High Drama and Mixed Fortunes at the South African Rally-Raid Championship Opener

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The first round of the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) held in Malalane was as thrilling as it was eventful, presenting both opportunities and setbacks for the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) team. In this dramatic opener, the newly introduced Ford Ranger Ultimate faced a challenging debut. Despite strong performances in the initial stages, mechanical…

The first round of the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) held in Malalane was as thrilling as it was eventful, presenting both opportunities and setbacks for the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) team. In this dramatic opener, the newly introduced Ford Ranger Ultimate faced a challenging debut. Despite strong performances in the initial stages, mechanical issues plagued some team members, hindering their expected results.

The Nkomazi 400, the event in question, took place over April 19-20, and featured a blend of high-speed tracks through sugarcane fields and challenging mountainous terrains. Out of 30 competitors, only 18 crossed the finish line, underlining the event’s difficulty.

The rally began promisingly on Friday with a 10.8km qualifying sprint, where Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert, in their striking Shell-liveried Ford Ranger (#234), secured a fifth-place start. Teammates and reigning champions, Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#200), were also in close contention, starting seventh.

However, Saturday’s 168km loops brought challenges. Lance and Kenny faced a critical setback when their vehicle suffered a driveshaft break 43km into the race, leading to emergency repairs and a time loss of approximately 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Gareth and Boyd, who were vying for a podium finish, had to withdraw from the race due to a water pump failure during the final loop.

Despite these issues, the day was not without its successes. The NWM-supported privateer duo, Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (#241), delivered a commendable performance, finishing eighth in the Ultimate class and 11th overall.

Neil Woolridge, NWM team principal, expressed mixed feelings about the race, acknowledging the setbacks but also the promising performance of the new vehicles. He emphasized the team’s readiness to analyze and address the mechanical failures before the next race in Vryheid.

Lance and Gareth reflected on their respective experiences, noting the high and low points of the race weekend. Despite the frustrations, both drivers saw potential for improvement and success in the upcoming races, setting a determined tone for the remainder of the season.

With the next race scheduled for May 24-25 in KwaZulu-Natal, the team remains optimistic about overcoming early obstacles and achieving better results as the championship progresses.


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