NWM Ford Castrol Team raises the bar with new T1+ Ranger in SA Rally-Raid Championship
  • Renamed South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) aligns with FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, introduces new T1+ class as premier category
  • Extensively modified and upgraded T1+ Ford Ranger EcoBoost V6 designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport: 300mm wider, tougher and even more capable
  • Switch to 37-inch tyres on 17-inch rims, wheel travel increases from 280 to 350mm, larger-diameter brakes – all to conquer the toughest racing conditions

The 2021 South African Cross Country Series was one of the most exciting and competitive seasons in recent memory. However, the 2022 championship is set to be even more thrilling for the NWM Ford Castrol Team with the introduction of a new FIA T1+ class as the premier category, accompanied by a new name for the series: the South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC).

An impressive campaign last year saw the team claim two wins and finish second overall in the debut season for the all-new EcoBoost V6-powered FIA-class Ford Ranger. As competitive as this vehicle was, the team is raising the bar once again with an extensively revised and upgraded T1+ Ranger that truly lives up to the “Built Ford Tough” promise.

The new Class FIA T1+ Ranger, designed, developed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), is bigger, wider and bolder than ever. It complies with the new T1+ regulations that were introduced for the 2022 Dakar Rally, which now forms part of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship – and this is the new machine that will be driven by Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk, along with team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, for the 2022 SA Rally-Raid season.

“South African cross-country racing, or rally-raid as it is commonly known overseas, is renowned as one of the most competitive and professional domestic championships in the world, with South African teams producing exceptional vehicles that dominate the local series as well as international racing in this category,” says Neil Woolridge team principal of the NWM Ford Castrol Team.

“We are delighted that the organisers of the South African championship have aligned our series with the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, which will give us greater exposure on a global scale, and raises the bar further for competitors,” Woolridge says.

New Class FIA T1+

One of the key changes of the renamed SA Rally-Raid Championship is the introduction of T1+ as the premier class, which builds on the success of the turbo-petrol vehicles that debuted last year, and set new benchmarks for off-road capability and performance.

“The T1+ category was introduced for the 2022 Dakar Rally to level the playing field between the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles, standardising the larger 37-inch tyres and longer-travel suspension that had given the lighter 2WD vehicles a major advantage in recent years,” Woolridge says. “As our championship is inextricably linked with global competition, it’s a natural evolution for us to progress to the T1+ rules in South Africa.

“We started redesigning our Ranger and the various new components required around the middle of last year once the T1+ rules were finalised,” Woolridge says. “At the beginning of November we began the process of stripping and modifying our prototype test vehicle, and then started on Gareth’s race car as soon as it arrived back from the season-ending Parys event.

“We’ve had great interest in our EcoBoost-powered Rangers after our fantastic results last year, and we were delighted to have sold Lance’s car to an overseas customer in the existing T1 specification. Our move to T1+ for 2022 has generated significant additional interest based on these exciting new regulations, and I have no doubt that we will be very competitive again this year with our new T1+ Ranger,” Woolridge states.

Next-level design, performance and capability

The NWM T1+ EcoBoost Ford Ranger (EFR) represents a radical shift in concept and execution, with the most obvious change being the significantly wider stance and more muscular design, having gained a full 300mm in width to 2.3 metres.

To accommodate the wider track and the massive 37-inch tyres on larger-diameter 17-inch rims (up from 32-inch tyres and 16-inch rims), the new T1+ Ranger features aggressively flared wheel arches that suggest unflappable poise and capability in even the harshest terrain.

As with the 2021 FIA T1 Ranger, the new bodywork and cabin is hand-crafted using a high-tech carbon fibre and aramid weave, which is both exceptionally strong and very light. The team has retained the overall design theme introduced last year, which means that the distinctive butterfly-style doors remain one of the NWM Ranger’s trademark features.

Within the bulging arches hides an all-new suspension, allowing for an increase in wheel travel from 280 to 350mm. “We took last year’s cars and totally redesigned the suspension with new upper and lower control arms and longer driveshafts to match the wider track,” Woolridge says.

“Working with BOS Suspension, we designed a new single damper setup per wheel, which replaces the dual dampers we relied on previously. Using the latest technologies from BOS, the single larger-diameter dampers better suit the longer wheel travel while also reducing weight. This new configuration, in conjunction with the wider track and bigger tyres, will allow us to carry a lot more speed through rough terrain compared to the T1 car.”

Along with numerous chassis changes to accommodate the new bodywork and 70mm increase in wheel travel, the NWM team also had to come up with ingenious solutions to accommodate the much larger spare wheels underneath the car, with the regulations now only allowing two spares to be carried instead of three. The change to 17-inch rims also enabled the switch to bigger 355mm brake discs, replacing the 328mm versions used last year, which will guarantee even more formidable stopping power. The front discs are air-cooled but the rears are both air and water-cooled to ensure fade-free performance.

Under the new T1+ regulations the minimum vehicle weight is now pegged at 2 000kg, an increase of 150kg compared to the previous vehicles. Other than fine-tuning its performance and power delivery, the twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine remains unchanged, running according to the same balance of performance rules with maximum outputs of 300kW and 600Nm.

In line with the new international rally-raid rules and in the interests of safety, top speed is now electronically limited to 170km/h, instead of the 180km/h restriction that applied previously. The NWM T1+ EFR’s gear ratios have been revised in line with the reduced maximum speed and the bigger wheels, while optimising mid-range torque and traction out of the corners.

“The new T1+ Ranger is a significant change from last year’s car, but it builds on what was a very successful and competitive platform that took us to two race wins, three podiums and a championship fight that went right down to the wire,” Woolridge says. “We’re starting an intensive test schedule on the T1+ cars next week with BOS Suspension so we can fine-tune the setup to give us maximum performance. The team can’t wait to start racing this year, and I think we’re going to be in for another very competitive and exciting season.”

The first race of the 2022 South African Rally-Raid Championship is the Mpumalanga 400, which takes place in Dullstroom on 25 and 26 March.