for next year.”
For NWM team principal Neil Woolridge it was a fantastic way to end this year’s championship, despite the atrocious conditions. “It’s been an unbelievable weekend,” he said. “I looked at the weather before we left Pietermaritzburg and knew it was going to be a challenge, but nobody knew it was going to be this difficult.
I am very proud and happy to see both our Rangers finish in these extremely difficult conditions, where so many of our competitors ran into trouble. We didn’t have a single issue with our cars over the entire weekend which is so rewarding, and to take the win today makes it very special for the whole team,” he said. “We’ve spent many long hours, days, weeks and months testing and developing our brand new T1+ Ranger this year, and finally seeing it all come together is amazing. It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of our NWM team, and also to the support from our partners and sponsors, especially Ford and Castrol.”
Source Ford Castrol Team