Qualifying distance: 136 km
SUN CITY, SOUTH AFRICA, - Atlas Copco Ford Racing qualified third today for the Force Fuel 450, round five of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, being held at the Sun City resort in the North West province.
Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau used the recent improvements made to the suspension of the Class T Ranger to great effect by powering to third overall in the Production Vehicle category, a mere 16 sec adrift of championship leaders Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy (Toyota), and 11 sec behind Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota).
Featuring on all-new route that is both fast and treacherous, the 136 km qualifying loop unfortunately caught out several of the competitors, including Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst in the second Atlas Copco Ford Racing entry.
The pair, who are currently third overall in the championship, had been matching the pace of the front group for most of the loop. However they clipped a gate post just 15 km from the end of the stage, and the resulting damage to the right rear suspension brought them to a halt.
They will start tomorrow at the back of the field, with the route's thick dust expected to be a major factor as they focus on fighting through the pack.
The racing begins at 08:00 on Saturday, and features two loops of 175 km each, split by a 15 min interval at the designated service park located at the entrance to Sun City. The second loop commences at 11:11, and the first car is expected to cross the finish line at approximately 14:07.
Neil Woolridge (Team Manager - Atlas Copco Ford Racing):
"It's a case of mixed emotions. We did a lot of work on the cars after the Desert Race so we came here with high expectations."
"We achieved a good result with Gary in a strong third, only 16 sec behind the leader which shows that the improvements we've made on the Ranger have done the job.
"It's a short race and hopefully the wind will blow again like it did today, as this will help blow the dust away. We hope Gary and Siegfried can keep it up and get a good result. The Ranger's still in perfect condition and Gary is over the moon with the performance of the car so that bodes well for the race.
"On the other side Manfred and Japie hit a gate post and did some damage to the right rear suspension. But that's motorsport, whether it's our local championship, the Dakar Rally or Formula One.
"We'll fix the car tonight and they will start with time-and-a-half tomorrow which puts them way back. So all we can do is hope they can go as fast as possible for as long as possible, and aim for a top 10 finish and the maximum points."
Gary Bertholdt (T4):
"It's great to finish third today. The Atlas Copco Ford Ranger performed extremely well. The changes made since the Desert Race have made a big improvement and it's clear that the car is performing really nicely and we were able to close the gap to the cars in front of us.
"We're only 16 sec behind Taylor so we're in the hunt for tomorrow and are looking forward to an exciting race.
"It was very fast and tricky on the stage. If you put one wheel off line that could be the end, and we saw that with several competitors today.
"Tomorrow will be more of the same, but I think the pace is going to be very fast and the dust is going to be difficult as always on this event. But hopefully we can maintain our pace at the front and bring the car home in one piece, and with a good result."
Manfred Schroder (T2):
"We were going so well during the most of the qualifying lap and matching Taylor's times, so it's really disappointing to have a small incident drop us right to the back of the field.
"About 15 km from the end of the section we came up to a gate that was closed. We followed the tracks around the gate, but I must have just cut the corner a bit too tight. I felt a small bump but thought nothing of it until the car started crabbing. The lower wishbone was broken and we had to wait for the crew to come and repair the car.
"Starting from the back is going to be a big issue with all the dust, but we saw today just how good the car is, so we'll be fighting back with a vengeance."