Ford looks to SA for Dakar success


7 August 2013

Team Ford Racing has confirmed it will enter two South African-built Ford Rangers in the gruelling 2014 Dakar Rally, which takes place from 5 to 18 January 2014 in South America.

Ford’s decision follows the success of South African-built Toyota Hiluxes in the Dakar, with Giniel de Villiers finishing second in 2013 and third in 2012.

The design team responsible for bringing Ford’s Dakar contender to fruition includes a mix of South African and global minds.

The purpose-built Ford Rangers are being prepared by Pietermaritzburg-based Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), while logistics will be handled by German-based South Racing.

The drivers’ line-up is also mixed and features Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez and South African Chris Visser.

“We are extremely proud to be sending these South African-built Rangers to the 2014 Dakar,” President and CEO of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, Jeff Nemeth, said in a statement.

“Dakar is the ultimate test of man and machine and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate with a phenomenal team comprised of local and global expertise.”

Over one-billion TV viewers from across the world tuned in to watch the 2013 Dakar, with 4.6-million spectators making their way to South America to witness the event.

Global collaboration

The newly designed Ford Ranger has been built in Pietermaritzburg with assistance from Ford Motor Company’s Global Product Development group, and every aspect of the vehicle has been carefully considered and built with precision and performance in mind.

“A complex jigging system was used in the manufacturing process in order to ensure that each part is built as per the design in order to achieve the perfect fit on every vehicle built,” explained team manager Neil Woolridge, a former Dakar contestant.

“Although the two new Rangers are locally built, we received tremendous support from our global counterparts including the likes of Ford’s SVT division.”

The technical aspects of the project will be managed from the NWM workshops in Pietermaritzburg, which will serve as the main headquarters of the project.

One of the two FIA Ford Rangers is already complete and will start testing this month. The second is under construction with planned completion at the end of October. They will be supported by a dedicated team of 24 full time staff in their quest for the top honours in the Dakar battle.

The logistics and European operations are being managed by South Racing GmbH, based near Frankfurt, Germany. South Racing is owned and managed by Scott Abraham whose family has a long history in South African motorsport. His father Arthur was a stalwart of South African motorsport for several decades.

Knowledge and experience

Abraham has been based in Europe for the past 10 years during which time he has worked as team manager for X-raid BMW/MINI and Overdrive Toyota. He was integral to the launch of the Toyota Dakar project and thus has a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience.

South Racing will be supplying the team logistic structure including the MAN 6X6 Service Trucks, MAN T4 Race Trucks and service equipment. In addition to the vehicles and equipment, South Racing will manage all logistic and administration requirements for the team.

“The combination of NWM and South Racing will ensure that the project has the necessary expertise and depth to be able to deliver the results,” Abraham said.

Lucio Alvarez and Ronnie Graue have been confirmed as the first driver crew. They are part of the younger generation of drivers coming through the sport and have delivered impressive results in previous editions of the Dakar.

In their first outing in 2011, they finished 17th overall. In 2012, they managed to finish in an impressive fifth place, while in 2013 they were lying third overall before mechanical problems dropped them down to 27th place. Demonstrating huge determination, they fought back to finish in 10th place.

The second Ford Ranger will be crewed by South African Cross Country competitors Chris Visser and navigator Japie Badenhorst.

Both are well known in South African motorsport, having won the 2011 South African Cross Country Championship. They’re currently one of the leading contenders in the 2013 Donaldson South Africa National Cross Country Championship. It will be their first time competing on the Dakar.

The 2014 Dakar Rally will be the 35th running of the event and the sixth successive running in South America. It will start in Rosario, Argentina and finish in Valparaiso, Chile after 13 stages, which will comprise a total distance of over 8 500 kilometres.

Ford fans will be able to keep track of the team’s progress in the lead-up to the event as well as follow the teams’ progress during the 2014 Dakar on Ford South Africa’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Join the conversation by using #FordDakar.

SAinfo reporter