History was made at the final round of the thrilling and exceptionally competitive South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) this weekend when Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer earned their first overall Production Vehicle championship, along with the premier Class FIA T1+ title, at the Waterberg 400 in the farming community of Koedeskop near Thabazimbi in the Limpopo Province.
And they did so in perfect fashion by claiming the race victory in their Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger, with team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert following them across the finish line to wrap up an exceptional weekend with a memorable photo finish for the Pietermaritzburg-based team.
While Boyd had already secured the overall Production Vehicle navigators title, Gareth came into the final race with a 17-point margin over Toyota’s Guy Botterill – so he simply needed to finish fourth or better to guarantee the overall championship win, and for both of them to also earn the Class T1+ titles.
During Friday’s short 40km qualifying sprint the young NWM Ford Castrol crew was on a charge and leading the stage until they picked up a slow puncture. They replaced the wheel in an astonishing 1 min 15 sec and finished the day seventh overall, just 01:52 seconds behind the leaders. Lance and Kenny were third-fastest, 39 sec adrift of Botterill/Brett Cummings.
The teams faced two long, extremely hot and dusty 178km race loops for Saturday’s main race. By the halfway point Gareth and Boyd had surged into second place, a mere 50 seconds behind their title rivals, while Lance and Kenny trailed them in third despite getting a puncture early on.
As the Toyota challenge fizzled out, Gareth and Boyd surged into the lead on the second lap with Lance and Kenny slotting into second, and that’s how they ended, stamping their authority on the 2023 season. In the process they beat their long-standing Toyota rivals who are the outgoing multiple SARRC champions, three-time Dakar Rally winners, and the current World Rally Raid Championship title-holders – which is a remarkable and highly commendable achievement.
It’s also the first time that a father and son have both won the overall South African Production Vehicle championship, with team principal Neil Woolridge and co-driver Kenny Skjoldhammer having taken the title – and the last one for the NWM Ford team – in 2006. It builds on the two consecutive Class T championships that Lance and co-driver Ward Huxtable won in 2018 and 2019.
Fittingly, the team earned the Manufacturers Award for the Waterberg 400, wrapping up a superb and memorable weekend after a tough and extremely close season of racing.
“It’s an unbelievable result,” Neil said. “We’ve been working incredibly hard throughout the year to get to this point, and finally it’s happened. Gareth and Boyd did a fantastic job today and throughout this season, and they are so deserving of the overall and class T1+ championship titles.
“The entire team has put in a huge effort, and all of our technicians deserve credit for building a fantastic car. We didn’t have a single problem with either car the whole weekend, and all the hard work and long hours have paid off,” Neil said. “Thank you to all of our sponsors, and especially Ford and Castrol, along with our other sponsors and partners that have made this possible.
“To knock the world champions off their pedestal is an amazing result. Wrapping the season with a one-two as well as winning the overall and T1+ championships is a very proud achievement for all of us, and also for Ford South Africa in its Centenary year,” he said.
The timing of the win couldn’t have been better, as it followed the announcement that Gareth and Boyd will be competing at the 2024 Dakar Rally in the NWM M-Sport T1+ Ranger – now as the 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championship winners.
“It feels fantastic and good to add to the CV, and hopefully it can pave the way for the future,” Gareth said. “We’ve worked hard, the team has worked hard and the extra hours everyone has put in this year is amazing, so I’m really happy to bring the titles home for all of them.”
Boyd said: “I’m very happy and relieved. We’ve had a long year and I’m so happy that we are finally on top. Thank you to Gareth, the whole NWM team, as well as Ford and Castrol.”
It was the second runner-up finish for Lance and Kenny during their first season together. “The Waterberg was a very technical race in the style of the old off-road races we used to do, and it was a superb event,” Lance said. “Kenny did a phenomenal job, and it’s a great result for us. For the team to get a one-two and Gareth and Boyd winning the overall and T1+ championships, I don’t think we could be happier.”
Kenny, an enduro motorcycle racer and Dakar Rally finisher on two wheels, said: “Today was really good for me, and I really enjoyed the race. This year has been about road book practice, learning what Lance expects from me and helping him go as fast as we can. I’ve really enjoyed this year and it is fantastic to be part of the NWM team.”
2024 Dakar Rally
Ford Performance is set to expand its global motorsports effort by competing in the legendary Dakar Rally, one of the toughest off-road competitions on Earth.
The purpose-built, race-ready Ford Ranger will compete in the 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in the Rally Raid T1+ class with two cars, crewed by South Africans Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, and the Spanish team of 2014 Dakar Rally winner Nani Roma and his co-driver Alex Haro.
Ford Performance is collaborating in a comprehensive test and development program with M-Sport and Neil Woolridge Motorsport to prepare for what is expected to be an extremely tough challenge come January 2024.
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