Riveting combined celebrations at final Cross-Country race

By Steve Mearns Time of article published Nov 6, 2019

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PARYS - It is said that most of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the world’s defining dramatic events have occurred. Think 1989; the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or 1969; first man in space. For us ever-patriotic South Africans however, defining years - apart from 1994 of course - are considered to be 1995, 2007 and 2019.

Of course, these are the times in which our country found the most unity, despite our divisions – through none other than Rugby World Cup glory. So, where were you?

If you please, consider for a second the following ‘forever-etched’ memory: The date; 2 November 2019 and it’s inside a ‘formal’ structure-tent square within a rain-soaked Airfield in Parys. Suddenly, in almost surreal fashion, emphatic victory for the almighty Springboks saw the extraordinary celebrations seamlessly fuse into the second 180km loop of the inaugural Parys 400, the final event of the 2019 SA National Cross-Country Series…

Situated on the banks of the Vaal River, this quaint Free State town is a popular weekend destination for curious adventurers seeking the picturesque vistas and abundant activities. However, I am unsure if the ‘Parysians’ were in the slightest prepared for an SACCS introductory weekend of this magnitude.

The action started early on Friday, 1 November with documentation and scrutineering at the Parys airfield based dedicated service Park, before the flag dropped after lunch for the start of the 45km Qualifying Race. Perhaps the heavens opening up overnight was an amazing sign and precursor to what turned into somewhat of a spiritual experience for everyone present. 

It’s only fair then to hold firm that this was simply a planned touch of marketing genius from our friends at Ford Motor Co. SA and its Racing division partners Castrol and Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM). All credit. Officially we were all World Cup Champions and Ford Racing were unequivocal SA National Cross-Country Series victors.

Noteworthy too about the nature of this fiercely exciting championship is that SACCS generously gave back to the local community and the Weiveld School was the beneficiary school to receive new school shoes and gift bags.  

Adding further spice, as if required, was that various competing vehicles and competitors were frantically busy with final preparations for the upcoming Dakar Rally, Saudi Arabia, in January 2020. Yes, that glorious introduction to the New-Year beckons…

For this newly-located upcoming episode of Dakar, locally built Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux’s will once again line up to take on the titans of this epically-gruelling desert event. 

No surprise really that three of these monsters swamped the overall event podium – Led by young Gazoo Racing’s Henk Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings, followed by Atlas Copco’s Chris Visser and Danie Staasen and the Gazoo Hilux team of Shameer Variawa and Juan Möhr, claiming silver and bronze respectively.

The current ferocious V8-powered class T Production Vehicle championship however, was dominated all season by the Castrol Ford NWM Racing Ranger of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, having laid claim to their second consecutive South African Cross-Country Series (SACCS) championship crown at the penultimate 5th round in Lichtenburg. 

Locking down a steady 2nd in class T and 5th overall this final time out, the pair closely followed Brazilian teammates Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea home, the latter therefore clinching an emphatic class win and 4th overall. 

The effervescent South Americans were even kind enough to entice yours truly for a post-race hot-seat ride at the ‘Stadium’ section of the route nearby the airfield service park. Trust me only when I tell you that this mind-bending level of engineering and fabrication precision defines, very likely, the most sophisticated and fearsome racing machine I have ever encountered. And NWM is only warming up!

“We’ve had a truly great and motivating season, with Lance and Ward performing flawlessly throughout the 2019 season,” commented NWM team principal Neil Woolridge. “The hard work that has gone into developing the Ranger to this level has certainly paid off - and illustrates the undying commitment of the team to our mission. Watch out for what comes next…” he proudly concluded.

Perhaps the only further marketing trump that Ford SA might have arranged, would have been for the Boks to have dispatched France in the final – while we watched from Parys. Turns out I cheekily prefer the argument for SA (and of course FMCSA) arranging for a dominating ‘Rugby World Cup Brexit.’

So, where was I? Amongst unquestioned conquerors on both the national and world stages. For just this fleeting moment all was right with the world.

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