Harrismith, in the eastern Free State, is renowned for being icy cold in the middle of winter, but it will be the scene of a heated battle between the top Class T contenders when the SA Cross Country Series (SACCS) descends on the small farming town on 28 and 29 July.
As the fourth round of the 2017 championship, the Harrismith 400 kicks off the second half of the season, and the Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Puma Lubricants entries are involved in an almighty battle for glory with three events remaining.
After scoring second place overall at the Botswana Desert Race in June, Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (T34) slotted into second place in the Class T title chase, equal on 76 points with team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (T77) in an identical Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger.
This places the Woolridge brothers 22 points behind the Horn brothers from Malalane, Johan and Werner, in a Toyota Hilux. Accordingly, a fierce battle is anticipated between the crews from the moment the flag drops on the 48km qualifying loop for the Harrismith 400 on Friday 28 July.
Following an impressive win in race two in Botswana, the team’s third entry, comprising former rally stars Henk Lategan and Barry White, got their campaign back on track and moved into sixth place in the rankings with 48 points.
The newcomers to the series have shown outstanding pace in their debut season, and are aiming to use this to their advantage in an effort to overhaul rivals Jason Venter/Vince van Alleman (Toyota Hilux) and Hennie de Klerk/Achim Bergmann (VW Amarok) who are tied with a slender three-point advantage over the Ford crew.
“The Class T championship has turned into a three-way battle between Lance, Gareth and the Malalane Toyota crew, and it is crucial that we score maximum points in Harrismith to maintain our strong momentum this year,” says NWM team principal, Neil Woolridge.
“We’ve had some good results in Harrismith before, and are hoping to maximise the superb performance and reliability we’ve had with our Rangers this year. Although we had to do a large amount of work on the vehicles after Botswana, this was mainly to repair the cosmetic damage, and we will be going all out for victory in this crucial race,” Woolridge adds.
“As always, punctures will play a critical role in deciding the outcome of the race, as well as the championship. Our drivers need to be fast but not make mistakes if we’re going to take the fight to the Horn brothers.”
The Harrismith 400 will be based at the Eeram Farmers Complex on the outskirts of Harrismith, which includes the race headquarters, start/finish and the designated service park.
Competitors face a short 48km qualifying loop, starting at 14:00 on Friday, followed by a compact 200km route that starts at 08:00 on the Saturday and will be completed twice, separated by a compulsory 20-minute service halt between loops.