Team Ford Racing is entering the 2014 Dakar Rally with a wealth of expertise and experience from around the world. From the support of international partners during the design and development phase to the crew from 10 countries that will look after the two Ford Rangers on the 9 300 km event, it’s a truly global effort.
The purpose-built Rangers were produced by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), based in Pietermaritzburg, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The outfit is headed by Neil Woolridge, a successful cross country racer in his own right with multiple championship titles to his credit and two Dakars under his belt, in 1998 and 1999. He’s also the man behind Ford’s front-running status in the South African Cross Country Championship.
NWM has been associated with Ford since 1997 and been manufacturing race vehicles for the brand since 2001. Due to the success of the team and its professional approach to cross country racing, it has been awarded the contract by Ford Motor Company globally to build the cutting-edge new FIA T1 class Ford Ranger for competition around the world.
Throughout this project the team has matched its vast experience in cross country racing with the advanced technology and expertise of several key global partners. This includes support from Ford’s high-performance Special Vehicles Team (SVT) division in Detroit, as well as chassis, suspension and engine management specialists in Europe to produce a truly formidable vehicle from the outset.
“We selected the very best partners, suppliers and crew for Team Ford Racing’s debut on the Dakar Rally, as we know that we have a very competitive vehicle, and we’re aiming to prove its performance on what is renowned as the toughest race in the world,” Woolridge says.
Aside from the South African pair of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst who will be competing in their first Dakar in the mighty Ford Ranger, the NWM team is heading to South America with a crew of 10 people from its own operation, including Woolridge and sons Lance and Gareth who both work for the outfit.
Lance is responsible for the Dakar Ranger’s spare parts, and is already a proven winner in the South African Cross Country Championship. He scored the new Ranger’s first ever victory on its debut outing in the 2013 South African Cross Country Championship – so he knows the competition Ranger better than most. Gareth is also a keen competitor and was recently one of the leading contestants in the new class for side-by-side ATVs in the local cross country championship.
Race engineer Bernd Wellmann has been with NWM for eight years, and was responsible for most of the technical design of the new T1 Ranger. He also handles the diagnostics for the vehicle.
The vastly experienced crew also includes chassis engineer and assistance truck driver Paul Vermaak, and drivetrain specialist Gary du Plessis. NWM is extensively involved in developing a new generation of motorsport professionals, and the crew includes young mechanics Sean Smith-Baillie and Sean Berriman, as well as fabricator Pieter Els. Michael Denton is the team’s sports physiotherapist and plays a critical role in maintaining the well-being of the drivers and navigators.
The international operations for the Team Ford Racing Dakar project are managed by South Racing, based near Frankfurt, Germany. The company is owned by fellow South African Scott Abraham, who has been based in Europe for the past 10 years during which time he has worked as team manager for X-Raid BMW and Overdrive Toyota.
South Racing is responsible for the team’s international commercial and logistics structure, administration and crew sourced from around the world.
“There’s a good balance in the team between those with many years of Dakar and WRC experience, the guys that may not have been on the Dakar but are accomplished race mechanics and the youngsters that are just starting their careers in this competitive field and will learn a lot from this international exposure,” comments Abraham.
“Our objective was to secure the best people for the job, who are happy to work in what are often difficult and less than ideal conditions but are committed to the team’s success. Attention to detail and the quest for perfection is crucial, as is the ability to work together as one team.”
The whole Dakar project relies heavily on logistics, and this responsibility falls on Frenchman Francois Habib-Deloncle, the team’s logistics coordinator. For past 10 years he has been involved in setting up and coordinating major sporting events around the world, including working for Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) that runs the Dakar. He is fluent in French, English and Spanish, the latter being particularly advantageous in South America.
Ian Davies from the UK is Team Ford Racing’s lead race engineer. He boasts a wealth of expertise, having worked for M-Sport which runs Ford’s World Rally Championship program. He has also worked on several other high-profile projects including the Ford Fiestas used by Ken Block in the USA Rally and Global Rallycross and the popular Gymkhana 4 and 5 video series.
During 2013 Davies worked with Travis Pastrana and Bryce Menzies in the Global Rallycross Championship, while his first Dakar was in 2007 with X-Raid BMW, looking after former winner Jutta Kleinschmidt’s vehicle.
The team’s media relations is handled by fellow Brit Mark Wilford, a global communications professional. He has spent the last 16 years managing Ford’s motorsport media services, specialising in the World Rally Championship.
With Argentines Lucio Alvarez and co-driver Ronnie Graue leading the Team Ford Racing charge on the 2014 Dakar Rally from their home country, they are supported by two local mechanics, Dario Basualdo and Omar Pelloni.
Pedro Clemente from Portugal is the car chief for the Alvarez/Graue Ranger, having moved over to the Ford team after several years at Overdrive Toyota. Freddy Anquetil from France is the car chief for the Visser/Badenhorst Ranger.
The skilled team of mechanics also includes 20-year WRC veteran Ian Moore from Ireland and Spaniard Gabriel Moiset – the latter also doing duty as co-driver in the Team Ford Racing MAN 4×4 T4 Race Truck driven by German Thomas Wallenwein who is competing in his fifth Dakar in the truck class. Fellow countryman Arne Pfizenmaier is responsible for driving the team’s other 6×6 assistance truck.