Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa (TGRSA) continued its impressive form in the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) with a stellar performance at the Vryheid 400 in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the team achieving a one-two-three finish.

Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings clinched first place, driving their Toyota Hilux IMT EVO to victory with a final time of 6 hours, 43 minutes and 1 second. They were closely followed by teammates Guy Botterill and Dennis Murphy, who finished second, just 5 minutes and 43 seconds behind. Completing the podium were Giniel de Villiers and Elvéne Vonk, who finished third, trailing the leaders by 12 minutes and 42 seconds.

Toyota Hilux rally raid South Africa

Never raced or rallied - get your dream deal on a Toyota Hilux here

The Vryheid 400 course, with its varied and demanding terrain encompassing farmlands, rocky sections, and scenic landscapes, truly tested the endurance of all participants and pushed the competing vehicles to their limits.

Reflecting on the race, TGRSA Team Principal Shameer Variawa remarked: "We are thrilled with the results from the Vryheid 400. Our crews showed remarkable skill and determination, navigating the challenging terrain with precision. The one-two-three finish is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire team."

Toyota Hilux in action on SA Rally Raid eventHowever, this new event, sponsored by PS Laser Promac, brought mixed fortunes for the Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) Rally-Raid Team, who came tantalisingly close to securing a podium finish.

The intense two days of racing through the farms, forests, and mountains of the Vryheid area began perfectly for the two EcoBoost-powered and Shell-sponsored NWM Ford Rangers. Reigning SARRC champions Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer made their intentions clear by winning the short 15km qualifying sprint on Friday morning, with teammates Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert posting the second-fastest time, just 3 seconds behind.

Ford Ranger in competition trim in South Africa

Click here to see what our 'Lone Arranger' can do for you...and your Ranger

A 38 km race loop followed in the afternoon, with Gareth and Boyd ending the day second overall, just 25 seconds behind the Toyota of Guy Botterill and Dennis Murphy, while Lance and Kenny were still hot on their heels, securing third place, just 14 seconds back. This ensured that the NWM Ford crews didn’t have to open the road for the first of the two 174 km race loops on Saturday morning, giving them an advantage on this brand-new route.

Gareth and Boyd were on a charge right from the start on Saturday. Within the first 30 km, the NWM Ford crew had caught up to the leading Toyota, contending with severe dust that lingered throughout the race.

They were stuck behind their rivals through the tight and rocky mountain section that followed but then had to deal with rapidly fading brakes after a calliper bleed nipple came loose and leaked brake fluid. After stopping to bleed the brakes and top up the system, they got going again, only to have a brake pipe on a different corner of their car get damaged, resulting in a total loss of brake pressure as they hurtled down a steep hill. They eventually came to a halt in a forest section – fortunately without damaging the car – and then proceeded to replace the pipe and bleed the brake system once again.

After being forced to retire from the opening round in Malalane, Gareth’s hope of securing a major points haul at this event was dashed, but he was positive about the latest NWM Ranger’s performance, which bodes well for the rest of the season.

Ford pits at Vryheid Rally Raid event

The best selection of quality pre-owned bakkies can be found right here

“The car was fantastic, and we were fast throughout the weekend, so it’s disappointing that we had the brake issues. It’s good to get some championship points on the board, and we’ll certainly come back stronger at the next race.”

Lance and Kenny also experienced a brake issue on the first 174 km loop on Saturday, as a brake line connector in the cabin worked its way loose. They had to stop and locate the source of the fluid leak, tighten it, then refill and bleed the entire system. They sacrificed more than 12 minutes during the stop but then set off with determination to make up lost ground.

By the time they reached the DSP, Lance and Kenny had closed to within 1 minute and 36 seconds of the third-placed Toyota of Giniel de Villiers and Elvéne Vonk. It was a thrilling battle throughout the final 174 km loop, and the NWM Ford crew gave it their all as they closed on their rivals in the hunt for the podium finish. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and they missed out by a mere 10 seconds after a spirited drive.

The NWM-supported privateer team of Wors Prinsloo and Andre Vermeulen brought their Ford Ranger home 11th in the Ultimate class and 14th overall, demonstrating true grit and determination despite dealing with a few technical issues.

The next event on the calendar is the Toyota Gazoo Racing Safari 1000, Round 3 of the championship. This race, sponsored by the team, adds additional pressure to perform and will take place on June 21-23 in the bushveld area around Thabazimbi in Limpopo province.

Colin Windell