The Donaldson Cross Country Championship will be dishing up an entirely new challenge for the competitors, including the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Ford Performance team, when the first-ever Super Sprint race kicks off on 7 May in the small farming town of Vredefort, near Parys in the Free State.
Unlike the established 450km sprint races, the 700km endurance events and the single 1 000km marathon race in Botswana, the new format covers a total race distance of 200km, comprising two 100km loops – without the usual qualifying lap to determine starting positions.
According to organising body SANORA, the starting order will be based on the national seeding list, and competitors can expect a typical Highveld route with flat and twisty sections, and lots of dust due to the extremely dry conditions. Race headquarters and the service park are located on the farm Witwal, on the outskirts of Vredefort.
The race starts at 09h30 on Saturday morning for the first 100km loop, with the cars separated by 2 min gaps, followed by the obligatory 20-minute service interval. The competitors then take a break with the vehicles locked down in a holding area.
A carnival-style fan zone is a key feature of this event. During this break, spectators will have an opportunity to interact with the teams, have posters signed and stand to win spot prizes. The action resumes at 13h30 for the second 100km loop, based on the finishing order after the first heat.
“I don’t know the Vredefort area, but I imagine it will be typical Highveld conditions with farmlands and bush, and it will be very dusty once again,” says Neil Woolridge, team principal of Neil Woolridge Motorsport.
“The race is relatively short so the teams will have to push hard right from the start, and it’s going to be one flat-out race,” he adds. “They will also have to look after their tyres and avoid punctures, as a flat tyre will effectively put you out of the race.”
The tyre component will certainly be more critical than ever, as all of the Class T competitors are now required to use standard 4×4 tyres, instead of the specialised racing tyres used previously.
At the season-opening race in Vryburg the teams were allowed to make use of second-hand racing tyres, but from now on only over-the-counter 4×4 tyres are permitted.
“The new tyre regulations will level the playing field for everyone and will help reduce costs significantly, but tyres are probably going to decide the championship,” Woolridge says.
“We will be using the Goodyear Wrangler MTR, and in the little bit of testing we have done with these tyres the drivers have been happy with them. If you hit an object head-on it shouldn’t be a problem, but the sidewall is nowhere near as strong as Michelin racing tyres we’ve used up to now, so punctures are a real threat, especially for the drivers that tend to throw the car around a lot.”
Aside from the new tyres, the NWM Ford Performance Rangers should have a bit more performance for this event.
“We have developed a new Ranger for our international competition, which incorporates some really good performance enhancements,” Woolridge states. “These improvements have been added to our two vehicles that compete in the Donaldson Cross Country Championship. Hopefully this will give us a more competitive edge for the Vredefort Super Sprint, and for the remainder of the season.”