The next round of the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship, the Sun City 400, takes place on July 1 and 2 and Team Ford Racing is itching to return to its race-winning ways.

The team has had an extremely successful 2005 season, with numerous overall and class wins under its belt this year.

Team Ford Racing will be represented at the Sun City 400, round four of the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship, by its Class D team of Manfred Schröder and Alec Harris in a Ford Ranger as well as by Baphumze Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa, in a Class E Ford Ranger.

Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer – who won round one of the championship, the Nissan Sugarbelt, in their Class T Ford Ranger – are busy building an ultra-competitive Super Production Ford Ranger, which they will only race when they are ready. They will therefore, they will miss round four at Sun City. The duo delivered an impressive second overall at last year’s Sun City race.

“We are obviously disappointed that we are not racing, but, wait till you see the new Ford Ranger,” comments team manager, Woolridge. It will be worth the wait “. We have every confidence in our Class D and E teams and we know that they will keep the Ford flag flying high!”

Last year’s Sun City 400 was extremely tight and tough and, by all accounts, the same is to be expected this year. These conditions please the members of Team Ford Racing immensely. “They are ideal for our ‘Built Ford Tough’ Ranger. When the conditions are ultra demanding, our Ranger truly comes into its own,” comments Schröder.

The Sun City race has been a nemesis for Schröder, who has failed to complete the event in the past two years. “This race really seems to be jinxed for us,” he remarks wryly. “I honestly cannot tell you why; it just seems to be a bug bear for us.”

Despite this, it’s an event that he eagerly looks forward to. “It’s a very nice route, which is ultra-demanding for the vehicle and the driver, with lots of corrugations – which we really enjoy.

However, he’s decided that 2005 is his year. “We are definitely going for a class win at the Sun City race. We have gone over the entire vehicle with a fine tooth comb to ensure that it’s in tip-top condition. And I am pleased to report that the Ranger is getting better and better with every race,” he notes.

Schröder is also confident in the performance of his Ranger’s BF Goodrich tyres.

“Last year, our BFGoodrich tyres were incredible – they gave us lots of traction and they were amazing. We went over tree stumps and extremely sharp rocks and we didn’t have one puncture, which is remarkable given the ultra-tough racing conditions. I know that they will deliver the same sort of race-winning performance this year.”

Schröder and Harris are lying joint second in their class championship.

Harris shares Schröder’s optimism. “We have to do well at the Sun City – we want to regain our championship lead,” he maintains.

He’s upbeat about their chances. “We have a brand new motor with a little bit more horsepower, which is great. We need it; since our competitors have found some more power somehow. So it’s nice to even the playing fields.”

Harris also remains assured of the tyres and their ability to get the Ranger to the finish line. “Our tyres were excellent in Botswana and their grip was perfect. We had no punctures and we are definitely expecting the same in Sun City,” he reports.

According to Harris, there wasn’t much preparation required for the Ranger prior to the Sun City race. “The vehicle didn’t really get damaged in the Desert Race. However we will be testing a week before the race because of the fitment of the new motor. And we are going all out for a class win.”

These are confident words – especially considering the fact that this is Harris’ first Sun City race. “Yes, that’s true. This is my first Sun City and I have heard that it is rough and rocky. But this doesn’t concern Manfred and I because we have a good vehicle beneath us,” he states.

Rubuluza echoes his sentiments. “Our Ford Ranger is an accomplished vehicle, which never ceases to impress me. And, while we encountered some bad luck at the Desert Race and failed to finish, I was extremely pleased with our performance, which was much improved. Our Ranger is better than ever before and I applied myself properly.”

One of the reasons for his optimism is the fitment of new, considerably larger BFGoodrich tyres. “They were most impressive at the Desert Race and we will have a go with them again at Sun City. Our prologue time and performance in general was excellent, and I attribute that to a number of improvements to the handling and also to the tyres. This should give us an edge at the Sun City race,” comments Rubuluza.

He’s reluctant to make any actual predictions as to the outcome of the race. “This time, I choose not to comment about Sun City. I am feeling cautious; the race wasn’t good for us last year – it was our first non finish and so I am viewing it with trepidation!”

Despite this, Rubuluza insists that the duo will “go there, be positive and do our best”. “Judging from our performance in the desert and the fact that the terrain isn’t that different, we are in good spirits and a positive state of mind. We are hoping that we will pick up from where we left off at the Desert Race in terms of performance and pace – but this time we want to finish in the points. We want to make it up to our supporters, who we disappointed in Botswana. We are very grateful for their support and we will do everything in our power to deliver a good result and give them something to cheer about,” he promises.

Vakalisa is even more outspoken. “The Ranger was very good at the Desert Race and, right up until the time that we had an accident (through no fault of the vehicle, we were blinded by dust), it performed faultlessly. We passed numerous other competitors and I think that we will do very well at Sun City,” he maintains.

Like Rubuluza, he is cheered by their improved performance at the Desert Race. “Our prologue time and pace were brilliant and we improved our performance remarkably. The gear ratios have been changed to suit the bigger wheels and this has boosted our running considerably.

The bigger wheels and tyres are far better for our vehicle - when we hit the bumps, the Ranger doesn’t take so much stress any more. The new tyres have given us some extra speed and we are very pleased about this. Plus, we have really strong tyres with sturdy sidewalls and so we don’t have to worry about punctures.

“I think that the terrain will be the same as last year – quite hard - and that there will be little dust. If that’s what happens, we will do extremely well. If conditions allow us, we hope to be in the first 15 starters after the prologue. We know the vehicle extremely well now and we are going to go much faster than last year!” The message to competitors is clear: look out; Team Ford Racing is coming through!