ATS Motorsport Youngs Guns and their Ranger are ready
With a confidence-boosting overall win on the VW Rally still fresh in their memories, the ATS Motorsport Young Guns – Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne – head to the Free State and the Harrismith 400 with high hopes.
They’ve parked a rather dusty and pock-marked Ford Fiesta and clambered into a near-pristine Ford Ranger, swopping a front-drive hatchback for the four-wheel-drive double cab they campaign in Class S of the South African Cross Country Series.
Their most recent outing in the truck was on the Botswana 1000 Desert Race a month ago. It was an event of mixed fortune and their debut on this legendary marathon resulted in a non-finish – the pair time-barred after a series of punctures slowed their progress. On the second leg of the race – run the following day and in effect a separate race - they paced themselves perfectly and came home second in class.
“The learning curve in Botswana was very steep but we’re wiser for it,” admitted Leeke. “They weren’t joking when they said it was a marathon and the first leg was a bit of a disaster - we were extremely unlucky with punctures. For the second leg our mindset was different and it paid off.
“But we’re not losing sight of our Cross Country goals this year - Harrismith will be only our fourth ever off-road outing so it is all a work in progress! Even so, we’re confident that our speed and commitment will make up for our lack of experience in this form of racing.”
The vehicle and the crew are still undergoing research and development and with that in mind shock absorber settings have been tweaked for the sandy, undulating terrain which is expected, and will be tested in anger come Friday.
The event will be based at the Eeram Farmers Complex on the outskirts of Harrismith, and competitors will tackle a 45 kilometre qualifying race for grid positions starting at 14:00 on Friday. The race the following day starts at 08:00 and will be run over a compact 200 kilometre route to be completed twice, with a compulsory 20-minute service halt and re-bunch after the first lap.
Cross country enthusiasts can also follow the fortunes of their favourite teams at home or in the office on the RallySafe app, downloaded free of charge, for iOS or Android systems. The app is user-friendly and enthusiasts can follow the race via maps which chart the progress of each car with overall times and results.