There is something powerful creeping through the outskirts of the sleepy town of Darling in the Western Cape. Growling noises have been reported to be emanating from the rocky outcrops, and enormous dust clouds have been seen hovering above the sand dunes. Locals can’t quite fathom it, but there is a definite air of excitement sweeping through the streets. There is only one explanation for this phenomenon – the Nissan Dealer 400 race is coming to awaken the town!

And Team Ford Racing is just itching to get there!

The Nissan Dealer 400 represents round two of the 2005 Absa Off-Road Championship. Unsurprisingly, the boys in blue are on a high after winning round one – the Sugarbelt 400 – deemed to be one of the toughest races ever. The race day saw 60 of the original 80 entrants drop from the competition for a variety of reasons, and this came as no surprise – not only was the mercury soaring, but the terrain was dry, dusty and haggard, and proved to be too much for many competitors.

Not that this scenario deterred Team Ford Racing. No, sir! The team is eager to arrive in Darling and once again stamp its dominance on the championship. As ever, the capable driving skills of Team Ford Racing, as well as the durability of its vehicles, were put to the test – and both man and machine rose to the challenge. Gliding in at a graceful fourth in class, and eleventh overall, was Ford Racing’s Class E team, made up of Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa, while Manfred Schröder and his new navigator, Alec Harris, achieved an impressive result of first in class and third overall in a Class D Ranger.

The golden boys of the day, however, were Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in their Ford Credit/Time Freight Class T Ford Ranger, who made winning the race – first overall – appear all but effortless. Of course, the glory of the day was shared by the entire team, as Ford Racing was the proud recipient of the Manufacturer’s Award, and was able to boast a 100 percent finishing record.

The next leg of this demanding and perilous journey takes place on April 22 and 23 in the Western Cape town of Darling. “The terrain is renowned for being extremely sandy with unexpected outcrops of rock, which in turn is incredibly tough on the drive train of the vehicle,” explains Class D driver Schröder. Along with his navigator Harris, Schröder is sponsored by BF Goodrich, Time Freight, Joey’s Panel Beaters, Barloworld Pietermaritzburg and Husqvarna Chainsaws. “One thing I can say is that the BF Goodrich tyres definitely make a difference in our results. During the Sugarbelt, our tyres performed incredibly well over the extremely tough terrain and I am just as certain that they will live up to their reputation for being incredibly capable over sandy and rocky conditions.”

So what are these fearless competitors expecting from the race in Darling? “Obviously I would like us to achieve the same results that we did in the Sugarbelt. The vehicles are definitely up to the challenge. Any problems that we experienced last year have been sorted out, and I believe the Ranger will demonstrate its ‘Built Ford Tough’ nature.”

Rubuluza, on the other hand, is after an improved position in the Class E Ford Ranger during the Western Cape leg of the race. “I was a bit disappointed by our results at Sugarbelt; the first half presented us with incredibly difficult obstacles to overcome. In Darling, however, I would like to see us achieve a far better qualifying time.”

Rubuluza has great confidence in the Class E team’s capabilities. “I believe that we will do better. A few changes have been made to the Ford Ranger and, as a result, it is much quicker and lighter than last year. We have also undergone a change in tyres. All the Ford Rangers in Team Ford Racing, including our own, are now equipped with BF Goodrich Tyres.

“The Nissan Dealer 400 leg of the race is renowned for its sandy and perilous conditions. There is a very real danger of quicksand, so a vast amount of torque is needed to pull us out of those tricky situations. A good, strong tyre is also a prerequisite, and I know that the BF Goodrich tyres will pay off with their strong grip,” remarks Rubuluza.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Ford Rangers will perform just as tenaciously as they did in the last race – it was a very impressive result for all four vehicles to finish.

Roll on the next event.