Team Ford Racing had a dream conclusion to the 2004 off-road racing season, when it won the Carnival City 400!

The final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Carnival City 400, took place on 19 and 20 November around the Carnival City Casino, located east of Johannesburg.

The route, which was extremely varied and included some ultra-tough sections through fields as well as extremely challenging terrain in the mountains, saw scores of fans line the route. The start, which included some spectacular mud, included a 4km special stage, which was a treat for spectators.

The Class T Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer won the overall race as well as Class T. This is the third time in the four year history of the Carnival City 400 that former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer have won this event in the Ford Racing Ranger

The Class D Ranger of Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham performed well before hitting a rock, forcing them to retire.

The Class E Ford team of Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa 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!

The race consisted of a short but muddy prologue on Friday and then three identical 140 km loops.

COMMENTS FROM THE DRIVERS AND CO-DRIVERS

Neil Woolridge - Driver Class T: "It was fantastic. We didn't push too hard in the time trial as it was more important that we finish the 400 km race. We had a good starting position which was fine, if not spectacular.

"About 30 km into the race, we passed Giniel de Villiers and then the three of us (Hannes Grobler, ourselves and Giniel) were bumper to bumper for much of the race. We tried to pass Hannes and went into a huge hole but fortunately there was no damage to the vehicle and we managed to continue.

"At the start of the last loop, suddenly there was no dust in front of us. Hannes had pulled over, with a problem of some kind. We pushed really, really hard, thinking that Giniel was right on our tail. We got a message from our service crew 30 km from the finish, telling us that they were way behind us, so we took it easy. We were extremely pleased to be in the lead because there was a chance that we could win the championship - had Hannes not finished, we would have won overall.

"To finish off the year with a win is great."

Kenny Skjoldhammer - Co-Driver Class T: "It was very wet - the prologue was like a quagmire. When it came to the actual race, we were pleasantly surprised; the Nissans couldn't get away from us. Normally, on the straights, they are faster than us but that certainly wasn't the case in this race. The route was rough and tough - which suited our Ford Ranger and us better.

"Right from the start, we pushed hard and it wasn't too long before we had moved up to third on the road. There were places where the route schedule was inaccurate; we benefited because we managed to find our way and lots of other competitors were getting lost.

"Then we passed Giniel, which was great - it was good to split the Nissans.

"I tell you what; it was fantastic to win. To finish off the season like that is amazing. The guys have worked so hard to keep the vehicle together - and we were pleased to be able to thank them by notching up this win."

Manfred Schröder - Driver Class D: "Right at the start of the race, we went through quite a bit of mud, which got into the radiator. As a result, our Ranger was running quite hot and we had to take it really easy on the first loop. However, for much of the first loop, that was the only challenge; other than that, the Ranger was running fabulously.

"On the second loop, we got behind the Kia. When we tried to pass him we hit a big rock, broke a ball joint and that was it. Our race was run."

Jack Peckham - Co-Driver Class D: "With it being so short (only 8.5 km), the prologue was tricky. We didn't want to push too hard and we knew that everyone would be close. We were happy with our starting position - ninth overall - that was better than expected; we were quicker than lots of other highly modified vehicles which should have beaten us.

"The terrain was extremely hard on the tyres - there were some extremely rough sections. However we were extremely confident - as has been the case during the entire 2004 season, our BF Goodrich tyres did an amazingly good job. We didn't get one single puncture!

"Carnival City is always a great race - we enjoy it because it is quite fast and thrilling and we really enjoyed the route.

"It was fun to come from the back and pass guys. The bikers, quad riders and regional cars were incredible, they moved right off the road. And we would really like to thank them for that."

Baphumze (Bappie) Rubuluza - Driver Class E: "From a terrain perspective, the race was a mix of everything and we were under huge pressure to perform because we knew that we had to come second or third to claim the second spot in the championship.

"On the first loop, we pushed incredibly hard. Half way through the second loop, we realised that we could take it easier and that our second position in the championship was in the bag if we didn't damage the vehicle - so we backed off a little bit. From there, we decided to take it easier.

"It was a long day, but a good race. The good thing is that we never had any problems, we didn't have to leave the vehicle once during the race. After each loop, we did go into the pits, but it was purely a precaution and we gave our service crew the opportunity to look for any potential problems. We needn't have bothered; the vehicle was incredible - there was never anything wrong at any stage.

"The guys who put the Ranger together did a great job; at some stages I felt like I could fly! But, whenever I started to push again, Kulile started to remind me to look at the bigger picture, namely the championship. Then I drove more sensibly."

Kulile Vakalisa - Co-Driver Class E: "We are so proud. We came to the race under a little bit of pressure, we were in second place in the championship but we only had a one-point lead. We were hoping that the third-placed guy, who was also under pressure, would make a mistake.

"We were also putting the front runner under pressure on the road, however when we came into the pits together, we decided that we should let him go. We did not want to risk damaging our vehicle by challenging him.

"I kept on telling Bappie to slow down because there were some extremely tricky areas, with lots of rocks. We were getting close to the finish line and I reminded him that we didn't have to rush to get to the finish. I told him to take it easy.

"The vehicle has proven itself over and over again; it was superb. Whether we were in the mountains or the sand, it was incredible."