Ford Castrol team targets strong performance at Sugarbelt 400

The Ford Castrol Cross Country Team is targeting another strong performance for its new 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost-powered Ford Ranger when the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) returns to Eston, near Pietermaritzburg, for round two of the championship on 21 and 22 May 2021.

The team scored a dream debut for the all-new Ranger at the season-opening Mpumalanga 400 in March. Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk secured the win after a flawless performance, while team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer claimed the final step on the podium – with the Ford Ranger crews currently placed first and third in the FIA-class championship, respectively.

“We couldn’t have asked for much better results for the first race with our brand new FIA-class Rangers, and we’re looking forward to returning to Eston for the Sugarbelt 400 for the first time since 2015,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM).

“We’re expecting a formidable challenge from our competitors at this race after several of them encountered mechanical issues in Mpumalanga,” Woolridge adds. “However, it was very encouraging that our new Rangers ran faultlessly first time out, and this is only the start of the development process with the new vehicle.”

The new FIA-class Ranger’s success can be attributed to the vast experience of the Neil Woolridge Motorsport crew, and the comprehensive design process that began in 2019. Also key are the team’s sponsors and partners, with Castrol taking pride of place as the team’s joint title sponsor, along with Ford.

“It is an honour to be associated with Neil Woolridge Motorsport and Ford in the SA Cross Country Series, and seeing the team on the top step of the podium with a brand new car at the start of the season was a fantastic result,” says Ayanda Mbangata, Brand and Communications manager, Castrol South Africa.

“Our involvement in motorsport is aimed at pushing the boundaries of performance and proving the capabilities of our advanced fully synthetic Castrol EDGE oils in the most extreme environments,” Mbangata adds.

Another key partner is BOS Suspension in France, which provided the NWM team with its latest-technology dampers for the new FIA-class Ranger. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the team had been unable to travel for the past year to assist NWM with setting up the new dampers – but they finally made it to South Africa at the beginning of May.

“We are the first team in the world to use the new BOS dampers, so it was crucial that we got the BOS team here to help finalise the suspension set-up for the new Ranger,” explains Woolridge. “The results from the four days of testing have been very positive, so we’re keen to see how the new settings perform in race conditions.

“Similarly, the turbocharged petrol engines are still new to the series, so we’ve done a lot of work on engine mapping and performance since the first race, and our cars should be quicker than they were in Dullstroom,” he says.

The Sugarbelt 400 will be based at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club and will provide a wide variety of terrain – from tight sugarcane fields to the forests, hills and valleys that dominate this scenic region of KwaZulu-Natal. It was a happy hunting ground for Lance Woolridge and then co-driver Ward Huxtable in 2015, as they finished third overall at this event. It was only the second race for Gareth and Boyd in Class T – competing in a privately-run NWM Ford Ranger – with their impressive pace helping establish the young crew as future front-runners in the series.

In Class T, the 2021 Sugarbelt 400 will give the armada of NWM-supported privateers another opportunity to challenge for honours. Malcolm and Frans Kock were the top-placed Ford Ranger V8 at the Mpumalanga 400, finishing second ahead of debutants Christo Rose and Arno Olivier.

Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen proved their race-winning pedigree last year, and will be eager to return to the podium in Eston after having a brand new NWM Ford Ranger built for the 2021 season, and finishing fourth in Dullstroom. Similarly, with more seat time in their recently acquired Ranger, Bernard and Minette Johnstone will be keen to improve on their fifth place at round one.

The 50km sprint qualifying race to determine the starting positions for the Sugarbelt 400 commences at 13:00 on Friday, 21 May. Saturday will see the crews tackling two 160km loops, starting at 08:00 and separated by a mandatory 30-minute service interval between the loops.

Due to the prevailing COVID-19 regulations, the Sugarbelt 400 remains closed to spectators. However, fans can follow all the action and track the position of the crews using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices. Also, be sure to follow the Ford Performance SA social media channels, listed below, for regular race updates.