The Vryburg 400 delivered some of the closest and most spectacular racing in recent South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) memory, with a margin of just four seconds separating the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team’s Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (334) from a second consecutive victory after 400km of high-paced action.
The pair were embroiled in a thrilling tussle for the top step of the podium, having set the second-fastest time during Friday’s short 42km prologue. It was a nail-biting affair throughout Saturday’s main race as Woolridge and Vonk traded fastest times throughout the day with championship rivals Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota) and Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century).
The Ford Castrol Ranger crew conquered the demanding and ever-changing conditions without a single puncture, which was a remarkable feat unmatched by their rivals – made all the more challenging due to heavy rain showers on Friday, followed by tricky mud and water sections on Saturday’s first 180km loop, and mostly dry conditions on the second loop.
The trio of front-runners, who also lead the overall Production Vehicle and FIA-class points tables, kept their teams and the enthusiastic fans on edge as the positions changed regularly on the opening loop. Heading into the 30-minute service, it was Lategan/Cummings ahead of the Ford Castrol Ranger of Woolridge/Vonk by 1 min 23 sec, with the Century crew in third.
On the final loop, the battle intensified even further, and although the positions ultimately remained unchanged at the finish line, the top two crews were separated by just 4 seconds in the end after nearly five hours of racing.
“It was a fantastic race,” Lance said. “The car was faultless, the team did an awesome job and Elvéne was perfect the whole race, but in the end, it was just four seconds that separated us from the win, which is a bit frustrating. However, it was a really enjoyable race, and we had a good time out there.
“The championship is still alive, but it’s going to be a tough last race,” Lance added. “Parys is a rough event with lots of rocks and technical terrain, and we will need to aim for the win to remain in contention. But anything is possible, and we’ll throw everything at it.”
Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (377) just missed out on the podium, scoring their second fourth-place finish in a row. The young pair had the arduous and unenviable task of being drawn first for Friday’s 42km prologue, which resulted in them opening the road and losing considerable time, ending eight overall.
However, they were on a charge for Saturday’s main race, making the most of the damp conditions and limited dust to fight their way up to an impressive fourth place after the first loop – a position they held through to the finish despite picking up a puncture on the second loop.
“Qualifying made things really difficult for us, and I didn’t realise quite how much time we had lost until today when we set out on the first loop,” Gareth said. “But starting further back allowed us to follow the tracks of the lead cars and allowed us to push and make up a lot of time.
“We had a clean race other than the one puncture, although it became very rough in many places, and Boyd and I are quite shattered after pushing so hard today.”
For team principal Neil Woolridge, it was a case of so close yet so far. “What a brilliant day. Lance and Elvéne were within four seconds of the win after 400km, which is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s great to have the racing so close and everyone had an exciting day watching the Ford and
Toyota swapping places.
“Unfortunately, the championship just moves a bit further away from us, so the final race is going to be hard work, but we all know that in this sport anything can happen, so we’ll give it our best shot and see how it turns out in Parys in three weeks’ time.
“Gareth and Boyd were unlucky with the starting position on Friday, and then having a puncture in the main race, but they were knocking on the door of a podium result the entire day and still got fourth place which is fantastic,” Neil said.
In the Class T championship, current points leaders and Vryburg residents Malcolm and Frans Kock (T4) did their title aspirations a world of good by continuing their impressive run of podium finishes with second place at their home event in the V8-powered NWM Ford Ranger, behind winners Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).
They were joined on the podium by another of the local NWM-supported privateers, Christo Rose and Arno Olivier, while the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport Development Team of Bapi Rubuluza and Fanifani Meyiwa (T49) notched up another solid finish in fourth place.
For Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen (T41) it was a miserable weekend, as they picked up numerous punctures throughout the race and eventually finished fifth – which dented their challenge for the 2021 Class T championship
It’s all to play for in the overall Production Vehicle, FIA-class and Class T championship titles at the season finale: the Parys 400, on 20 November 2021.