Thrilling Championship Showdown for NWM Ford Castrol Team at Waterberg 400

The South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) is set for a mighty showdown at the seventh and final round of the 2023 season, with the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Castrol team of Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#277) leading the charge in both the Production Vehicle and Class T1+ standings.

Having scored two race wins and a total of five podium finishes from six events this year, the young crew has set the pace and been a model of consistency despite the major onslaught from their rivals. Hence, all eyes will be on the intense action as it unfolds at the grand finale, the Waterberg 400, which is set to take place in the Thabazimbi area of the Limpopo province on 10 and 11 November 2023.

In the Production Vehicle championship, it’s a two-horse race between Gareth and Toyota’s Guy Botterill with 17 points separating the drivers. The third and fourth-placed Toyota crews of Henk Lategan and Giniel de Villiers are out of contention for the overall championship, as they are 33 and 35 points adrift of Gareth, respectively, with 30 points available for a race win, 23 for second and 18 for third place.

The challenge for Class T1+ glory will be a three-way tussle due to the additional five points awarded for starting each race, and Lategan being ruled out of the final race due to the shoulder injury he incurred at the previous event in Welkom. Gareth currently leads Botterill by 17 points, with De Villiers 30 points adrift of the NWM Ford Castrol driver.

In the navigators championship, Boyd Dreyer goes into the final round with the overall Production Vehicle title already in the bag, as he has a 33-point advantage over Lategan’s co-driver, Brett Cummings. In the Class T1+ battle, the margin is 27 points to Cummings and 30 points to Dennis Murphy who navigates for De Villiers.

“It has been an amazing year for Gareth and Boyd, and they’ve performed brilliantly throughout the season which has put them in the prime position going into the final race,” says Neil Woolridge, NWM Ford Castrol team principal. “We have no doubt that our rivals will be on the attack at the Waterberg 400, but we are fully prepared and ready to give it everything as we aim for the overall Production Vehicle and Class T1+ championship titles.”

NWM Ford Castrol team-mates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert (#234) have endured a challenging season with three non-finishes, but they have also shown race-winning potential on several occasions during their first year together. They finished an impressive second at the tough 1 000 km Botswana Desert Race, and were in contention for a podium result at the previous event until they picked up suspension damage at the same ditch that ultimately caught out Lategan.

Lance is currently sixth in the overall Production Vehicle championship with a good chance to move up to fifth place at the Waterberg event, as he is just six points behind Eben Basson (Toyota). It’s a similar story in Class T1+ where Lance is five points behind fifth-placed Gary Bertholdt (Toyota).

Kenny is seventh in the overall navigators championship, but a mere six points separate him from fifth place. In Class T1+ he is five points behind Henry Kohne and 19 points off fourth-placed Simon Vacy-Lyle, so it’s all to play for at the season finale.

Unfortunately, the privateer NWM Ford Ranger T1+ team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen won’t be competing at the Waterberg 400 due to other commitments, but there will be a third T1+ NWM Ranger on the starting line.

Spaniards Daniel Alonso and Alejandro Lopez have entered the SARRC Waterberg 400, having just taken delivery of their brand-new T1+ Ranger from Neil Woolridge Motorsport. They have upgraded from the previous-generation T1 Ranger and will be using the local event as a testing session to familiarize themselves with the new car.

Race programme

According to the SARRC race organisers, the Waterberg 400 will be the first time it hosts a race in this region of the Limpopo province, making it a level playing field for all of the competitors. The race and designated service park (DSP) will be based at the Koedoeskop Laerskool, situated on the R511 approximately 35km from the town of Northam, which boasts the world’s deepest platinum mine.

The action will commence on Friday 10 November with a ceremonial start at Koedoeskop Laerskool at 12:30, followed by a 15km liaison section towards Northam to the starting point of the 59km Pirelli Qualifying Race.

On Saturday competitors will face two 178km race loops, starting at 08:00 and separated by a mandatory 30-minute service stop at the DSP. The terrain is expected to be challenging, comprising rocky and tight mountain sections along with bush tracks through surrounding game farms.

Fans can follow all the action and track the position of the crews throughout each of the 2023 season’s seven races using the RallySafe app, which can be downloaded free of charge for iOS and Android devices from the relevant app stores.

2024 Dakar Rally

Ford Performance is set to expand its global motorsports effort by competing in the legendary Dakar Rally, one of the toughest off-road competitions on Earth.

The purpose-built, race-ready Ford Ranger will compete in the 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in the Rally Raid T1+ class. Ford Performance is collaborating in a comprehensive test and development program with M-Sport and Neil Woolridge Motorsport to prepare for what is expected to be an extremely tough challenge come January 2024.