The Sun City 400, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, saw Team Ford Racing delivering an inspired performance yet again. The Class T Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer notched up pole position and achieved second overall and second in Class T.
The Class E Ford development team of Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa, widely viewed by competitors as the stars of the race, won the "Spirit of the Event" award.
The relatively new Class D Ranger of Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham, which is still being developed, was running near the top of its class when it encountered gearbox problems, ending their race.
The event, which took place around Sun City in the North West Province over July 23 and 24, was characterised by scores of "True Blue" Ford fans, who lined the route, cheering for their team. The event consisted of a 40-km prologue and three identical loops.
COMMENTS FROM THE DRIVERS AND CO-DRIVERS
Neil Woolridge - Driver Class T: "We had a superb prologue and attained pole position. This was extremely rewarding and most pleasing for me personally because it was my birthday!
"The race itself started extremely well. The track was extremely tight and tough, which we were happy with as these conditions are ideal for our Ford Ranger. As a result, even though we weren't pushing that hard, we stayed in the lead with relative ease. We were convinced that we had an excellent chance for a win. The Nissans may be quicker in a straight line but, when the conditions are ultra demanding, our Ranger truly comes into its own. And this is exactly what we were experiencing in the first loop. Our Ford Ranger performed exceptionally well. However, after we had a puncture and were passed by Giniel de Villiers, we could see that there was no way that we could pass him in the dust. Therefore we resolved not to take any chances and just hang in there, in the hope that Giniel would make an error. Unfortunately for us, this didn't happen and so had to be content with second place."
Kenny Skjoldhammer - Co-Driver Class T: "It was a great race and we were pleased with our Ford Ranger which proved to be as reliable as always. It was wonderful to see the Ford fans lining the route - we are really grateful for the support from the factory, dealers and customers. The race was as well organised as ever.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the championship and the extra points that we scored in this race will help us get there."
Manfred Schröder - Driver Class D: "Our race didn't start well. We went through a river in the prologue and I think we got water in the ignition system because our Ford Ranger's engine died for a few minutes. It was incredibly frustrating, sitting there while the other competitors drove past us. Eventually the Ranger started and we finished the prologue but this meant we had to start the race back in 49th position, which really wasn't ideal.
"However, on the day, the motor and suspension of our Ford Ranger were nothing short of great and we had a superb race. We decided to use two-wheel drive during most of the race and only engage four-wheel drive for river crossings - because the Sun City race is known to be ultra tough on transmissions and drive shafts. This decision didn't cost us too much time; in fact we made up a number of places and, in the second loop, we were a mere six minutes behind the leader of our class! We really believed that a win was possible.
"Then we lost third gear but this didn't trouble us too much - we maintained our position and none of our competitors caught us. However, with just 50 km to go, the gearbox failed and we had to retire.
"Despite our retirement, we really enjoyed the race. Our BF Goodrich tyres were incredible - they gave us lots of traction. We went over tree stumps and extremely sharp rocks without getting a puncture, which is remarkable given the ultra-tough racing conditions."
Jack Peckham - Co-Driver Class D: "This was a very rough, fast race which was deceiving - it was much rougher than it initially appeared. The terrain was hard; we didn't have lots of thick, soft sand such as we experienced at the Desert Race. Starting back in 49th position actually made the race a great deal of fun for us because we had the opportunity to pass competitors; I must comment that the competitors were superb - they were most cooperative in this regard, giving way to us whenever we closed on them."
Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza - Driver Class E: "This race was a great deal tougher than we expected. However we completed the race, having learnt a great deal. Naturally, we are disappointed that we didn't receive any points because we exceeded the cut off time - but we made it to the end!
"The route was brutal on our Ford Ranger and its Pirelli tyres but both the vehicle and our tyres performed amazingly well, despite some really difficult rocky sections.
"We were very pleased to see the large number of Ford fans that attended the race waving their Ford Racing flags. They certainly inspired us and we want to thank them for their support."
Kulile Vakalisa - Co-Driver Class E: "We had an awesome race. Starting ninth in class, we worked our way through the field. By the time we were close to 10 km's from the finish line, we had worked our way right up to fourth in class. Then we broke the ball joint on the right front wheel and had to strap the wheel to hold it up. We really wanted to finish and so reversed towards the finish. This was working well until about 90m from the end of the race when the strap snapped and we ended up off the track. We couldn't extract the Ranger in time and were time barred by two minutes. We could see the finish line; everyone was cheering but we couldn't get there! It was frustrating but at least we tried!"
Round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Lesotho Sun 400, takes place on August 20 and 21 in Maseru.