Ford SA invests in ground-breaking Ranger off-road racer, and new empowerment team

By Motoring Staff Time of article published Mar 17, 2021

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PRETORIA - Ford South Africa and Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWH) have teamed up to create an all-new Ranger for the SA Cross Country Series, and it breaks new ground by being the first Class T vehicle to compete locally under the FIA’s new international cross country regulations for turbopetrol engines.

At the same time Ford SA is also backing a new development and empowerment team for the series.

All-new twin-turbo Ranger

The completely new racing bakkie is powered by Ford’s 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine, and features a new and wider chassis as well as cutting-edge BOS suspension and a carbon fibre body.

The Ford Castrol Cross Country Team line-up comprises two-time Class T champion Lance Woolridge paired with Elvéne Vonk, along with regular front-runners Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer

The new 3.5 V6 twin-turbo motor, which is derived from the unit that powers the US-market F-150 Raptor, is significantly more modern than the old V8 unit that powered previous racing Rangers on local shores. In this application, the EcoBoost engine has been optimised to meet the strict FIA regulations for the class that allow a maximum power output of 300kW. The twin-turbo engine boasts improved torque, and produces around 600Nm in race trim.

“We began designing the new Ranger from the ground up two years ago and started testing the prototype vehicle in the middle of 2020,” said team principal Neil Woolridge.

“We are very happy with the new Ranger thus far, and have introduced a lot of new innovations and a number of firsts for the team and cross country racing. It has been a very exciting project to work on, and we are looking forward to being competitive and running at the front of the FIA-class field this year to challenge for glory”.

Among the extensive changes for the new Ranger are improved weight distribution and an optimised centre of gravity. A wider chassis allows for enhanced wheel placement and control, complemented by the latest technologies used in the high-performance dual BOS dampers on all four corners - and the NWM Ranger being the first in the world to feature a new version of this suspension.

Additionally, a further departure from the modified Class T Rangers the team raced last year in the FIA category is the switch from a solid rear axle to fully independent suspension – a major advantage over rough terrain.

Development team for Cross Country racing

Ford SA and Neil Woolridge Motorsport have also partnered to run a development and empowerment team in the SA Cross Country Series for 2021. Ford provided funding of R1-million for the season, with NWM supplying and maintaining the vehicle for the seven-round championship.

This initiative will see Wiseman Gumede (42), a workshop delivery driver for NWM for more than a decade, making his motorsport debut in the driver’s seat of the Ford NWM Development Team entry. He will be joined by Fanifani Meyiwa (43) who has several years of experience as a rally navigator and claimed the 2018 KwaZulu-Natal regional championship.

Together they will compete in all seven rounds that make up the 2021 SACCS calendar, in a NWM-built and prepared Class T championship-winning Ford Ranger V8.

“Motorsport is an important component of our brand building for Ford and the locally produced ‘Built Ford Tough’ Ranger, and it also provides the ideal platform to promote diversity and inclusion in what is an expensive and exclusive sport that remains out of reach for most aspirant competitors,” says Ford SA MD Neale Hill.

“The Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport Development Team addresses the need to empower a broader range of competitors to participate in motorsport at the highest level, while attracting a more diverse range of fans and spectators to the sport,” Hill adds. “It’s a great project that will generate significant interest as Wiseman and Fanifani embark on their exciting journey into the exciting world of cross country racing.”

Gumede is over the moon about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I started as a driver at NWM, and now I’m going to be a racing driver,” an elated Gumede says. “I thought it was a joke when Neil Woolridge asked me at the end of last year if I would like to race, but it’s real and I can’t wait to spend more time in this amazing vehicle.

“I’m going to take it easy at the beginning as I have so much to learn about driving and racing the Ranger V8, so my plan is simply to finish the first race and get as much experience as possible,” he adds.

To assist the Development Team, NWM has roped in multiple cross country champion Ward Huxtable as the team’s mentor for the season.

The 2021 SA Cross Country Series kicks off with the Dullstroom 400 in Mpumalanga on 26-27 March.

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