Ford Castrol team unveils all-new FIA-class Ranger to challenge for 2021 SA Cross Country Series title

The Ford Castrol Cross Country Team is entering an exciting new era in cross country racing with the debut of the all-new, purpose-designed and built FIA-class Ford Ranger produced by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM).

Set to compete in the premier Production Vehicle category of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), the highly-anticipated new Ford Ranger will be the first vehicle in its class competing locally under the FIA’s new international cross country regulations for turbocharged petrol engines.

“Ford’s involvement in the South African Cross Country Series is an important element of our Ranger marketing initiatives, and it’s particularly exciting to launch a brand new model to compete in the premier category so the team can challenge for overall wins and championship titles,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa.

“We have a long association with Neil Woolridge Motorsport which has been our partner in cross country racing for the past 24 years, and the team has done Ford proud with numerous race victories and consecutive Class T championships in 2018 and 2019,” Hill says. “We can’t wait to see the all-new Ford Ranger in action this year, competing head-on with our rivals and setting the pace at the front of the field.”

Power for the new FIA Ranger is derived from Ford’s impressive 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine which powers the exceptional Ford GT supercar, as well as the Ford F-150 Raptor in North America. The clean-sheet design is a significant upgrade from the current Ranger V8 which scored a debut victory in 2013, and clinched the SACCS Class T titles in 2018 and 2019 – along with numerous race wins and championships globally.

In this application, the EcoBoost engine has been optimised to meet the strict FIA regulations for the class that allow a maximum power output of 300kW. The twin-turbo engine boasts improved torque compared to the previous 5.0-litre V8, and produces around 600Nm in race trim.

“The launch of our all-new FIA-class Ford Ranger has been a long time coming and we were scheduled to race it last year, but COVID-19 put a spanner in the works, and we had to delay the project till the start of the 2021 season,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of NWM.

“We began designing the new Ranger from the ground up two years ago and started testing the prototype vehicle in the middle of 2020. The additional development time has been crucial as we have had to do most of the work ourselves, with several of our key suppliers, such as BOS Suspension in France, not able to come to South Africa as planned due to COVID-19 travel restrictions,” Woolridge says.

“Nevertheless we are very happy with new Ranger thus far, and have introduced a lot of new innovations and a number of firsts for the team and cross country racing. It has been a very exciting project to work on, and we are looking forward to being competitive and running at the front of the FIA-class field this year to challenge for glory,” he says.

“As with any competitive team we want to go out and win, but going head-to-head with our opposition who are multiple Dakar Rally winners, we need to keep our expectations in check,” Woolridge states. “With a brand-new car, and not having raced for the past six months, our priority at the first round in Dullstroom is to give the Ranger a proper shakedown in full race conditions and complete the event. Naturally, we will be hoping for a good result as we build up to a full-bore challenge for podium finishes, race wins and ultimately championship titles.”

Among the extensive changes for the new Ranger – which is easily identified by its aggressive new exposed carbon fibre bodywork – are improved weight distribution and an optimised centre of gravity, which is crucial in the rough-and-tumble of cross country racing. A wider chassis allows for enhanced wheel placement and control, complemented by the latest technologies used in the high-performance dual BOS dampers on all four corners – the NWM Ranger being the first in the world to feature a new version of this suspension. Additionally, a further departure from the modified Class T Rangers the team raced last year in the FIA category is the switch from a solid rear axle to fully independent suspension – a major advantage over rough terrain.

The new Ranger also has a compact new SADEV six-speed sequential gearbox that is 10kg lighter than the previous version, while the entire drivetrain has been redeveloped to be lighter and easier to work on with symmetrical driveshafts on both axles to reduce complexity, facilitate faster replacement and reduce the number of spare parts.

Another benefit of the switch to full FIA-class specification is the integration of BOS hydraulic jacks into the chassis, which makes it possible for the crew to raise and lower the vehicle at the push of a button – a huge timesaver when replacing a wheel during a race.

“I need to thank all of our sponsors and partners, especially with COVID-19 and the financial situation which has been very difficult for everybody over the past year,” Woolridge says. “None of our sponsors hesitated in being on board again for the 2021 season, which is really exciting for us, and shows that the return on investment has delivered the desired results. It also proves that cross country racing is in a great place currently, and we are looking forward to what will no doubt be a cracker of a year.”

Youth and experience in equal measure

Leading the Ford Castrol NWM charge in the premier FIA-class of the SACCS is the same driver and co-driver line-up the team featured last year. Lance Woolridge (29), the 2018 and 2019 Class T champion, is paired up with multiple rally co-drivers champion Elvéne Vonk (38) for the second season in a row. The duo is hoping to build on the impressive podium finish they achieved at the Dullstroom season-opener last year, now with the benefit of the all-new EcoBoost-powered Ranger to take the fight to their rivals.

Gareth Woolridge (26) and Boyd Dreyer (27) may be the young guns, but they are already well-established front-runners in the SA cross country championship – and are equally determined to turn their impressive pace into a formidable challenge for podium results and race victories with the new Ranger.

Continued support for Class T privateers

Along with the announcement of the pioneering Ford South Africa Neil Woolridge Motorsport Development Team comprising Wiseman Gumede and Fanifani Meyiwa who will compete in the Class T Production Vehicle championship in the current V8-powered Ford Ranger, a total of five privateer Ford Ranger teams are expected to be vying for class honours this year. All of the privateer teams are supported by Neil Woolridge Motorsport, ensuring that Ford and NWM remain formidable contenders for the title, and the prized Manufacturers Award at each event.

“Class T remains an important component of the SA Cross Country Series, as it’s the entry point into national production vehicle-based cross country racing, and has seen significant interest and growth recently with the major manufacturer-supported teams moving up to the FIA-class,” explains Neil Woolridge. “Therefore, it is essential that we support and develop this class and the privateer teams to ensure it remains viable and attractive to competitors and sponsors.

“We are delighted to see our participation doubling from last year, with two new teams joining the series, and the addition of the Ford NWM Development Team, supported by Ford South Africa,” he adds. “This bodes well for the future of the entire championship and motorsport in general.”

Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen were race winners last year and return to the SACCS with a brand-new Class T Ford Ranger built by NWM for the 2021 season. They will be going head-to-head against the winners of last year’s final event, Malcolm and Frans Kock. Class T regular Jacques van Tonder is unlikely to make the first race but will be back in action later in the season.

Christo Rose and Arno Olivier have made the switch from the side-by-side category to a fully-fledged Class T NWM Ford Ranger V8, and will be joined in Dullstroom for the start of the season by established cross country racers Bernard and Minette Johnstone in another NWM Ranger.

2021 SACCS calendar

126-27 MarchDullstroom 400Dullstroom, Mpumalanga
221-22 MaySugarbelt 400Eston, KwaZulu-Natal
318-20 JuneToyota 1000 Desert RaceUpington, Northern Cape
413 AugustVryburg 400Vryburg, North West
514 AugustVryburg 400Vryburg, North West
61-2 OctoberNampo 400Bothaville, Free State
713 NovemberParys 400Parys, Free State

Fans can follow all the action and track the position of the crews throughout each of the 2021 season’s seven races using the RallySafe app which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices.