HARRISMITH, South Africa– Atlas Copco Ford Racing got its 2014 campaign in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship off to a solid start by scoring third overall in the Production Vehicle category on the RFS 450 held in Harrismith today.
Manfred Schroder and co-driver Japie Badenhorst took the final step on the podium in the Atlas Copco Ford Ranger after a tough and technical route that traversed the scenic, mountainous and muddy route around the Free State town, which hosted the cross country fraternity for the first time.
Having started second in the premier Class T after the Friday qualifying session, Schroder and Badenhorst led the initial charge amongst the Fords on the first of the two 171 km loops. They were closely followed by team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau who set off third.
The two crews were evenly matched from the outset, and traded places when Schroder/Badenhorst overshot a corner, allowing Bertholdt/Rousseau into second behind the Toyota of Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy.
During the 15 minute service between the loops at the designated service park (DSP) located at La La Nathi Country Guest Lodge, the lead Ranger suffered a setback as it was found that barbed wire was wrapped around a rear CV boot. Despite the mechanics replacing the driveshaft in under 7 min, it cost the crew around 2 min 30 sec over the allocated service time.
Schroder/Badenhorst were also slightly delayed with a minor issue, but set off on Loop 2 in third place behind Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (Toyota) who moved up to second.
The two Atlas Copco Ford Rangers were once again inseparable on the second lap, but Bertholdt/Rousseau had to contend with thick dust while trailing their team-mates. Heading into a muddy section they choose a different line but got bogged down in a deep ditch, which effectively put an end to their challenge – and required a lengthy recovery. They eventually crossed the finish line ninth in Class T.
Schroder and Badenhorst had a clean run through to the end, securing a hard-earned third overall – which was even more notable as Schroder was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for the team’s injured lead driver, Chris Visser.
Not only had the KwaZulu-Natal sugarcane farmer and former cross country champion had very little time in the race car, he had never driven a left-hand drive vehicle before, so it was a commendable performance indeed.
Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (Unifreight Ford Ranger) retained their fourth position from qualifying, giving Ford two of the top four positions.
Neil Woolridge (Team Manager – Ford Racing):
“The race didn’t quite turn out the way we wanted. We started off with a bang in qualifying, but then we lost a bit of time in the pits at the end of the first loop.
“Both cars were having a good run and came into service close together. Unfortunately we saw the barbed wire and damaged CV boot on Gary’s car about 6 minutes into the service, and it cost us a bit of time sorting that out. He then got stuck in a mud hole which sadly put an end to his challenge.
“I’m very happy for Manfred, though. He hasn’t competed in nationals for a couple of years, and to be on the pace in a new car and take third overall is very impressive.
“After a great start we were hoping for two cars on the podium, but the important thing is we have points in the bag and we have started the championship on a good footing with solid reliability and decent pace.”
Manfred Schroder (T2):
“The first lap was quite eventful. We started second and then missed a turn which allowed Gary and Siegfried past. We caught up to them and then came into a tight corner only to find them accelerating slowly out of the turn, and we slid into their car.
“Fortunately the damage was only superficial and we had a clean run for the rest of the loop with no punctures, although there was a misfire which held us back slightly. In the pits we found that a tie-rod end was bent and we lost about 2 min, which meant we started the second loop behind Leeroy.
“Gary was close behind us for the first part of the lap but then disappeared, and we had a hassle-free run through to the end.
“The route was great, although the long grass on the first lap made it difficult to find the road. It was much better once it had opened up a bit on the second lap.”
Gary Bertholdt (T4):
“The first loop was fantastic this morning. We had the Ranger on song, and when Manfred and Japie took a wrong turn we zipped past.
“We came into the DSP in second place which was a great feeling, as the car was handling magnificently and Siegfried and I were working really well together.
“Unfortunately wire was wrapped around the left rear wheel which took out the CV boot on the independent rear suspension. The team managed to change the driveshaft in under 7 min, but we left the service late behind Manfred.
“This meant we sat in his dust once again. We came across a mud hole in the dust and chose the left line, but once in the mud we just slid into the centre of a deep ditch which bogged us down for an hour and a half.
“It took two vehicles to pull us out, and as our race was effectively over we elected to bring the Ranger home to salvage some vital points in ninth position.
“We were running comfortably in second and third during the day, so it could have been a better race for us. But that’s cross country racing and we will be back in the fight at the next one.
“The Ranger was superb, and I have to complement the team on the way they worked together and fixed the car so quickly. It’s a really professional set-up and I am very proud to be part of the team.”