The 2016 Donaldson Cross Country Championship is set for a showdown at the final race of the season, with the Class T title to be settled at the Atlas Copco Gold 450 in Gauteng, on 28 and 29 October.
The Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Performance team of Chris Visser and co-driver Ward Huxtable are tied for the championship lead along with rivals Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman (Toyota), so it’s all to play for when the crews set off on Friday for the qualifying loop.
“It’s been a crazy year with lots of ups and downs, but we’re thrilled to be going into the final race equal on points and fighting for the championship,” says team principal Neil Woolridge. “Our victory at the Sun City 450 was just what we needed, and is really good for the championship. It has given the team a huge boost going into the last race of the year.
“We’ve done our homework and preparation on the cars, and we hope to continue our strong momentum through to the end,” Woolridge adds.
Despite its rough and rocky route, the Atlas Copco Gold 450, located in the gold mining belt of Gauteng’s West Rand, has traditionally been a good hunting ground for the NWM Ford Performance team. They won the event in 2014, with Visser finishing second overall last year.
Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer will be keen to repeat their impressive performance during the 2015 event, which saw them running as high as second overall at one stage, and eventually ending fourth due to a puncture late in the race.
Despite missing round four of the 2016 season due to the devastating fire at the NWM workshop in July, the young pair are currently fourth in the Class T championship, 15 points adrift of Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Nissan).
Buoyed by their second-place finish at Sun City, they have their sights set on wrapping up the season with another podium and, hopefully, securing a top-three finish in the championship standings.
With the 2016 season dictating a switch to standard 4×4 tyres in Class T, punctures will once again play a critical role in determining the outcome of this race and, indeed, the championship – as they have done throughout the year.
“The weather could be a factor too,” Woolridge states. “At the moment it’s very hot and dry as a result of the drought, which will make the route extremely dusty and very difficult to pass slower cars. But if it rains the mud could cause a bit of havoc for everyone.”
The Atlas Copco Gold 450 is based at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie, less than 60km from the Johannesburg city centre, thus making it easily accessible for spectators and fans.
Qualifying commences at 11:30 on Friday, 28 October, with the main race starting at 08:30 on Saturday. Competitors set off with a dust gap of two minutes between each vehicle, and complete the first loop before returning for the mandatory 20 minute service interval.
The entire field is regrouped before commencing the second loop, which is a great opportunity to see the cars close-up, and to meet the drivers and co-drivers.
Fans that aren’t able to attend the race can follow the action live on the RallySafe app for Apple and Android devices. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the relevant app store, and enables enthusiasts to track the cars on a detailed map, download split times and access results.
Source: Ford Performance