Ford Racing is heading into the 2014 season of the highly competitive Donaldson South African Cross Country Championship with a new look, a new sponsor, a new driver and navigator, and with the benefit of extensive experience gained on this year’s arduous Dakar Rally.
Atlas Copco is welcomed to the team as its title sponsor for the 2014 season, building on its high-profile involvement in the sport by joining forces with the mighty Ford Racing / Neil Woolridge Motorsport outfit that has been one of the leading contenders in the local championship, including ending the last two seasons in runner-up position.
“We are proud to welcome Atlas Copco to the team, as the company brings a lot of support and expertise to cross country racing,” says John Nagel, Ford Racing Manager. “With the changes lined up for this year the competition is going to be tougher than ever, but this partnership will enable us to compete at an even higher level, with our sights set on reclaiming the title once again.”
Atlas Copco is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and is a world leader covering more than 160 markets with products and services ranging from compressed air and gas equipment to generators, construction and mining equipment, industrial tools and assembly systems.
“There is a close relationship between the technology of Atlas Copco products and that of the vehicles used in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship,” says Jim Tapkas, General Manager Atlas Copco South Africa Compressor Technique business area.
“We see the sponsorship of the Ford Racing team as well as the Atlas Copco round of the championship as an extension of our marketing strategy, particularly in relation to the automotive, construction, manufacturing and mining sectors.
“The event and the success of our teams in the series over the years have enabled us to build and maintain awareness of Atlas Copco and our products, and we believe that this will be strengthened further as the title sponsor for Atlas Copco Ford Racing in 2014.”
Along with the new sponsor, the team sees experienced competitors and multiple race winners Gary Bertholdt and his regular co-driver Siegfried Rousseau joining the squad for 2014. They join the existing pairing of 2010 champions and runners-up for the past two seasons, Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the two Atlas Copco Ford Racing Rangers.
Bertholdt takes the place of young star Lance Woolridge who has been ruled out of competition for the year due to a back operation.
“It’s a pity to have Lance out of action, as he is consistently quick and took the Ranger to its first win on its maiden outing last year,” says Neil Woolridge, Team Manager of Ford Racing. “But he’s still young and it’s important for him to recover fully before competing again.
“Gary and Siegfried bring a lot of experience and proven talent to the team, having been front-running privateers for many years. They are sure to be on the pace from the outset, thus giving us two strong contenders as we take the fight to the other factory and well-funded privateer teams.”
Atlas Copco Ford Racing will be competing in the premier category of the championship, which has undergone significant changes for the 2014 season.
According to the South African National Off Road Racing Association (SANORA), the existing SP Class has been split in two in order to level the playing field by separating the older V6-powered vehicles from the latest high-tech entries such as the V8-powered Atlas Copco Ford Racing Ranger.
Class T will now cater for vehicles with an engine capacity of 4 000 cc and over, and the teams have the option of running the solid axle rear suspension used last year or the independent set-up as employed on the Dakar Rally. The new Class S category will cater for vehicles with a maximum engine capacity of 4 000 cc with a solid rear axle only.
“We are very excited about the introduction of Class T for this year, as it allows us to compete with virtually the same vehicle we used on the Dakar Rally in South America last month,” Woolridge says.
“Last year we were building different vehicles for the SA championship and the Dakar Rally, but now we are able to focus our efforts on a common design with the same suspension components, while making the most of the lessons learned in the tough conditions encountered on the Dakar. I believe this will give us a big advantage in the local championship.”
Along with the changes to the classes, the race format has also been revised for 2014. Qualifying races to determine the start positions will now be run over 100 km, and the race distance for each of the local rounds has been increased from 400 to 450 km.
The season kicks off on 28 February with the RFS 450, which relocates from its traditional home at Tarlton Raceway near Krugersdorp to Harrismith in the Free State this year, thus presenting the challenge of an all-new event and unknown terrain to the competitors.
2014 Donaldson SA Cross Country Championship
1) 28 February – 1 March Free State RFS 450
2) 4-5 April
3) 16-17 May Mpumalanga Nkomazi 450
4) 27-29 June Botswana Toyota Botswana 1000 Desert Race
5) 8-9 August North West Sun City 450
6) 12-13 September North West Vryburg 450 Challenge
7) 24-25 October Free State Free State 450
8) 28-29 November Gauteng Atlas Copco Gold 450