Two Fords on the podium after thrilling Desert Race duel

JWANENG, Botswana, 26 June 2017 – It was a battle of endurance and survival on the only three-day marathon event on the 2017 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) calendar, but the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Puma Lubricants team emerged with two Rangers on the overall Class T podium at the 2017 Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.

Although Henk Lategan and Barry White (T17) were unable to complete the first race – which included Friday’s qualifying and the Saturday heat – they were in flying form for the second heat on Sunday and blitzed the field to set the fastest time and secure the race two victory.

This ensures that the Ford NWM Puma Lubricants crews are well positioned for the second half of the 2017 championship, and entrenches their status as leading contenders for this year’s title along with overall Desert Race winners Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux).

Race 1 (including Qualifying)

With the Desert Race comprising a two-part event with double points up for grabs, it was guaranteed to be full of excitement and drama – and so it proved when Race 1 kicked off with qualifying on Friday, comprising a short 61km sprint.

After crashing heavily at the Battlefields race, and sporting a practically brand new car for this event, Lategan and White adopted a cautious start for their Desert Race debut. Nevertheless, they posted the 6th fastest time in the fiercely competitive Class T, proving significantly quicker than many seasoned cross country crews.

An additional 420km of racing awaited the teams on Saturday, comprising two 210km loops split by 20 minutes of service.

It was an even more challenging day for Lategan and White, as their vehicle sprung a fuel leak when a filter came loose shortly after the start of the stage. Coasting back to the pits, they literally made it back on fumes, and resumed their challenge on the second loop. It was all going well until they too had a puncture, only to have their wheel studs shear off around 100km later which ended their race.

Race 2

The second race saw a fantastic change in fortune for the third Ford NWM Puma Lubricants crew of Lategan and White. Relegated to the mass start at the back of the field, the ex-rally aces scythed their way through the field and enjoyed a faultless run through both 210km loops to set the fastest time in Class T for race two – a full 2 min 13 sec quicker than Johan and Werner Horn, who were second quickest for the day. Lance and Ward posted the third-fastest time, with Gareth and Boyd fourth.

Neil Woolridge (Team Principal):

“The Botswana Desert Race was tough as always, and that’s why we put in a huge effort before this event and I’m very proud of the team to have all three cars finishing with some good results.

“Although we dropped back slightly in the championship, it’s still a decent result for the championship which has become a three-horse race going into the second half of the season, with Lance and Gareth competing head-on with Malalane Toyota for the title this year.

“They both drove very well, and their speed at times was unbelievable. Punctures definitely impacted the results, and Gareth hasn’t been feeling well all weekend, which is a real pity as they have put a lot of work into preparing for this season, including training hard in the gym four times a week. But overall, it’s a great result for them and the entire team.

“I’m also really happy for Henk. He had a huge accident in Dundee, and then had some bad luck yesterday. He came back today and drove exceptionally well. He didn’t have any punctures and drove a clean race to win this heat, so all credit to him and Barry. They kept the flag flying high for the team and it’s fantastic for them to do so well early on. This will have done Henk’s confidence a lot of good.”

Henk Lategan (T17):

“We had a tough weekend to start with, but it definitely improved by the end. After our crash in Dundee I was cautious during qualifying and wasn’t pushing hard on the jumps and bumpy terrain. I also struggled a bit with the sand, but got used to it as the race progressed.

“Our pace was good on Saturday, but it all went wrong with the fuel issue and then the puncture. While changing the tyre we dropped the wheel nuts in the sand by mistake, and this caused the wheel to work loose and the studs sheared off around 100km later, so we couldn’t carry on.

“Today we started right at the back, and it was very tricky to overtake in the dust and with all the trees and bushes next to the track, but we had a good rhythm and passed at least eight cars.

“The first loop went very well, and we then got stuck in the dust of other cars a lot on loop two, so we had to take it easier. But we didn’t have any punctures and were fastest on the day, which we are really happy with.

“I’ve finally figured out how to drive in the sand, and this is a fantastic way to end our first Desert Race. Hopefully this bodes well for the next race too.”

The next event takes place in Harrismith on 28 and 29 July.

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Ford and Neil Woolridge Motorsport are proud to be supported by the following sponsors for the 2017 SACCS: Puma Lubricants, Mastercraft, DeWalt, Sign Solutions, Parklane SuperSpar, Tiger Wheel & Tyre, Ironman 4×4 and Shatterprufe.