With a number of wins already under its belt this year, Team Ford Racing is eyeing victory at the notorious tough Toyota 1000 Desert race, which takes place in Botswana from June 3 to 5.

The race represents round three of the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship and Team Ford Racing is entering the event in an extremely strong position. In fact, its Class D team of Manfred Schröder and Alec Harris has catapulted into the team of the championship.

“We are thrilled to be in such a strong position at this stage of the year,” comments team manager, Neil Woolridge. “All the guys have worked really hard and this is a just reward for a fabulous team and a truly tough vehicle.”

According to Woolridge, who has won this event three times previously, the Class D and E Ford entrants are ready to race.

Woolridge, along with navigator Kenny Skjoldhammer, won round one of the championship, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in March, in their Class T Ford Ranger. Schröder and Harris came first in Class D.

Then, in the second round, the Nissan Dealer 400 (held in Darling in April), Schröder and Harris came a stunning second overall and first in Class D once again. This saw them cement their championship and class lead. Woolridge and Skjoldhammer are busy building an ultra-competitive Super Production Ford Ranger, which they will campaign later this year. Therefore, they skipped round two and will also skip round three in Botswana.

It will therefore be up to Schröder and Harris, as well as their colleagues Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa, in a Class E Ford Ranger, to keep the Ford flag flying in the desert. No one has any doubts that they will do just this. Schröder and Harris have proved their mettle, as have Rubuluza and Vakalisa who, last year came a commendable second in their class and second overall in the Class E championship in their very first year in off-road racing – a truly remarkable achievement!

Now they have their next challenge: the Desert Race, a 1000-km event known to separate the men from the boys. Schröder says they are really looking forward to the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. “And we are, again, aiming for another good result. Seeing as though it is a 1 000 km event, which runs over two days, endurance and a conservative driving style are very important. Our main aim for this race is to ensure that there is no serious damage done to the vehicle that may cause us to lose our position.

“To be perfectly honest, although the race is going to be held in the desert, we hope that it won’t be as grueling as the Western Cape leg - that event was tough on us, although our Ford Ranger sailed through! In Botswana, there are extensive amounts of bush and rocky outcrops of which to be wary, and drivers will have to watch out for any exposed roots or rocks that the previous drivers could have uncovered. That being said, we are very convinced in the durability of our BF Goodrich tyres, which have just been doing remarkably well. The Ford Ranger is certainly up for the challenge and we are very confident in its abilities as we approach the upcoming race,” he notes.

Rubuluza is also keen for a good result. “We definitely want to improve of our results in the forthcoming Desert Race; we know that our Ford Ranger is capable of doing extremely well.

“Obviously we are very happy with the fact that we have completed all the races thus far this year. But, towards the end of the season, it is no longer about your position in class, but rather the points overall.

“Following the trouble we had with our side shaft in the previous race in the Western Cape, we have picked a few more minor problems, which is hardly surprising given the punishment that it endures. However, we have been working very diligently on them and we will be testing the Ford Ranger next week. We will also be testing the tyres. During the previous two races, we used the standard BF Goodrich tyres, and they performed incredibly well. But, we are now going to try out the proper BF Goodrich racing tyres and we will see how this move will improve our performance on the track. It is all going to be a bit of an experiment but in the end we will go with the combination that suits the conditions best.

“We need to be absolutely certain that our vehicle will be able to handle anything thrown at it in Botswana. From what I can recall of last year’s Desert Race, the terrain was very varied. Some places had quicksand, others were very rocky. Then, of course, there is the possibility of abnormal rain patterns, which can result in extensive bush coverage. All these points need to be considered when planning our strategy.

“But we are looking forward to the event and we are confident of a good finish,” he concludes.