The Mafikeng 500, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, saw Team Ford Racing returning to the podium once again.

The Class T Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer notched up third overall and third in Class T.

The relatively new Class D Ranger of Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham encountered misfortune when its propshaft broke, ending their race. The Ranger had been leading its class and seemed certain to win. The Class E Ford Ranger of Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa came fourth in class.

The event, which took place around Mafikeng in the North West Province over September 24 and 25, consisted of two loops in a figure of eight format.

COMMENTS FROM THE DRIVERS AND CO-DRIVERS

Neil Woolridge – Driver Class T: “This was probably the most exciting race we have ever had; it was certainly the best race of the season. At one stage, if there were 10 seconds separating the first three bakkies, it was a lot.

“The start of the race was extremely challenging because we had to pass numerous competitors. This was extremely difficult, thanks to the dust. However, thanks to the incredible reliability of our vehicle, we managed to do this and we moved up to second position (from seventh).

“The organisers tried to slow down the race this year and, to be frank, they only succeeded in certain areas. In some places, it was slower than last year, but it’s certainly still one of the faster events of the year.

“We drove like crazy in order to catch the leading vehicle and our BF Goodrich tyres, to be perfectly honest, were absolutely fantastic. It was incredible that they took the amount of punishment that they experienced during this event. We travelled through a 30 km section of rocky shale and we were really pushing; we showed no mercy for the tyres and we were really hammering it!

“We were still in a strong position 60 km from the end, when we came out of the mountains into the fast stuff. However, because our Ford Ranger is better suited to ultra-tough conditions (they don’t call them ‘Built Ford Tough’ for nothing!), the Nissans pulled away from us.

“While we aren’t exactly over the moon with our third place, we know that it provided fabulous racing for the spectators who lined the route, many of whom came to me afterwards and commented on the close racing.

“In conclusion, on behalf of the entire team, I would like to thank Vince Stanton, owner of Supreme Motors, the local Ford dealer, who allowed us to use his workshops and staff. Vince is a staunch supporter of off-road racing and it is great to have guys like him on our side.”

Kenny Skjoldhammer – Co-Driver Class T: “The race started off with a bang, when we had a most unsatisfactory time trial – or prologue.

Our Ford Ranger was running brilliantly and we were soon right on the back bumper of the competitor in front of us. We pushed our ‘screamer’ (a buzzer which indicates to the competitor that he should move over) but the other competitor didn’t budge.

“We were extremely disappointed – as every competitor knows, at the Mafikeng race, the prologue is important because the dust is always so bad. We wanted to start the race up front – however this wasn’t to be. It was most frustrating – we obviously wanted to do well and this affected our changes negatively. However, incidents like this happen, they are like hitting a bad golf shot – it’s bad, but you have to move on.

“On a positive note, the colour of the marking stickers changed during the prologue and this confused a number of the competitors, who thought they were on the wrong route and turned around.

Thankfully we did not make this mistake.

“Once the actual race started on the Saturday, we put the time trial behind us and focused on the podium. The race itself was brilliant – it was a ding-dong battle and the top three vehicles were all within about a minute of each other with 60 km to go.

“Our Ford Ranger was as impressive as always, it didn’t put a foot wrong (and, thankfully, neither did we!) However, when we neared the end of the race, there were some quicker bits and that’s when the Nissans pulled away from us. We can’t beat them in the fast stuff – they have much more power. However, when it comes to the tricky, ultra-tough terrain, our Ford Ranger never fails to astound.

“Right at the end (about 10 km from the finish) we got a puncture.

We changed it – we obviously couldn’t drive with a flat – and this cost us a couple of minutes.

“In a nutshell, we had a terrific race – predominantly because we were in a big scratch all day. Obviously, coming third is not the result that we were looking for but we are happy; we were in a great race all day.”

Manfred Schröder – Driver Class D: “The prologue went fairly well. We knew that we had to put in a good stage because of the dust and so we went all out to get the best possible time. However, we caught the guy in front of us and this cost us valuable time. It was probably only 20 seconds or so, but it felt like a lifetime!

“Ultimately however, we weren’t unhappy with our prologue time – we started first in class and third in production vehicles, which is quite superb!

“When the actual race started, we lifted off the pace slightly and took it easy. We were thankful that we didn’t have too much dust.

However, the route was extremely tricky and we wrong slotted a couple of times; this cost us the lead in our class.

“We came out of the pits in third position and had passed the second-placed competitor. We were eyeing the lead yet again – in fact, we were right behind leader – when the propshaft broke with 60 km to go.

“Naturally, we are extremely disappointed not to have finished. We really thought that this was our race; we believed that we were going to win. Having said this, we did have a fabulous event. We were extremely pleased with the power of our Ford Ranger. We encountered some thick, desert-type sand and it handled this, and other challenging, terrain beautifully. Our Ford Ranger performed really well.

“Our BF Goodrich tyres were also incredible – they gave us lots of traction. We flew over those rock ledges without a single puncture; they are excellent tyres.”

Jack Peckham – Co-Driver Class D: “This was one of the best races that I have ever done! I loved every minute of it – it was a great mixture of some rough stuff and fast, open straights. One of the competitors complained that it was too fast, but Manfred and I enjoy fast events – as does our Ford Ranger, which has lots and lots of power!

“All day long, we had a fabulous battle with the other frontrunners in our class – it was a real ding-dong battle which made for excellent spectator viewing. We were right on top of each other, battling for top honours.

“We were right behind the leader when Lady Luck frowned upon us and the propshaft snapped. In fact, at that point, we were looking for a place to overtake the leader in order to take the lead yet again!

“Our Ford Ranger was great. It is a terrific vehicle which boasts incredible power and the suspension is really good. We were just unlucky.”

Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza – Driver Class E: “We had a slight problem on the prologue, which set us back. We lost power – the mechanics said it was a wrong setting on the pressure to the turbo – and this cost us some valuable time.

“Thankfully this minor glitch was solved prior to the start of the actual race. During the actual event we had good power and everything went well.

“We started the race in ninth position. We worked our way up and the good thing was that we were actually overtaking our rivals, they were not breaking down. It was a great feeling to be able to out drive them – thanks to the fact that we have a superior vehicle and we have also learnt so much during our first year of off-road racing.

“Our Ford Ranger was super during the actual race – it went extremely well and we didn’t even have a slight problem. Our Pirelli tyres also worked really well, despite some really difficult rocky sections.

“The route was tough, as expected, but we had all the power, handling and speed that we required.”

Kulile Vakalisa – Co-Driver Class E: “Having started off-road racing at the beginning of this year and after two years in rally racing, I can honestly say that I profoundly enjoyed the race, it was incredibly fast but very exciting. The course itself was not entirely challenging, but rather very smooth. It was the smoothness of the course that many drivers underestimated. Out of the 56 competitors that started the race only 20 managed to finish. I think it was because drivers took advantage of the smooth course and, as a result, pushed their vehicles to the absolute maximum, on many occasions to their detriment.

“We were racing in Class E with the Ford Ranger 2.5 Diesel, meaning that we drove a vehicle that was unmodified, so we were able to sample the vehicle in its purest form. The vehicle it self operated incredibly well. We had a minor glitch during the prologue, but that did not hamper the overall performance of the vehicle. We arrived at the finish line at approximately 14h30 (the cut-off time for the halfway mark). In fact, we attained fourth in class and an overall result of eleventh. On the whole I believe that we did exceedingly well. With this weekends result, we are now second in line for the championship".

Round seven of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Toyota Dealer 400, takes place on 22/23 October in Mpumalanga.