Ford NWM Takes Gold at Cross Country Season Finale
- Henk Lategan and Barry White claim their first win in debut season, ending fourth overall in Class T championship – selected as Best Newcomers for 2017
- Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable finish third to secure silver medal for 2017 season
- Non-finish for Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer but they wrap up third place in championship
- Ford earns prized Manufacturer’s Award at Atlas Copco Gold 400
- Qualifying: 46km, Loop 1: 153km, Loop 2: 153km, Total: 352km
glenharvie, South Africa, 28 October 2017 – The Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Puma Lubricants team wrapped up a highly competitive and exciting 2017 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) today at the season-ending Atlas Copco Gold 400, earning a bag of trophies for the race victory and podium positions for the overall Class T championship.
Henk Lategan and Barry White ended their debut season in the series on a high, translating their steep learning curve and superb pace into a faultless drive on the final outing to secure their first outright race win in SA’s premier production vehicle category in their mighty V8-powered Ford Ranger. This earned the former rally competitors the title of Best Newcomers to the cross country series.
As one of only two crews capable of taking the overall 2017 Class T title heading into this weekend’s race, Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable put on a solid charge throughout the two days of action, but eventually had to settle for third place in the race and second overall in the championship – in both instances ending behind title winners Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).
Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer unfortunately saw their challenge end on the side-lines after a wheel sheared off their vehicle, but they could take solace with third place in the championship after an exceptional first half of the season.
Ford proudly earned the Manufacturer’s Award at the Atlas Copco Gold 400 for its wins in Class T with Lategan and White in the Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger, along with Richard Leeke Jnr and Henry Kohne taking the laurels in Class S with their ATS Motorsport Ford Ranger.
In the final reckoning the Ford NWM Puma Lubricants team had an impressive year, with each of its three crews claiming a race victory from the six events that made up the 2017 series. This was backed up by four second places and a further four third-place finishes.
Heading into the season finale, the focus was on Ford NWM’s Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable who were the only potential challengers for the 2017 Class T title against the points-leading Malalane Toyota crew of Johan and Werner Horn.
However, with the Atlas Copco Gold 400 route – based in Glenharvie on Gauteng’s gold-mining belt – being renowned as exceptionally rocky and unforgiving, the results would be anything but predictable.
The short sprint-style 46km qualifying loop on the scorching hot Friday handed the early advantage to the Horn brothers who set the fastest time, followed by the trio of Ford NWM crews: Lance and Ward who had to deal with a misfire for two thirds of the loop; Henk and Barry who were among several teams that got lost on a couple of occasions; and Gareth and Boyd in fourth after picking up a puncture just 4km into the stage.
Race day dawned cold and windy, with the maximum daytime temperature nudging just 15 degrees – but the racing was hot and fast from the outset.
Henk and Barry were the fastest of the contenders, and revelled in the conditions with a calm and confident pace that brought them into the pits in the lead of Class T after the first 153km loop, despite losing time with several missed turns.
Lance and Ward also enjoyed a clean and hassle-free run on the opening lap, adopting a slightly cautious approach at the start then pushing hard towards the end. They ended the first lap 39 sec behind their team-mates, and gained a 1 minute 19 second margin over their Toyota rivals who had a puncture.
Gareth and Boyd were sadly less fortunate. They had to contend with a flat tyre just 10km into the race, and then had the left rear wheel shear off their car at around half-distance, which brought their race to a premature end.
On the second 153km loop it was a case of more of the same for Henk and Barry, who enjoyed a perfect charge to the finish to earn their highly anticipated first Class T win – despite it being their inaugural season in cross country racing.
Lance and Ward threw caution to the wind on the second lap, and they were hounding the Malalane Toyota crew plus coming close to challenging their team-mates for the overall victory until one of their tyres let go just 20km from the end. Although they changed wheels in record time, they ultimately had to settle for third place at the finish – a mere 2 sec behind their season-long rivals who crossed the line in second position which handed them the 2017 Class T title.
Nevertheless, it was a solid performance for the Ford NWM Puma Lubricants outfit which claimed three of the top four places in the championship, and completed its second consecutive year in a closely contested runner-up position.
Neil Woolridge (Team Principal):
“We’ve had a great year. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the championship which was our sole objective this season, but we won 50% of the races and finished on the podium at every round.
“It’s a very young team, and all three crews have had a turn at winning and showing their class, so overall I think it we can be satisfied with the team’s performance.
“Today was unfortunate for Lance, as I think we could have won the race, but the tyre issue cost him dearly, and that’s the nature of the sport.
“We said from the start of the season that Henk is really fast, and although he is still learning and adapting to cross country racing, it worked out well for him today and he has a good future in this series. This bodes well for the team, as we have three really quick and talented drivers, and we’ll be back in full force next year.”
Henk Lategan (T17):
“The team said at the beginning of the season that if you don’t get out of the car you will have a good result, and that was our objective for this race. There were a lot of rocks out there and we’ve had quite a few punctures during this year. We tried a different approach this race, backing off over the rocks and then pushing where I could, and the tactic worked for us.
“On the second loop we had a bit of trouble with the front brakes and only had rear brakes, which was putting a lot of strain on the centre differential, gearbox and driveshafts. I was getting a bit nervous halfway through the final loop and tried to nurse the car to the end. Lance was catching us and there was nothing we could do, but with his puncture we could back off a bit and take it easy to the finish.
“This season has been full of ups and downs, but it’s fantastic to end the year with a win.”
Lance Woolridge (T34):
“My plan for this race was to be there if the Horn brothers made a mistake, and we went well in qualifying and the first lap. Henk was really quick on the second loop so I pushed really hard and we made up good time on them and landed up closing right up on Malalane Toyota. It was looking good for us, but then we got the flat tyre about 20km from the end and that cost us the win.
“I don’t think it was a puncture, and suspect the tyre started delaminating which is a bit frustrating as I know we had the pace to get there. But it’s good that Henk and Barry got their first win which is great for them and the whole team.
“It has actually been a very good year for the team, with second, third and fourth in the championship, three wins and podium finishes in every race is something we can be proud of. It is a good platform to build on for next year.”
Gareth Woolridge (T77):
“It’s not great to have a second non-finish in a row, but it wasn’t as bad as the previous race when we were still in contention for the championship. It’s still a bitter bill to swallow, though. Besides the puncture we also sat in dust for about 100km, which made it difficult to find a good rhythm. The wheel sheared off in a really strange way, so we’re not exactly sure why it happened as we double checked that the spare wheel was tightened properly.
“We had a great season up to the last race, but we’re learning and the cars are evolving as we go along so hopefully we can come back stronger next year. Our focus on fitness this year really paid off as I didn’t get tired in the car which improved concentration levels, and we will build on that for next season.”
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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.
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Follow the team’s updates and progress on www.facebook.com/FordPerformanceSA
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Press release and photography by Colin Mileman