Atlas Copco Ford Racing is aiming to capitalise on its strong podium finish at the season-opening race of the 2014 Donaldson Cross Country Championship when the series heads to Mooi River for round two, the Toyota Dealer 450, on 4 and 5 April.
It will be the second entirely new route in as many races, as the event has moved to the Mooi River area in KwaZulu-Natal for the first time after alternating between Richmond and Eston in recent seasons.
The move is in line with the South African Off Road Car Racing Association (SANORA) aim of taking events to new areas and creating a broader audience for cross country racing.
“As with the opening round in Harrismith, the Toyota Dealer 450 will be completely new to all the teams, so we should be in with a fighting chance to secure some good results,” says Neil Woolridge, Team Manager of Atlas Copco Ford Racing.
“The Mooi River area is rough, rocky and very technical in the forest sections, and the recent heavy rains will make it even tougher, particularly with all the river crossings. It will be a very demanding event on both man and machine.”
Having scored an impressive third overall on the RFS 450, Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst will be aiming to take the challenge to the championship leaders. Schroder is currently filling in for Chris Visser, who is still recovering from a neck injury sustained on the Dakar Rally.
Team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau will be looking to kick their championship into top gear with a decent result too. Despite qualifying third and tussling with Schoder/Badenhorst for much of the opening race, their challenge came to an abrupt end on the RFS 450 when the Ranger got stuck in a treacherous mud hole.
After having to settle for ninth place in Class T, they will be intent on using the proven pace of their ex-Dakar Ranger to challenge the contenders at the sharp end of the field.
“The first race of the season didn’t go as planned, although we were delighted with Manfred and Japie’s third overall,” Woolridge says. “It’s a pity that Chris has been forced to sit out the second race too, but it’s a long and hard season and we have no doubt that the team will be competitive.
“Manfred has shown that he’s still very quick, and Gary and Siegfried will be giving it their all in an effort to reclaim essential championship points.
“Following the RFS 450 we have done some work on the Class T Ford Rangers, and the upgrades should improve the pace of our cars for this race,” Woolridge states.
The race headquarters, start/finish and designated service park for the Toyota Dealer 450 will be based at the Weston Agricultural College on the outskirts of Mooi River, on the old road to Greytown.
The route for the qualifying and two race loops that make up the 450 km event crisscross the R622 between Mooi River and Greytown.
The 100 km qualifying race to determine grid positions sets off at 11:30 on Friday 4 April, and the race starts at 08:30 on Saturday 5 April with two 175 km loops and a compulsory 15 minute service at the end of the first loop.
There are seven designated spectator points along the route, all easily accessible from race headquarters, with good viewing and plenty of close-up action, according to the organisers.