It’s amazing what difference a week can make. Just seven days ago, the team from Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) saw years of research, design, development and manufacturing of its Ford Performance Ranger cross country racing vehicle programme turned to ashes after a devastating fire engulfed its Pietermaritzburg workshop.
The blaze destroyed most of the facility, as well as the two specially built Ford Rangers that had been completely overhauled after the punishing Botswana 1000 Desert Race in June. Just the final touches were being done in preparation for this weekend’s Lichtenburg 450, round four of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, on 29 and 30 July.
Chris Visser and co-driver Ward Huxtable lead the Class T championship by a single point, with fourth-placed Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer setting their sights on third. As a result, the NWM Ford Performance team had everything to play for – only to see their dreams and aspirations go up in smoke.
Today, merely a week later, thanks to the remarkable support of the motorsport fraternity, the NWM crew turned adversity into opportunity by arriving in Lichtenburg with one hastily prepared customer Class T Ford Ranger originally produced in this same facility in 2013.
“We’re hugely indebted to Kobus van Tonder for loaning us his Ranger, so we can give Chris and Ward a fighting chance for this year’s championship,” said team principal Neil Woolridge. “Unfortunately we don’t have a car for Gareth and Boyd, and they will probably be out for the rest of the year.
“It’s been a week of desperate lows with the fire that destroyed our cars and workshop on Thursday night, to the high of seeing our newest Ford Ranger, driven by Xevi Pons, finishing fourth overall on Sunday at the Baja Spain against some of the top cross country teams and drivers in the world,” Woolridge added.
“There are simply no words to describe the emotions, but it’s truly devastating to see almost everything we have worked for over the years completely destroyed. Yet we’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from the motorsport fraternity, including our sponsors, the race organisers, fans and our competitors. We owe it to them to do everything we can to make the start line.”
Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, the team was extremely fortunate to have the NWM trailer and its raft of spare parts emerge largely unscathed.
“For now our plan is to compete in the Lichtenburg 450 and try score as many points as possible,” Woolridge stated. “After the race we will regroup and assess our way forward, but hopefully we can finish the season, and have a result to be proud of at the end.”