On its third participation in the Rally dos Sertões, Brazil’s biggest cross country race of the year, Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) celebrated a 1-2 overall on the podium in Palmas, capital of Tocantins state. The NWM Ford Performance T1 FIA Ford Rangers conquered seven days and 3 212km of pure roughness, melting heat and great sportsmanship.
Overall victory was in the hands of Brazilian duo Cristian Baumgart and Beco Andreotti, with Lance Woolridge and Marcelo Haseyama coming second after a thrilling final stage, where the South African-Brazilian duo started out third, 9sec behind Mitsubishi’s Guilherme Spinelli/Youssef Haddad.
As the older son of former South African cross country champion and team principal, Neil Woolridge, Lance and Brazilian co-driver Haseyama had been running second overall for most of the race, but stopped on day 6 to help the race-leading X Rally Team change a damaged CV boot on their Ranger.
This dropped them down to third going into the final day, but they pushed their NWM Ford Performance Ranger to its maximum potential and picked up their first international stage win, crossing the finish line with a 1min 15 sec advantage and securing second place overall.
“I had a mission in my mind the night before and I knew I just had to push, and that is what I did,” an elated Lance said. “I am glad everything worked out, and it’s a great result for me, for the NWM team and for our partners, the X Rally Team.
“I enjoyed the race and went for it, pushing as hard as I could. Overall it was fantastic event. It was long, hot and rough, and it looked much rougher than the previous two years I had been part of the servicing crew. I absolutely loved it,” he declared.
The NWM-X Rally Team association entered three Ford Rangers on the T1 FIA Class. After standing 1-2-3 overall after day three, the #303 car of Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea dropped out of the rally after rolling on the fourth stage. The crew was unhurt, but they were forced to withdraw due to the damage incurred on their Ranger.
After pushing hard on the first two stages, Cristian Baumgart and Beco Andreotti set a strategy of managing their lead through the rest of the rally. On the duo’s 17th participation at the Sertões, their first overall win tasted particularly sweet.
“During several years we almost got it; now we finally did it. It takes an enormous burden off our shoulders. All the people who always believed in us could feel the joy and pleasure to win this challenge. This is something we built, that we fought hard to accomplish.
“Unfortunately, my brother and Kleber could not make it to the end, but this achievement is theirs as well,” Cristian said.
The eldest of the Baumgart brothers and Beco form one of longest driver/co-pilot pairings in Brazilian’s cross country racing history. “I still cannot believe it. I have never imagined that the margin we built over the competition would put so much weight on our shoulders,” Andreotti said. “We have chosen the right path, the right partner in Neil Woolridge Motorsport, an excellent car and a great team.”
Rising from the ashes
Neil Woolridge Motorsport suffered a setback in July after a fire engulfed its Pietermaritzburg workshop, yet rose from the ashes to prove its race-winning from at the 24th Rally dos Sertoes. It also remains a leading contender in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship in South Africa.
“The fire caused a lot of damage, destroying our two South African championship cars and most of our spares,” said Neil Woolridge, team principal of NWM. “Thank goodness our three international cars weren’t there, as they had fortunately left a week before.
“We had to pick ourselves up and focus on the future. If somebody told me that we would be in Brazil, winning overall, I wouldn’t have believed it. And here we are: out of the ashes rises the phoenix, they say. That is exactly what we did,” Woolridge stated.
He highlighted all the hard work and partnership between the two organizations. “It has been a good rally. But all the races are good when you win! The organization was perfect, the joint effort between NWM and X Rally Team worked exceptionally well.
“This race was a lot tougher than the previous two years where we’ve supported the X Rally Team. We worked with a great team, a good bunch of people and we had a fantastic car. We did a lot of upgrades to all three cars before coming to Brazil, and we’ve seen that it worked, which makes us all really proud. Cristian and Beco did a fantastic job. They drove a calculated race and didn’t take too many risks.”
Neil was equally proud of his oldest, who drove in an international race for the first time. “As for Lance, coming in second was a fantastic bonus, and winning his first international stage was really good. He lost time when he had to stop and help Cristian and Beco on the penultimate stage, but it was the right thing to do.”
After that it seemed that second place was gone, as their 20-minute gap to the third-placed time was wiped out. “We reunited that night and decided to go all out. We fitted new tyres and made the car as light as possible. I told Lance to push as hard as he could in maximum attack, and that’s exactly what he did,” Neil said.
“It all worked out perfectly. It was a great race with great people, and we will be back next year with an even better car. It was a pity that Marcos and Kleber fell out, because I think we could easily do a 1-2-3, but it is a cruel sport. It bites when you least expect, and we saw that with Marcos, who was going so well until just one corner took them out,” he added.
Now it is time for the NWM team to pack everything up and travel back to South Africa, where a huge amount of work awaits the organization.
“We have to prepare for the penultimate round of the SA championship at Sun City, on 30 September and 1 October, and we’re still in the process of rebuilding our workshop. But this is a great celebration for the entire team.”
Final Day – Results:
1º) Lance Woolridge/Marcelo Haseyama (NWM-FORD PERFORMANCE), 1h54min32s;
2º) Guilherme Spinelli/Youssef Haddad (MITSUBISHI), 1h55min48s
3º) Cristian Baumgart/Beco Andreotti (FORD X RALLY TEAM), 2h00min54s;
FINAL CLASSIFICATION – T1 FIA:
1º) Cristian Baumgart/Beco Andreotti – 28h39min47s
2º) Lance Woolridge/Marcelo Haseyama – 29h19min12s (+39min24s)
3º) Guilherme Spinelli/Youssef Haddad, 29h20min19s (+40min31s)
Source: Ford Performance SA